Too poor to write exams: Stay poor

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The 2015 November “O” Level Zimsec examinations will go down in history with an indelible blithe of having been inaccessible to Belvin Chibi because of his poverty.

As a nation we shall forever carry the memory that in that year we watched as a boy was denied the right to write his examinations because he is too poor to afford school shoes.

According to the teacher who turned him away, the need for candidates to wear shoes of the same colour during the 90 minutes that they are in the same room writing the examinations is more important that the lifetime benefit of writing and passing the examination itself.

It took me long to write on this issue because there is a part of me that kept hoping it was not true.

However, as it turns out it is true. Chibi, an “O” Level pupil registered at Mweyamutsvene Mission School, missed two examination papers because he was denied permission to enter the exam room by a teacher who demanded he should be wearing school shoes.

I am yet to recover from the shock that this can actually happen, that it actually happened.

Headmaster Abel Zebron Rubende’s wife Nyasha, the teacher who turned Belvin away, not only violated his rights as a child citizen of this country, but also as a child and managed in the process to send a clear message that a child must pay for their parents and be kept poor by being denied any opportunity of getting out of the poverty trap.

Child citizen’s rights

The first violation in this case was of Belvin’s rights as a party to a legal contract.

The way I understand our system to work is that the moment one pays their examination fees and they receive a candidate number from Zimsec, their contract is no longer with the school, but with Zimsec.

The school receives its centre fee and has to provide centre services. The student contract with the schools ends on the last day of lessons and a new contract of candidate and centre takes precedence. It is desirable and would be good if the candidate continues to wear their uniform, but it’s not a legal requirement and should not be a condition for accessing the examination room.

The rules for examinations include silence, timely arrival, when to start and when to stop writing, but do not include mandatory wearing of a school uniform. A candidate who turns up in casual clothing and is orderly and does not disrupt other candidates has unnegotiated right to sit in the examination room. In this case the teacher acted as if Belvin had disciplinary obligations as a student of the school.

Under normal circumstances, this would be ideal and is what obtains with most schools, but where there is a disagreement on what is acceptable and unacceptable attire between the school and the candidate the candidate has to access his rights as a candidate to a national examination.

If Belvin could not afford to conform to the school uniform requirements he was not under obligation to do so and certainly should never have lost his right to writing his examination because of that. His rights as a child citizen were violated in this case and the school has to answer for this violation.

A child’s rights

The second level of violation that Belvin suffered was his right to non-discrimination as a child. Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides that no child shall be discriminated against on any basis including poverty.

Barring a child from writing their examinations because they can’t afford shoes designated by the school as uniform is indeed discrimination on the basis of poverty. The same UNCRC provides that where there is doubt or a dispute the best interests of the child must prevail. No matter how angry Rubende felt about Belvin not wearing his full school uniform she must have been guided in her action by what was in his best interest as a child.

Punishment that takes away a child’s access to an “O” Level qualification is not in his best interests. Rubende was, therefore, guided by something else other than the desire to correct when she decided she could arbitrarily stop Belvin from writing an examination that he had taken four years to prepare for.

Nothing about that is in his best interest and nothing about that is corrective, it’s just vindictive and harmful, her husband has offered to support Belvin to sit for the missed papers in June 2016 that is good it’s what is available, Belvin has to take it.

Nothing, however, will compensate for the fact that his “O” Level results will have to be on two certificates instead of one.
Some institutions do demand that the results be of one sitting. Nothing will compensate for the fact that he had been psychologically prepared for the November 2015 examinations not the June 2016 one. Nothing will compensate him for the lost time that he could have been doing his lower six studies, which is why what was in his best interest should have prevailed at the material time.

Poverty

Belvin lives in Bocha, a dry poor area that does not produce much food. Most families in Bocha struggle to access food and other basics, like water. When a family manages to keep a child in school for four years it’s an achievement and in my view it’s unacceptable that someone can nullify that sacrifice and bring it to nought simply because the family cannot afford shoes.

By doing what she did Rubende humiliated Belvin in front of his peers and made poverty a punishable crime. Anyone who has experience lack, and most of us have, knows that poverty carries with it unwarranted shame and stigma.

It is, therefore, highly irresponsible for the only adult in the classroom to accentuate a child’s poverty by barring him from writing a public examination.

The message sent to Belvin’s peers is that they should treat with disdain those who are less fortunate than themselves.

Rural learners missing out on modern education due to power shortages

Children are not responsible for buying themselves school shoes, their parents or guardians are.

How then does a teacher justify taking away a child’s chance to write a career determining public examination on the basis of what a parent is able to do or not do?

How do we get to a point where we send a child back to a grandmother to demand shoes?

Belvin suffered damaging humiliation for his guardian’s poverty and will live with the psychosocial impact of this experience for the rest of his life. If we all had a choice would any one of us be poor? Child poverty in this country has been aggravated by HIV and Aids-related orphanhood. Zimbabwean poverty is highly ruralised with 76% of rural households falling under the poor bracket.

I would expect a teacher to make it her business to be sensitive to this reality in a community she works.

With the massive job losses that have hit our country, we are certainly going to be seeing more children without proper school uniform and these children should be safe and be treated with dignity in our schools.

We might agree or disagree on the candidate’s obligation to conform to school uniform requirements. That is healthy debate.
We however, have to be clear on what we expect from someone who spends the greater part of a child’s formative years with our children.

It is a great act of trust for a parent to release their child into the hands of a teacher for 5 five days of a seven day week.

