Editor’s Memo: Whither Our Education System?

CAN we spare a thought for the state of affairs in government schools today.

 

There is nothing exemplifying collapse, decay and corruption in this country than the mess festering in government schools.

Schools are there to help shape children into upright, knowledgeable and clever young adults. Institutions of learning can no longer be trusted to achieve this because teachers, school masters and heads have become vessels of shameful acts which cannot be condoned in the name of low pay or low morale.

I am not just referring here to the teachers coming to school three times a month because they cannot raise busfare, neither am I referring to them forcing pupils to buy sweets, biscuits and other goodies brought into the classroom daily. Profits from daily takings are quickly converted into foreign currency before the teacher abandons class to cross the border into South Africa or Botswana to buy more confectionaries which are then brought to the ready market in the classroom when the teacher makes a rare appearance. The cycle continues until the end of the term. The Ministry of Education is well aware of this because it is so widespread. In fact there are instances when officials from the ministry’s district offices have visited schools manned by less that 10 teachers and have done nothing about it.

I lived close to a school until recently where boys with shorts flying at half mast strolled into the school at 9.00am and would walk––out through the gate unchallenged at 11.00 to go for a smoke or simply walk up and down the streets like demonic spirits. This again the ministry is well aware of but has ceased to care about how to deal with discipline in schools. The ministry is also aware that schools charging commercial rates for levies cannot provide books, tissue paper, chalk and paper.

Teachers and teachers’ organisations will argue that their current conduct is a direct result of low morale due to poor remuneration. But the profession –– like a surgeon’s, is not about half measures and cutting corners. It’s either you do it or you don’t. I find it immoral for anyone entrusted with the education of a child to brazenly not do the job but come to school to force the same child to buy sweets and chewing gum. How about the teacher resigning from the job to sell sweets fulltime by the school gate? We have in this country thousands of career paths of children that have been ruined by teachers who believe punishing the innocent child is making a political statement.

The conduct is not only debasing the profession but also eroding the self-esteem of individuals. Such is the extent of the depravity that an old schoolmate told me that the lower rugby fields at a school in Mount Pleasant have been dug up and turned into maize fields by guess who, teachers. These are professional who expect to be respected. My foot! All this is happening under the watch of a ministry that still claims Zimbabwe has the best education system on the continent.

Perhaps the ministry is also not aware of what school officials –– when not digging up sports fields and selling sweets –– are doing with monies collected as levies, staff welfare funds and on special occasions like blazer days, hat days, tracksuits days and civics days. To give the ministry insight into what is happening, schools have now said they will not accept cheques or any other form of payment other than cash. Thus on blazer day for example, a school with an enrolment of 1 000 pupils can collect as much as $1 million which is then “banked” on the foreign currency black market and select individuals in the school development associations and senior administrative staff transfer monies into the school account. The $1 million in cash can buy US$2 000 on the street. To put the same amount in the bank the racketeers only need to sell US$32 through the RTGS rate of $32 000:US$1. They then share the remainder of the foreign currency.

The cash can also be “sold” to dealers exploiting the RTGS system. There are individuals who have become very rich because they occupy privileged positions in administration of school. Meanwhile teachers and support staff who are expected to benefit from fundraising activities receive their payments in cheques.

But these are small figures. There are schools demanding fees in cash with figures as high as $800 000 a term per child. It would be ghastly to contemplate that these large amounts are being administered in an opaque way. This also includes government schools asking parents to pay for school fees in goods and services. How are these being accounted for? In the absence of clear guidelines and supervision by the ministry, schools have gone a limb to invent levies and systems which have not benefitted pupils at all. If such guidelines are available from the ministry they need to be communicated to parents and stakeholders to cut back on abuse.

I am also keen to know if the conduct of schools when administering monies from levies and other fundraising activities is governed by the Audit and Exchequer Act. A view from the Comptroller and Auditor General on the issue of school levies could also help here. I would like to challenge the authorities to carry out sample audits on schools to prove my paranoia wrong.

By Vincent Kahiya

 

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