Education system is in a mess

Harmony Agere
In yet another low for the education sector, some schools are demanding that enrolling students should bring their own desks, chairs and mattresses, in a development that has stretched their already burdened parents. Parents and guardians who last week enrolled their children for Lower Six told The Sunday Mail Society that they had been told to bring chairs, desks and mattresses.

The requirements add to a string of items that are already being demanded by both primary and secondary schools, which range from toys to laptops.

“The requirement to bring such items as a desk, chair and mattress increases the cost burden on parents and we expect Government to intervene,” said a parent who declined to be identified.

“We are already required to pay for a lot of things outside school fees and we can’t afford to take this one too.”

The practice is reported to have started at the beginning of the year when Form Ones began classes. The parent said they had already bought desks, chairs and mattresses for their other children who enrolled for Form 1 at a boarding school (name supplied) early this year.

Whilst the requirement to bring mattresses is based on the fact that some students bed-wet and the move is seen as a health issue, what does not make sense is the requirement that pupils bring their own furniture, especially for Advanced Level classes.

Explained the parent: “For Form 1 to 4, whilst bringing desks and chairs might work because students are stationed in one classroom throughout the year, how does this work for Advanced Levels classes, where students move from one classroom to another for different subjects?”

Another burning question is what has happened to the furniture that the schools were using prior to this arrangement.

“If every pupil is to bring his or her desk, chair and mattress, what will happen to the furniture that the school had?” the parent queried.

Also of concern is what becomes of the furniture at the end of a schooling period or if a student transfers to another school.

Education experts believe the move is another one of the several tricks being employed by schools to by-pass a 2014 Government freeze on tuition fees and levy increases.

Some schools have been dribbling the directive by applying for time-framed “building” levies which they, however, continue to collect in perpetuity.

And it is not clear if schools have been given the green light to demand furniture from parents. Some schools maintain that asking learners to bring their own furniture is not a new practice.

They say students are free to take their furniture with them when they finish school but added that a few do so since it would have been worn out.

The schools are arguing that they are cash-strapped, hence they have resorted to this arrangement.

“It’s easy for the media to criticise but we need money to operate smoothly and we are simply passing on the burden because we do not have the money,” said one school head.

“For starters, parents are no longer paying fees because Government says defaulters cannot be turned away and we cannot hike the fees because Government banned that too and lastly, we don’t have other sources of funding besides fees.”

But the move to demand desks, chairs and mattresses has not been welcomed by parents and other stakeholders in the education sector. They feel the move is counter-productive.

“It is almost criminal and it goes against policy,” said Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president, Mr Obert Masaraure.

“The procurement of furniture should be the prerogative of the School Development Committee and it is against procedure for them to ask children to bring their own furniture. But what it shows is that our education system is so broken that schools now resort to such unprofessional conduct.”

Mr Masaraure said schools should come up with fund-raising activities rather than passing the burden to parents.

Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations and Committees president, Mr Claudio Mutasa, says his association is yet to receive formal complaints on the issue but blasted the alleged practice.

“I must be honest to say that we do not have such a case yet and should it come, it will be the first,” he said.

“If that is what it is happening then it’s wrong because that is not the ideal way to procure furniture for the school. The committees handling business in those schools are failing to follow set rules and procedures.”

The Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Professor Paul Mavima said there is nothing wrong with the practice as long as it has been approved by the ministry.

“Well it is a way of raising levies and if it is agreed between the school administration, the SDC and the parents then it is fine,” he said.

“But it should be approved by the Permanent Secretary so that whatever they do follows procedure.

“If the parents feel that they are not in agreement and that they are being forced into the arrangement, they can always put in a formal complaint with the ministry.”

Apart from furniture, some schools are demanding toys, books and various extra curricula items, a situation Mr Masaraure says is the child of an “ambitious curriculum”.

“Much of these things came up with the new curriculum which we have always said is over ambitious,” he says.

“It simply does not make sense to demand that children should bring laptop toys and other stuff because the majority cannot afford them.

“Look at schools in rural areas, the parents cannot afford a bulk of things demanded by this new curriculum.”

Asking children to bring items to school has often been seen as a way of promoting stigmatisation against children whose parents cannot afford.

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