19/01/2009

Out of school in Zimbabwe

Photo: Jeffrey Barbee / For LA Times
See the 2008 article tracing the collapse of the school system back to 2005.


From Anglican Information

Education in Zimbabwe, an ‘on the ground’ report:

Jan 17th 2009

The start of the new term has been delayed for a fortnight by the government, and the rumour is it will be delayed again. The reason given is that the 2008 end of year exams have not yet been marked. (End of Primary Grade 7, Local O and A levels). This may or may not be true.

But without doubt there is an enormous shortage of teachers, who have left the country in droves. Last term ended in a strike as salaries were no longer adequate to pay any needed bus fares. By the end of last term most government schools were closed or running almost as a playground. Science and Maths teachers were non existent.

Private schools were running normally, and from the middle of the term some schools in middle class areas re-opened. This was due to the parents getting together and raising funds to pay the teachers some sort of salary. At the school where I teach in Mabelreign, some of the parents did not, or could not, pay the extra 'top-up', but their kids came back to school with the rest. The parents also resuscitated the bore hole so that the school had water, which it had only had very intermittently. At other schools the parents worked class by class providing the essentials for the teacher of their children as well as her salary. Some new private schools opened up.

The situation this term is different because in the meantime there has been a de facto 'US dollarisation' in many if not most fields in the country. Inflation is now said to be in the billions so the Zim$ is virtually useless. The heads are therefore asking permission to charge school fees in US dollars, only apparently US$2 - 4 per TERM. So far the government has not responded. What can they do? If they allow school fees in US dollars they must offer the teachers, whom they pay directly a US $ salary too. But they have no money, and though they can print ever higher denominations of Zim $, they can not print US$.

Interestingly because the government could not open its schools they ordered the private schools not to open either, threatening to arrest the heads if they disobeyed. I heard this morning that the academically prestigious St George's College opened on time regardless. The headmaster, a Jesuit priest, is so far still in his office. I do not know what is happening in other private schools. Even Zanu.PF 'chiefs' want their children educated, so one wonders if this may not be a break point for the government.

The human cost of all this is above calculation. Yesterday I took some books, which I had been given by a friend leaving the country, to a Township secondary school near me. The head, a lovely grey haired man, was in his office. I sat down for a chat. The school probably has 1000 pupils, and should perhaps have 30 teachers. I asked how many teachers he expected to be short next term. 'I think about 20' he said sadly. 'The problem is that until the school is allowed to open I cannot plan'. I asked where he lived. He came from Glen Norah, so must need two bus fares to pay morning and evening. The cholera is bad there, and people are dying in big numbers. They often can not boil the water as there is no electricity. I promised I would take him round some water sterilising tablets I have been sent.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION comments that this is a report from relatively ‘well-off’ areas. The situation in the countryside is dire. Sadly, for the moment Zimbabwe seems to have been forgotten – but not by us.

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