BY VENERANDA LANGA/DESMOND CHINGARANDE
THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education yesterday raised alarm over alleged rising cases of mischief in schools where idle students have turned to wild sex orgies, drug abuse and stripping after going unsupervised since last week due to the ongoing strike by teachers.
This was revealed by committee chair Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga during a virtual meeting with the ministry’s permanent secretary Tumisang Thabela.
She said the practice was rampant at boarding schools, where students were without supervision because of the ongoing industrial action.
Pictures of naked students, kissing or indulging in pornographic acts have gone viral on social media, although the origins of the images could not be ascertained
“We got a report yesterday (Wednesday) where the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Cain Mathema, said only 29% of teachers have gone back to school. We have also checked with stakeholders and they say that only headmasters and maybe one teacher have gone back to school,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
“Parents have also been complaining that their children are left unsupervised and those at boarding schools and even those at day schools are reporting that children are engaging in sex and drugs, and other bad behaviour because no one is supervising them. They said lack of supervision also creates problems with enforcement of social distancing.”
Her claims were corroborated by a child rights group, ZimChild Network, which gave government a six-day ultimatum to resolve the teachers’ grievances or risk a countrywide students strike.
“We are giving the government six days to solve the teachers issue, we are pleading. Failure to reply, we will protest fighting for our right to education as well as submit our petition to the Ministry of Education in large numbers.
“The schools are now nightclubs due to absenteeism of teachers and we cannot live with such situations for long.
“If Soweto students marched, we will also march for our right to education. We will follow all COVID-19 regulations and protocols protesting heading to the Ministry of Education offices,” the students said in apparent reference to the 1976 uprisings by black South African schoolchildren.
Last week, social media was abuzz with similar reports, forcing some parents to withdraw their children from school.
This comes shortly after Unicef released a report expressing concern that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s education sector could have devastating long-term effects on the academic growth of children.
Primary and Secondary Education deputy minister Edgar Moyo yesterday said he was not aware of the students’ ultimatum.
“I am not aware of the ultimatum by the students as I am in Chimanimani on other government engagements,” Moyo said.
“But the teachers are negotiating their salaries through their unions with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. We (Education ministry) are only a service ministry. Our role is only to offer our services to the students.”
Thabela challenged the MPs to cite specific schools where students were engaging in nefarious activities.
“What I want to know is exactly which school where this is happening so that we work with evidence. There was a comment that said at Nyadire High School, the headmaster wrote something saying ‘please take your children, vachamitisana (they will impregnate each other)’.
“However, the language used, for me was suspicious that it came from a headmaster. When we sent our team to both Nyadire high and primary schools, there was no such thing happening,” she said.
Thabela said primary schools only had Grade 7 pupils at the moment, while secondary schools had O and A-Level final year students, hence supervision would not be a problem given the small numbers.
“We also received a story about three other boarding schools, but these proved to be fake reports. There was also a story about Rusununguko High School in Goromonzi and when we went there, all teachers and pupils were there and everything went well,” she said.
On teachers’ strike, she said the Public Service Commission was dealing with the issue.
Thabela also said that this year’s school calendar will end on December 18.
She said the ministry was preparing materials for virtual learning, podcasts, radio lessons and television lessons, while print material was being prepared for rural children so that they also engage in open learning.
She said students were ready for their final examinations as most of them had already covered much of their syllabi by the time COVID-19 lockdown measures were introduced in March.