Govt must consider schools plight

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe — a former educationist himself — last week officially opened the Education Conference and Expo 2017 in Harare, a story which was carried in Friday’s edition of our sister paper, the Daily News.

While the conference may have been valuable for headmasters and teachers who attended, the $115 schools were forced to pay as affiliation fees for the conference must have left certain schools in dire financial situations.

Rural schools, whose catchment areas are confined to peasant families in and around the villages, peg modest fees per term with most parents entering into payment plans with the respective institutions.

Satellite schools as well as those in resettlement areas have very low enrolment figures, which essentially means lean revenue bases. These cannot compare with urban schools, which boast of four-digit enrolment figures, in terms of the cash they generate through tuition and levy fees.

The latter institutions even afford to fund infrastructural projects of their own within the schools, while their rural counterparts mostly rely on the catchment community’s labour for bricks and other odd jobs.

On the whole, the majority of them operate on shoestring budgets, making it very difficult for them to part with such an amount for the purposes of a conference.

If the Primary and Secondary Education ministry felt very strongly about the value of the conference, then they should have made efforts to find partners who would subsidise essential programmes for them.

Besides, filling a whole auditorium with hundreds — if not thousands — of teachers and headmasters donning the same colour of shirts emblazoned with a government badge made them look like clowns in some institution’s uniform.

Some schools struggle to get adequate resources for functioning, including chalk, learners’ as well as teachers’ books over and above other requirements like furniture, sports equipment among others. Forcing them to foot extra costs, which they had not budgeted for sounds grossly unfair and in the long-run may only do the learners a disservice.

It is important for government through the Primary and Secondary Education ministry to consult widely on funding models of such conferences as there could be organisations willing to partner them in making their programmes success stories.

Zimbabwe’s economy, bereft of the traditional manufacturing that used to take place in its industries, has shed many jobs in the process pushing most parents of school-going children into the informal sector, mainly vending.

In a way, the current economic challenges also affect schools in a big way. Once parents struggle to raise money for fees, this will also bite the schools in a big way.

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