Transform existing schools into world class schools

Malvern Mkudu, Opinion

Claims by government that it will build 17 world class schools come at a  time when government has announced that it will close 40 schools in Matebeleland South due to funding challenges. Government has a plan to build 2000 ‘world class’ schools.These claims need to be challenged.

What Professor Paul Mavima, Deputy Minister of Primary and Secondary Education (and I like the guy) describes as world class facilities includes sporting facilities, laboratories, teachers’ houses and state of art buildings whatever that means at least according to what is quoted in the media.

What is worrying is that the government of President Mugabe already inherited schools with such facilities and they have been run down under his watch . May be the point of departure is to define what constitutes a world class school. Secondly it may be of paramount importance to question why the government has not upgraded its existing public schools to attain world class status.

I had the privilege of going to Mutanda School in Sakubva, then Rujeko School in Dangamvura. I ended up at Courteney Selous in the upmarket Greendale suburb in Harare and the difference in facilities was glaring but not that big. We had more or less the same facilities in township schools compared to elite government schools and the fees were more or less the same. My last school had a swimming pool, sports facilities and a cinema which we never had at any of the township schools. My secondary education then took me to St Augustine’s Mission School and then Eaglesvale High School.

I saw some of the best science laboratories at St Augustine’s Mission School. At Eaglesvale there were world class sporting facilities and even modern computer laboratories. We also had computer laboratories at St Augustine’s even though only a few students would access them during my time there.

Reading on what constitutes a world class school, its characteristics, it is clear that world class schools cannot be achieved by building more state of the art schools but transforming existing institutions into what the government perceives as  world class school.

We had our own world class schools. In university I, had a Zambian friend who did his secondary education at Marist Brothers in Nyanga. What has happened to these schools ? The government has simply failed to consolidate its initial gains in education soon after independence and this project is just a smokescreen to mask its failures.

The country is not short of world class schools. We have well resourced   private schools. When we were at school many years ago we had people who traveled from as far as Botswana, Tanzania and Malawi to enroll in local private school. The practice continues today as I have seen Botswana nationals at Falcon College for example. I have lived with such foreign students in my own home.  This means Zimbabwe already has these world class schools which are capable of attracting foreigners.

However these private schools are out of the reach of ordinary Zimbabweans. They are attended only by high income earners who have their fees paid by their companies and a few well to do citizens. Unless if the government is going to subsidize the cost of education at these so called new “world class” schools , the schools will only be accessed by those who already have the means to access existing private schools.

Government’s priority should be about how to make existing world class schools more affordable to ordinary Zimbabweans. Instead, education is becoming less accessible to the poor as schools in high density areas now charge as much as $45 a month . Private group A schools charge up to $3000 a term. This is well out of the reach of the majority of Zimbabweans

Only recently government announced that it may close 40 schools in Matebeleland South because the schools are becoming too expensive to run . If government can no longer afford to educate its poorest citizens, where will they get the resources to build world class schools?

Government has failed to maintain the near world class schools it inherited from the colonial government of Ian Smith. The government has also failed to build any group A schools in urban or rural areas since 1980 which has caused  a stampede for places at schools such as Avondale Primary School in Harare.

Former group A schools left by the colonial government such as Allan Wilson Churchill and Prince Edward are now a shadow of what they used to be. These schools had state of art sporting facilities including swimming pools some of which are now in a state of disrepair.

Take Allan Wilson for example. It was founded as a “modern general secondary school,” and originally did not offer public examinations. In 1952 it was accorded the status of technical school and named Allan Wilson Technical Boys High School. The school became academically selective between 1952 and 1974 and taught mainly a technical and scientific curriculum.

Prince Edward School offered world class tennis and rugby facilities that saw many students going to the United States of America on scholarship. These talented students have been let down by a poor economic environment that does not reward sports people locally. The list of schools that had world class facilities is big but these have been run down over the years.

It is clear that what is needed in Zimbabwe is not the building of these new so called world class schools but a critical reflection on how schools which used to offer world class education have collapsed and why those that have survived are now beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. The government needs to clarify to the nation who will fund these world class schools and which students will be able to enroll at these new schools. If the new education vision does not spell out how we will transform existing schools into world class schools then its a vision that this country cannot afford or rather does not need. One gets the feeling that we now have a government that is shooting in the dark.

That vision will only succeed in neglecting the existing schools and driving away education from the reach of many Zimbabweans.This is an elitist programme which will not address critical education problems affecting the nation.

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