Schools are opening for the New Year this week. While it is a great experience for youngsters starting Grade One and older boys and girls starting secondary education, it has been hard for most parents to get children into school.
THE STANDARD EDITORIAL
Getting a place for Grade One and Form One at most schools has been a huge challenge. After the change in the enrolment system by Education minister Lazarus Dokora last year, banning entrance exams for Form One students, parents have since December been forced to move from school to school in search for places; an expensive undertaking.
Corrupt school administrators have taken advantage of this desperation by parents to extract bribes to facilitate enrolment. Both primary and secondary schools have also cashed in on the situation by forcing parents to buy uniforms from the learning institutions at inflated prices.
This is an extra burden on parents who still have to pay fees, purchase stationery and other consumables for the students. And not many parents, smarting from the effects of a declining economy, can afford to pay for all these requirements.
The range in fees charged by schools is huge. Urban government secondary schools are charging anything between US$80 and US$250. Rural mission schools are charging between US$350 and US$700 for boarding facilities. Private school fees range from US$1 500 to US$2 500 for day scholars and up to US$5 000 for boarders.
The cost of education is increasing by day while disposable incomes of parents have been eroded by unemployment, salary cuts and redundancy. The education-for-all mantra of post-independent Zimbabwe, is slowly waning as many children are dropping out of school after Grade 7. The number of drop-outs is larger in rural areas and the rate is accelerating in towns and cities due to increasing urban poverty.
The future of thousands of pupils in rural schools especially in resettlement areas is bleak due to poor school facilities and a shortage of qualified teachers. Students at a number of these schools cannot sit for eight subjects at ‘O’ Level because of staff shortages which force them to study for fewer subjects.
This sad reality in the education sector is likely to deteriorate further as long as government does not prioritise investment in education. The GNU era saw donors purchasing textbooks and exercise books for all pupils in a programme Zanu PF disparaged as “donorfication” of the sector, notwithstanding the fact that this was a huge success
In the absence of such support, the State does not appear capable of equipping schools. With it, good education is slowly becoming a luxury for the rich who can send their children to properly-equipped schools. The huge strides in increasing access to education for previously marginalised communities during the first decade of independence are being reversed.
It is a tragedy that 35 years after Independence we have classes being conducted in tobacco barns with learners sitting on bricks! This is unacceptable!