THE news that the government is planning to close 40 schools in the Matabeleland region due to low enrolment is quite regrettable, considering the importance of education for the region and the country’s development.
Comment: NewsDay Editor
The government, on its side, can claim that it used some indicators like enrolment and there is no need to keep the schools operational, but this is failure to appreciate the context and realities of the area.
Schools in the Matabeleland region are sparsely located and if any institution were to close, it will mean pupils will have to walk longer distances because there will be fewer schools and this will translate to more dropouts and the creation of a vicious cycle.
What the government ought to do is to find out why enrolment figures are falling and try to address this anomaly.
For example, Matabeleland South is a drought-prone area and following the El Nino-induced drought during the previous farming season, it is possible that a number of pupils could have dropped out of school because of hunger-related challenges.
After the drought, came heavy rains and there were reports that many pupils were marooned due to the floods and this could also contribute to dwindling enrolment figures.
Also linked to that were reports that a number of schools had their infrastructure damaged due to the rains, while in some other areas, schools do not have enough classrooms to accommodate pupils.
The reasons for low enrolment are inexhaustible and the onus is on the government to interrogate why this is the case and seek to address it.
On the other hand, one can argue that probably there is need to engage parents and guardians to find out why, if they are not, they are not sending their children to schools and find a way to encourage learning.
This way, rapport and trust are built between the community, on the one hand, and the government, on the other, and this could avert the decision to shut down the schools.
Shutting down schools is a drastic measure, which should only come in as a last resort.
We implore the government not to act with haste and to rethink this issue, which is likely to have profound effects on the affected areas.
If closing schools is unavoidable, then the government ought to have contingency plans for the pupils and communities that will be affected by such a decision.
Most importantly, the authorities need to ensure that no child’s right to education is compromised by the decision to shut down a school and no pupil is treated like collateral damage.