Stanely Mushava : Features Correspondent
Education has not been spared corruption’s invasive spread into the pillar sectors of the country.The moral blackout in a sector mandated with the development of children and the sustainability of the future has unsettling implications. Schools entangled in rotten fibre and different methods of embezzlement reported in the press suggest school authorities have mastered corruption into another syllabus.An audit commissioned by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education reveals that school heads, conniving with bursars and school development associations (SDAs), have been fleecing their schools of development levies and covering up with laboured misrepresentations.
The Sunday Mail last week reported that millions of the $1,2 billion Government and mission schools countrywide handle in development levies were being abused.
Earlier snippets of the audit were also incriminating, implicating school heads and SDAs of stealing from their schools.
“We know for a fact that more than US$1, 2 billion is collected through levies, and if only half of that was used to develop the schools we would be talking of something else,” Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told The Sunday Mail.
“We have a backlog of 2 000 schools and are collecting a lot of money. How then do we explain the backlog in infrastructure development? Some schools are overstaffed and these employees earn far more than teachers and heads on civil service salaries. This has become a conduit for corruption,” said Minister Dokora.
“There is a disconnect between the levies collected and their use. Most of these schools’ levy collection systems are robust, but when it comes to use, (it’s a different story altogether). What the auditors observed was shocking. It’s clear the situation cannot remain like that,” he said.
Ironically, school heads and school development associations (SDAs) brought together by a mutual obligation to guarantee the children’s right to quality education are plotting against it.
SDAs are a central factor in school administration because Government acknowledges parents as key stakeholders of schools.
According to the Nziramasanga Commission Report (1999), allowing parents greater responsibility was understood to enhance their confidence in the education of their children and provide them with incentives to improve effectiveness of the school.
SDAs taking part in the running down of schools and plotting with school heads to defraud their children’s schools demonstrate an unforgivable level of moral blameworthiness.
They are betraying the trust vested in them by fellow parents and guardians to steer development in the best interest of their children.
Parents work hard and make sacrifices to see their children through school. Even with conditions prohibiting, parents press on in the convictions that an education for the child is a future for the family.
Conditions are even more trying for rural parents in the face of this drought as sending children to school occasionally involves going into selling cattle.
This is the toil ethically bankrupt SDAs and school heads are feasting on. It is ironic that the minister has to be the voice of conscience, when parents’ representatives who have the most to lose from embezzlement of levies are complicit.
Minister Dokora has already called into question SDAs’ fitness to handle cash in schools.
It is not clear, however, what alternative can be instituted since centralisation of levies, which has been previously hinted could be just a way of getting schools entangled in red tape.
The history of centralisation was not rosy as local authorities were corrupt and negligent of schools, using levies to take care of their needs while they were out of touch with the reality at schools.
Minister Dokora will need to implement a structure which is immune to these abuses.
Ideally, a structure that increases monitoring and accountability without decentralising handling of levies.
The ongoing audit is an important initiative for the clean-up of the education sector. Disclosures and prosecutions will discourage further abuse.
Revelations of how manipulations were going on will also enable the ministry to implement mechanisms for forestalling fraud.
Administration with the head, without the heart, could be a major explanation of the rotten fibre tying down schools.
School heads feeding on the career prospects of children in their care are not just worth of dismissal but prosecution.
Not just the students’ families but the nation is waiting on them as torch-bearers to better days.
Children’s hearts also glow with aspirations, some of which never amount to anything because of lack of implements in their schools.
School authorities appropriating themselves levies are undermining Government’s commitment and investment into the education sector when they have the mantle to grow the contributions.
Education is one of the few pillars that held when Zimbabwe was assailed by economic adversities.
It has empowered Zimbabweans to be globally competitive and to actualise their aspirations against high stakes.
Education is the site for allowing a thousand flowers to bloom, a springboard for development in various sectors.
It is a right to be fought for because of the immensity of what is at stake. Saboteurs are standing in the interests of the nation and the sustainability of its economic prospects.
It is important to insist on quality education because this is the certified route to national prosperity.
Countries which have excelled economically from behind attribute their transformation to the scaling up of their education for a workforce equal to the task.
“In the second half of the twentieth century, the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) experienced rapid growth and industrialisation. These countries transformed from relatively poor, backwater countries in the 1960s to highly developed societies by the beginning of the 21st century,” Christian Perez writes in the paper, “Schooling Levels and the Four Asian Tigers.”
“Their growth and rise to prominence has inspired much study of this phenomenon, with even President Obama urging education reform towards the South Korea model,” the paper observes.
Those who bear the mantle of steering development in our schools must understand the magnitude of their obligation. They must understand that their vocation is inseparable from ethics and the flag.
Hopefully, the audit and subsequent recommendations will yield enduring results in the interest of Zimbabwe education.
Ultimately, guaranteeing the development of the children and the sustainability of the future is a task that requires the greatest sensitivity and probity.