Samantha Chigogo and Christopher Charamba Features Correspondents
Good education is critical in the formative years of a child. The ability to read and write properly, the confidence to get up and talk in front of people as well as socialising with peers are some of the skills best developed in the early years of a child’s learning. As such parents, who wish the best for their children are inclined to place them in a learning environment they can fully develop these skills.
The ideal learning environment being schools with a low teacher-to-pupil ratio and adequate resources for each child to get the requisite training and attention. Unfortunately Zimbabwe is facing a deficit of over 2 000 schools, which has resulted in over enrolment of pupils at primary and secondary level.
The number of children particularly in Government schools has risen sharply after transfers of pupils from private institutions to Government schools as well as due to a Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education directive that no child should be turned away from school. This has left schools having to accommodate too many students and having two to three times the desired teacher-to-pupil ratio, a situation which is not conducive for effective learning.
Mr Patson Chiminuka is one parent concerned over his child who started Grade One this year at Houghton Park Primary School and is in a class with 80 other pupils. “The situation at Houghton Park Primary School is very dire and as a parent I am very worried about the welfare of my child. Right now my child is in a class of over 80 pupils and the school has just asked us to buy text books on top of the extreme school fees that we have been paying.
“The school is arguing that we as parents are also mandated to buy textbooks for our Grade One pupils because they do not have enough to cater for the growing numbers, but to be honest it should be the school’s responsibility to provide such basics for our children,” he said
Mr Chiminuka is also worried that the class teacher will not be able to give maximum attention to his child due to the sheer size of the class. “The numbers are just ridiculous especially for Grade One pupils who can barely spell their names correctly. That will surely cause the teacher to pay less attention to a child’s educational requirements.
“Such children require a lot of teacher attention which they are failing to get because they are overcrowded,” he said. Another concerned parent said she transferred her child from Maranatha Primary School due to the high school fees she could no longer afford, to Admiral Tait where she is currently paying a tenth of the fees she paid before.
“Economic challenges meant that I could no longer afford the fees at Maranatha and so I transferred my child to Admiral Tait where I pay $110 for school fees. He is now in Grade Three and the biggest cause of concern at the new school is the issue of over enrolment of pupils.
“My child is in a class of 70 pupils and I feel there is lack of personal attention to the children in the class. For instance, I know for sure that my child is a slow learner and now because the teacher is overwhelmed with too many pupils to attend to our average kids are being disadvantaged in the system,” said Ms Bianca Sithole.
Another big concern parents have is that facilities such as classrooms were constructed with a capacity to accommodate between 30 and 35 pupils not 60 to 80 children that some classes find themselves with.
At some schools Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Grade One pupils are sharing school halls due to a lack of classrooms, whilst some students must loiter outside school premises awaiting their hot seating schedules.
“We have school levies that we pay termly and I believe that if school authorities use those sparingly they could be used towards building a few more blocks to cater for the growing numbers of kids in our schools.
“I think continuous enrolment in these schools should be stopped unless the schools have provided extra learning facilities because that has since led to the dilapidation of school buildings such as the ablution facilities,” Ms Sithole added. Zimta CEO Mr Sifiso Ndlovu says the problem of over enrolment is nationwide.
He said the major problem was a shortage of teachers and classrooms. “Government has frozen the recruitment of educators and as such there are not enough teachers for the number of students we have in the country. The size of the classes are just too big, bigger than the standard ratio.
“This is a problem for learners and in fact it will mean that this academic year is a false start as some students who are in better schools with the appropriate ratios will be better off than schools that have inadequate staff,” he said.
Mr Ndlovu added that the situation was not only bad for students but also demotivating and frustrating for teachers as they are overloaded in classrooms and with workload. “Currently the Government policy is no child must be left behind and as such schools cannot turn away learners. We fully support this policy. However it is important that there be teachers for all the children we are taking.
“Education must certainly be for all and all must find a home in education, but that education must be of a top quality and inclusive. “If that is to be the case then the solution to this problem is that Government must lift the (recruitment) freeze and provide more teachers for schools,” he said.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Mr Patrick Zumbo acknowledged the congestion at schools saying it was due to a shortage of learning institutions in the country and that the current teacher-to-student ratios were higher than the acceptable standards.
“We have a deficit of 2056 schools nationwide and as the situation stands we are making huge efforts to decongest the schools we have for a better learning environment for the pupils.
“The standard teacher-to-student ratios are 1:25 at infant level whilst a junior level a class should hold at least 40 pupils; at secondary level, schools should have a capacity of 35 students per class,” he said. Mr Zumbo said Government was making frantic efforts to ensure that the situation was rectified as it remained committed to refining learning conditions.
“Pupils need to have the best learning environment in order to perform well at school and the ministry is striving hard to offer the best education opportunities,” he said. Primary and Secondary Minister Lazarus Dokora could not be reached for comment but recently said Government was trying to deliver on a joint venture to build more schools as they were aware of the shortage.
“We are working on providing more schools. However what we are doing is the lawful policy backed by the Constitution that no child must be left behind. As such, we expect employers to provide teachers for their students,” he said.
Houghton Park Primary, Budiriro 5 Primary, North Park Primary, Avondale Infant and Primary, Cherutombo and Nyameni High in Marondera are some of the schools that have received criticism from concerned parents for over-enrolment of pupils
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