The Forced Closure of Private Schools

The forced delay in the opening of all private schools with the threat that any school that defied the order would face the imprisonment of their Heads is an incomprehensible action that defies all logic.

In 2008, children attending State controlled and managed schools were virtually denied any formal education because of the collapse of the system due to shortages of teaching staff and teaching materials. What learning was achieved was due to the Herculean efforts of parents who dug deep to feed children in school hostels and to augment teacher salaries. Mission schools did likewise.

The only sectors that worked consistently and were able to maintain a high standard of education were the small number of private schools where parents fund their childrens education completely. Despite constant harassment by the Minister of Education, these schools have been able to pay reasonable salaries to staff and maintain their standards.

Now, with one days notice, the Acting Minister of Education has forced all these schools to remain closed simply because he has been unable to ensure that State schools will be able to open.

The facts are that Zimbabwe has 2,8 million children in its State administered education system. At an average class size of 30, this would require the services of 105 000 teachers. In fact it is understood that barely 20 per cent of this number remained at these schools at the end of December 2008 and over the holidays, many thousands of teachers have left the country to try to secure work in South Africa and Botswana.

On top of this, virtually no materials for schooling are available, even if the State had the resources with which to pay for these items. The stark reality is that State schools are unlikely to open at the end of January although the Ministry will attempt to do so. If a Transitional Government is formed in February, the new Minister will need at least two months to prepare to open the State schools and to mobilize the resources to make this possible.

Under these circumstances it is an act of folly to stop the private schools, where parents have already paid their fees, teachers are ready to start teaching and in some cases children had already started to arrive at schools for the new term. This action will cost the private schools many millions of dollars and the children vital weeks of learning.

The private schools teach the children of the very people in Zimbabwe who are keeping the whole country going. Skilled and experienced managers and specialists from all walks of life, without which the country could not sustain even the present level of economic and social activity. They are a vital segment of a collapsing society and every effort should be made to support their efforts to stay open and in business.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 13th January 2009