Private education is thriving in peri-urban informal settlements as people have been given residential land without critical services being provided. These places in the outskirts of the urban areas are often far from existing government schools opening opportunities for entrepreneurs to establish schools in these areas.
Poorly furnished classrooms without electricity, chalk boards and broken window pens are a common sight in make-shift structures that are being passed off as classrooms in the schools provided by the entrepreneurs. Roughly there are about 15 to 20 pupils in a class and the classes don’t go up to grade seven. The owners of the schools often say they will introduce other classes as they go.
Parents in the settlements say that government has not provided any schools and the established schools in other areas require their children to use buses which become very expensive. In their view these local private schools are cheaper under the circumstances. They say nothing about the quality of the education that their children receive. It is enough that their children are receiving an education of some sort.
Surprisingly none of the parents I talked to seemed to think that government has a duty to provide education for their children. For them it is better to have a poor, expensive school than to have no school at all.
Some people are making money out of a desperate situation and government has not done enough to regulate these private schools to protect the vulnerable communities from exploitation. Inhabitants of these peri-urban settlements do not see the private school entrepreneurs as the bad guys but as their life savers.
Government has allowed settlements to sprout in peri-urban areas especially in Harare. Some of the settlements that’s have sprouted up include Hopely, Ushewokunze and Caledonia in Harare east.
Local authorities and government have not done much to ensure that these settlements have access to basic services such as health and education particularly education. No primary and secondary government schools have been built in Caledonia for example.
This has opened opportunities for private education providers to exploit in these areas. There has been an increase in the number of private schools in these areas which are making a killing without providing quality education.
A junior school in Caledonia is charging $15 a month per child which translates to $45 per term. This is way above government schools in other high density areas charging between $15 and $25 per term which is way lower than the fees being asked for by private school entrepreneurs. This is despite the fact that these private schools do not have facilities for sports or other amenities such as libraries.
Government has passed on its responsibility to provide basic education to private entrepreneurship putting education away from the reach of the poorest of the poor. It also seems there is no policy on how these private education establishments should be governed and regulated.
In other countries where private schools exist in poor neighborhoods, they are either run by charity organisations or churches not private entrepreneurs for profit. This helps to guard against the ‘commodification’ of education and overcharging that puts it away from the reach of the poor that it seeks to empower. Other schools are established and run by the communities themselves.
However in Zimbabwe, private education has been left in the hands of business people who have a profit motive and often have no or limited knowledge in education. The business operators do not take into account that they serve low income groups who are unemployed and have no means to pay the fees.
The teachers at one of the schools complained that they are underpaid and that ministry officials never come to assess the standard of teaching and education at these ‘private’ schools leaving children at the mercy of profit-seeking entrepreneurs. This means the quality of education offered by the private schools escapes scrutiny and children are short-changed.
Government has failed to provide schools for the growing communities in peri-urban areas but it has a duty to at least ensure that the private players providing education in these areas do not exploit poor communities by providing inferior , overpriced education.