Mission schools, once privatised, would be resigning from the social responsibility that was characteristic of their founding fathers
By Nhamo Muchagumisa
Many of you who are familiar with this column are more used to seeing me – and reading me – on the fiction beat.
Not today on The Sunday Express – and not this week
This week I am writing reality – not fiction.
Education is considered a basic human right that every child should enjoy at an affordable cost. Upon the attainment of independence – the Zimbabwean government took an aggressive stance against the bottleneck system that prevailed during the colonial era – to ensure that every Zimbabwean child accessed basic education.
The number of primary schools and day secondary schools increased phenomenally after independence in 1980 as the government played centre stage in ensuring that every Zimbabwean child got a decent education.
Mission schools had – throughout the colonial era – been the key players in ensuring that formal education reached the common people – that is the indigenous citizens of the country.
The proposed privatisation of Anglican secondary schools has been received with mixed feelings by parents, teachers, workers and local communities, with only a negligible number among the cited stakeholders showing optimism.
The motive behind privatisation has been questioned in many circles. Is it meant to improve the quality of service rendered to the learner, to improve the teachers’ working conditions, or to generate profits for responsible authorities?
It is up to one to make an opinion, but once mission schools are privatised, then responsible authorities would have abdicated from the humanitarian endeavour that motivated the pioneers of mission projects, like Bishop Knight Bruce.
Mission schools, once privatised, would be resigning from the social responsibility that was characteristic of their founding fathers.
Missionaries took the development of vocational skills and literacy as the extension of church work, but once schools are privatised, then mission work has been commodified and the humanitarian agenda is lost.
It is of importance to note that the earliest development of infrastructure in mission schools was a joint venture between the missionaries and the African communities.
The missionaries provided the expertise while the natives provided labour.
Privatisation means the termination of a long partnership between mission schools and immediate communities.
Donations from foreign organisations, including the parent churches also contributed immensely to the development of mission schools.
The fact that donations were made to local mission schools means that they are organisations meant to meet the intellectual needs of common people.
Of late alumni have played a sterling role in erecting new structures and renovating old ones in our mission schools, a gesture meant to ease the burden vested on parents who send their children to mission schools.
Responsible authorities are entitled to up to 20% of the fees paid into the school system, but they have hardly ploughed some of their takings back towards developing the schools they consider their property.
Parents have been compelled to pay extra levies to buy vehicles for the schools and, in many cases to construct new buildings, a scenario that makes them partners with the responsible authorities. If this point is considered with the seriousness it deserves, privatisation is an open fraud.
The Church collects tithes from its congregants, and we have never heard of such tithes being invested in the development of the schools the churches want to privatise, so the development of mission schools comes from people of diverse religious and cultural persuasions.
The possible gains of privatisation also need to be interrogated. With the escalation of fees, enrollments are likely to plummet.
A school that once enrolled 1 000 learners may end up enrolling 200. Let the reader understand.
There are already many private schools that have made their mark in the education system, and our mission schools will have to compete for clients with the established giants.
Given the current economic situation, our schools will be competing for clients from a tiny segment of the population.
The reputation of some mission schools will suffer a decline because shifting from the intellectual bottleneck, which saw them enrolling only high achievers at Grade 7, to the financial bottleneck, based on the parent’s ability to pay will see the intellectual giants turning into mixed ability schools.
The privatised schools may not retain the most competent of their staff as most teachers prefer the security that goes with a government contract.
But after all, has been said, will the privatisation of schools allow responsible authorities to retain their Christian values as the shift in their approach towards public education seems to place monetary gains at the centre of the proposed new dispensation?
Nhamo Muchagumisa is an English Language and Literature teacher, and he writes from Odzi. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on +263777460162. Email him at: email@example.com
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