NEWS about the drowning of an eight-year-old pupil at Harare’s David Livingstone School, Mufaro Matemba, is just but one of the many incidents of neglect of schoolchildren by school authorities.
This happened two days after schools opened this week on Wednesday when Mufaro went missing soon after break time.
Newspaper reports said school authorities instructed a search for the child until his cousin, who usually comes to pick him up after school lessons, decided to search again the school grounds with the help of some caretakers at the school.
That was when one caretaker discovered a uniform and some shoes at the poolside. On closer inspection, he found Mufaro’s body floating in the pool and alerted authorities.
I watched footage of this heartbreaking incident on ZTV news and many questions kept flying in and out of my mind.
For three hours they searched the school grounds and did not find the boy until a relative decided to conduct another search.
And why was the pool not secured to ensure the safety of these young people who do not see these water bodies as potential death traps?
I was deeply shaken by the grieving father of the boy, Anuf Matemba, who shed tears on camera as he expressed how deeply saddened he was by the loss of his youngest child.
When parents leave their children at school, especially those in kindergarten, teachers and school authorities immediately become in loco parentis, a Latin term that means in place of a parent or parents.
This means that these authorities have legal rights and responsibilities of a biological parent, although not allowing what would be considered violations of children’s liberties.
It is, however, mind-boggling how a teacher continued her lessons knowing that one child was missing from the classroom.
Did the teacher make efforts to contact the principal so that they call his parents?
Or perhaps it was just an issue that was brushed aside waiting for the boy to reappear from nowhere?
Media reports say that the caretakers at the school indicated the gate to the pool is always locked and they are not sure how Mufaro gained access to the pool.
The truth is that the school did not take enough precautions to check that the area was properly secured and it is imperative that they take the blame for causing the death of this young child.
There is also need to employ or designate a lifeguard or water monitor at swimming pools that ensure no child gets into the pool before swimming lessons.
A pool, be it at home or a public place, is death trap for both children and adults, hence precautionary measures have to be put in place to ensure that no one drowns when they fall into the pool.
A net covering the entire pool could save lots of lives, but it would seem as though most school authorities do not take these issues seriously.
I am not judging against this school, but I also have it on record that about four children from David Livingstone School recently walked all the way to Makombe Building when they realised that their school bus home had not come.
One of the children said she would have walked all the way home, which is about 16 kilometres from the city centre, had not an alert parent noticed her and her friends loitering along Herbert Chitepo Avenue.
But how does a school let young children like that walk out of school premises without adult company?
My two daughters attended school at this particular institution between 1992 and 1996 and regulations were such that no child, especially those in grades one to four, left school premises alone.
I used to live a street away from the school, but it was school policy not to allow children to hop, skip and jump around the busy streets without adult supervision.
The scenario has unfortunately changed and I would perhaps guess that the teachers are either disgruntled over issues which are beyond everyone’s control.
The classrooms are overcrowded and the teachers seem overwhelmed by these numbers, hence makes it difficult to monitor each and every child’s movement.
Isn’t this the same school where a nine-year-old Kuwadzana girl was abducted for ritual purposes as she was either on her way to or from school a couple of years ago with remains found many kilometres away from Harare?
The school is no doubt every parent’s choice because it is located within the central business district, making it convenient for those that do not have permanent places of residence, but work in the CBD.
But this has, however, created so many problems for children who are forced to wake up very early in the morning in order to catch the earliest buses into the city.
Sometimes these children lose their money and seek help from strangers for transport back home and teachers allegedly complain that they doze in class.
The ministry responsible for these schools should enforce the school zones to avoid such problems which can lead to child sexual and physical abuse.
I have also observed a worrying trend where private schools are sprouting in most residential areas which are charging astronomical fees which most parents cannot afford.
This has resulted in parents withdrawing children from private schools, putting too much pressure on the few government schools which charge reasonable fees, but are now unfortunately overcrowded.
But that overcrowding should not compromise safety and security of innocent children who are left under the authority of a team of trained teachers.
The death of Mufaro in the pool at David Livingstone Primary School is a clear case of negligence and the school should take the blame for the loss of life. This is totally unacceptable.