During that time a teacher must know they are in loco parentis and have a duty not only to teach and discipline, but to guide, protect, nurture and propel a child to overcome adversity (including poverty) and reach full potential. Anyone not committed to doing this should not be anywhere near a classroom.

As a nation we need to revisit the characteristics of our classrooms, the value system taught to our children by the teacher and see if it trains our children to be empathetic, responsible and functional citizens.

The lesson from the Belvin-Rubende experience is that our teachers need to be capacity-built in child protection and psychosocial support. It is the only way our teachers will facilitate psychosocial well-being of their students by making them feel accepted and valued whether they are poor, living with HIV or disability or are slow learners. Condemning what Rubende did is not enough, we have to work towards changing the classroom environment if we are to prevent repeat occurrences of such inhumanity.

lSibusisiwe Marunda is the Zimbabwe country director of the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative

21 COMMENTS

  1. What a tragedy!The teacher is such a jerk..just bcz she shares th same bed wth th school head doesn’t mean she cn do as she pleases and plunge ths boy into misery…The boy shld transfer to a different school nxt yr wth that evil Jezebel paying all th expenses..she really sucks!

    • What a big lie? I was actually at the school. This is a falsehood of what actually happened. The boy came wearing takkies and it was hrs prior to sitting the xam. the guy went for good. All along he had been coming with school shoes, to make matters worse he decided not to write the following subject despite not being chased away.

      • Anne by failing to give an account since you say was at the school suggest that you are also telling lies. Ndiani akamuti enda unotora bhutsu dzavanga vakapfeka zuro? Ko bhutsu dzine role yei in an exam. What is the outlook of that school to demand such standards. Mabhuku akakwana. Ari kunyora uno for your information has a masters and current doctorate student but up to grade seven had no shoes. Thats clear lack of leadership from the headM. and totally irresponsible for the senior teacher.

  2. we don’t need poison like that in our zim education system, being the head’s bed mate doesn’t make her god at the school, she must be disciplined accordingly.

  3. Our cash-strapped govt is battling to identify workers fit for firing. This foolish woman has sold herself out. One down.

  4. I agree to everything you wrote. My question to you I believe you have come across a lot of almost similar scenarios in your career. Have you ever engaged the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education for secondment to Teacher’s colleges to offer the so-called Psychosocial Support Initiatives to trainee teachers or rather do you in any way visit schools time and again to educate on these issues. No offense intended but we need to provide a platform for information to be available to all stakeholders.

    By the way what does a Psychosocial Supporter do in Zimbabwe???

  5. The case of the boy at mweyamutsvene failing to write examination need to be addressed amicably without taking sides.mrs rubende’s rights should also be respected as those of Bevin.she has the right to see that school rules are followed and adhered to.kana dai Bevin akauya akadhakwa maimutambira kuti anyore nokuti marights ake.forgive the Rubendes.

    • You are right Chiremba, although there is an issue of poverty, illnesses and all sorts, but rules are rules. There are policies, processes and procedures which needs to be adhered to to maintain order in society. Let us refrain from being emotional on such serious issues, lets come together and proffer solutions for a better society. Somebody talks of $1 for two slippers, correct, but whom amongst the vast majority of our beings who afford those has ever taken even a full bhero to orphanages or Social Welfare. Before chastising the teacher who is doing her job, what has the MP done for his constituency.

    • Chiremba Honestly motibaya majekiseni asiwo. The reason why leaders or in this case headmasters are not robots is to facilitate decision making. Rules are basically the boundaries. Professor Jonathan Moyo once said and I quote “If rules do not bend they will break” eoq. Rules are there to help you make correct decisions. Dzimwenguva chirungu chinotirasisa. kuchengetedza marules hatingati marights aVaRubende. Basa ravo is to make decisions in the public interest or the ministry and the gvt of Zimbabwe.

  6. This teacher, does she have a heart? Is she a genuine qualified teacher? Dd she ever read my artcles on psychology or some articles by my fellow psychologist Brunner and or Skinner?? Or maybe the reporter just want to sell his paper>

  7. hapana psychology yavanoda vana rubwende/ rubeche ava they planned this, kwakumudzinga day rema exams yet aiuya asina school shoes the whole year, vane hutsinye ava. Munyori there is no excuse for their behaviour, psychology my foot

  8. This writer took time to write this piece of an article. Well some weeks after the incident took place. This should have afforded time to a little bit if research with regard to guidelines from the ministry regarding such issues, the police’s position etc. These should have been interviewed. I feel there must be some way of remedy. There must be are papers ready for such incidents. Rightfully put it does affect psychologically. It can leave a permanent negative effect on the boy. I don’t seem to remember having heard a comment from the minister himself but have about they wanting to introduce a drivers l GH Licensing scheme . To scheme these parents who do not afford a dollar for 2 pair of shoes let alone a 3$ by 10 lesson driving fee excluing car hire. Food for thought.

  9. That idiot teacher is a ‘day-light’ witch. She dont deserve to be living. We are living with s*tanists and that teacher is a dev:l. The best is to transfer the boy to another school becoz failure to do that, mark my words she will poison him.

  10. As someone who violated a child rights according to our laws can criminal charges not be brought against her . Stern action should be taken to stop such psychotic behaviour in people running the lives of our children .
    Can someone please do a profile of this Nyasha the wife of the head people a least to see what makes her unbalanced mentally

    • why do you always look at one side, be critical do not rush to judge, then what will you say if the investigations by the Ministry will concur with Anne’s assertions

  11. Writing a Zimsec exam does not give pupils license to anarchy. The teacher was right. Serious students do not leave shoes behind during exams. Mazuva ose aipfekei. u are raising marights asina basa.

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