Sydney Kawadza Senior Writer
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima’s key performance indicators include construction of more schools.
This is part of President Mnangagwa’s vision for Zimbabwe to become an upper middle-income economy by 2030. Vision 2030 could, however, be affected by issues perceived to be small and lying undetected.
The challenges emanate from policies dating back to the colonial era when the white minority government withdrew funding for mission schools. These challenges are mostly evident in rural schools where children’s educational development is destroyed and affecting pass rates.
Before independence, rural schools were run by churches through missionary centres and these received small grants.
The colonial government, however, withdrew support from mission schools promoting their handover to rural district councils.
However, rural councils in their nature lack sufficient revenue bases to support and promote the growth of these education facilities.
Government’s Education for All policy after independence increased grants for development while communities provided voluntarily labour and other materials especially building materials such as bricks.
In the 1990s, educational functions were decentralised with school authorities and communities — through School Development Committees and School Development Associations — taking responsibility for schools development.
However, councils, reeling from the economic upheavals at the turn of the new millennium, struggled to support schools under their jurisdiction. Council then asked interested church organisations to take over responsibilities for running the schools from the RDCs.
The challenges manifested in communities where religion and cultural practices clashed.
According to a survey, extensive consultations and dialogues held in the Midlands province from 2016, a number of challenges have emerged which affect the development of the schools.
The survey, supported by a non-governmental organisation — Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation — involved local communities affected by council school handovers, local authorities at district and provincial levels, church representatives, teachers associations, Government, traditional leaders and teachers’ associations.
It emerged that the transition led to disagreements between new authorities and employees, parents, communities and councils.
The current legislative and policy framework for such handovers and re-registration of the council schools is guided by the Education Act including various circulars and council by-laws.
It also emerged that these did not provide specific guidelines to facilitate mutual agreements among stakeholders affected by the handovers.
Zimbabwe’s current legislative provisions do not protect the rights and interests of pupils, parents, school employees and local communities. There are no mechanisms to monitor the quality of education provided by the new school curriculum.
This has also led to various conflicts particularly in respect of the new methods of religious instructions — such as dress code, conduct and cultural practices — imposed usually by the authorities. The new school authorities also clashed with pupils on rights to religion with strict religious doctrines introduced.
Communities feel robbed of ownership of the schools when they provided resources and labour during construction in line with the Government’s Education for All Policy.
Ownership is also derived from the names of such schools, which honoured local traditional chiefs, tribes or local geographical phenomenon.
Local communities have thus, withdrawn their traditional support to these schools and have in most cases found themselves at loggerheads with the new school authorities.
This has also resulted in tensions between the SDAs, which are provided for in the Education Act and the school authorities.
The fees structure introduced by the churches were also higher than those of the RDCs and this has resulted in failure by many parents or guardians to pay the school fees.
The consultations and dialogue led to the crafting and guidelines for the handover of rural day schools from councils to churches and other authorities. It is believed after the success of these consultations and dialogue, these can be adopted as best practice and shared with policy makers across Zimbabwe.
Recommendations include the need for local authorities to give sufficient notice to the affected stakeholders and communities written notifications. There should be investigations, assessments and inspections to establish ownership of all infrastructure, assets and equipment at the school.
Elements of handovers should include school maintenance and development, its policies and governance and the monitoring of compliance and quality of education.
These issues are affecting a number of schools across Zimbabwe, but as and when these recommendations are published, Minister Mavima should also look at these challenges.
There are indeed little problems that can affect a whole project that could be of benefit to the growth of Zimbabwe and its education system.