Stanely Mushava : Features Correspondent
The management of schools could be entangled in red tape if the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education presses ahead with plans to centralise the handling of levies. Recent reports that the ministry has directed schools countrywide to deposit levies into a Social Security Fund (SSF) account flared up controversy last week.Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora has indicated that his ministry is considering centralisation of levies in response to audit findings of rampant mismanagement.
Dr Dokora maintains that the ministry is yet to adopt an official position as it is still researching the matter as a possible response to the abuse of funds which has stagnated development in schools.
School Development Committees (SDCs) in Harare and Chitungwiza, however, claim that the ministry has already issued a circular to that effect.
SDCs, who have hitherto participated in the management of schools on behalf of parents, are contesting the move on the grounds that it undermines their role in the financial management of schools as key stakeholders.
The Provincial Steering Committee for SDCs in Harare and Chitungwiza has since petitioned the ministry not to persist with the directive and threatened legal action in the event that parents are sidelined.
While the authenticity of the claim by SDCs could not be established, it has been critical at this juncture to deliberate on measures to guarantee efficiency in the management of schools.
In the event that the ministry presses ahead with the alleged directive, it would not only be one of “Minister Dokora’s moments” but a sweeping revolution which will see the forfeiture of the system which has been in place for 26 years.
It will be a fair first step to consider why the current mechanism was put in place to rule out throwing out the baby with the bath water in case the problems of decentralisation can be corrected without undoing the benefits.
Basic education in Zimbabwe was centralised during the early years of Independence to reverse colonial anomalies ceded responsibility to parents in 1989.
The decentralisation of management was occasioned by a number of factors including donor fatigue which threatened Government’s capacity to finance schools and revelations that bureaucracy was dragging down development.
The Nziramasanga Commission Report of 1999 observes that authorities such as the Mission Responsible Authorities and District Councils which had been tasked with the financial management of schools converted funds to meet their own needs at the expense of educational needs.
The commission also noted that some of the mandated authorities were not adequately in touch with the needs of the schools.
Decentralisation was instituted to disentangle schools from the red tape tying them down from development, autonomy and healthy competition.
Government looked to achieve greater responsibility by schools and the communities they serve, faster decision-making and generally greater efficiency.
The Nziramasanga Commission notes that decentralisation in Zimbabwe was designed to achieve a balance of educational provision in all provinces, districts and villages.
Another key consideration was the need to strengthen local political institutions and increase people’s participation in development and boost mobilisation of local resources.
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.
The steering committee for Harare and Chitungwiza SDCs argues that by circumventing the initial process, the ministry will disenfranchise and marginalise parents from the sector.
Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (TUZ) chief executive officer Manuel Nyawo concurs and urges the ministry to look at more effective ways of monitoring the current mechanism instead of effecting an overhaul and sidelining parents.
“We cannot expect the ministry to efficiently manage levies on behalf of all schools. That account may be subject to abuse by those in charge,” Nyawo told The Herald Review.
“It would be cumbersome for schools to have to go through the ministries to get money for projects they would want to get done in the soonest of time.
“If ministry takes such a course, it will only bring bureaucracy into the running of schools. It will only work to the detriment of development for the ministry to have to approve everything schools need from a central point,” he said.
Nyawo says parents are indispensable stakeholders who are entitled to consultation in the day to day running of schools as they are the primary bank-rollers of the same.
“The importance of parents cannot be gainsaid and we would be worried if the ministry assumes otherwise,” Nyawo said.
“While we appreciate the ministry’s concern that funds have been abused, we think centralising management of funds is an extreme step,” he said.
“We applaud the mechanism the ministry has already put in place to place reasonable term limits for members of school developments associations.
“If members can only serve one term, and cannot be recycled”, that should help in minimising abuse of funds, Nyawo added.
The Nziramasanga Commission gives a nod to the system of decentralisation for working on the principle of subsidiarity whereby decisions are made at the lowest level provided there is adequate capacity.
The commission report also underscores as central to decentralisation “the principle of putting the money where the action is, that is into the hands of those best positioned to ensure that it is spent most efficiently to improve education and training.
The decentralised dispensation has not been without problems as corruption has reincarnated the ghosts of the previous system.
A 2008 report by Unesco identified weak supervisory, evaluation and monitoring machinery as one of the problems dragging down educational development in Zimbabwe.
The Primary and Education Ministry has begun the process of correcting this anomaly and sustenance of current efforts could result in positive change.
The essence of decentralisation outweighs the current challenges and could be protected if the ministry scales up its administrative mechanisms.
A 2013 study by Joyce Nyandoro, John Mapfumo, Richard Makoni of Africa University commends decentralisation for empowering parents with ownership and responsibility.
However, they fault some SDCs for partial implementation of the statutory instrument which led to their inception due to lack of understanding of its contents.
Parents as indispensable stakeholders are not qualified by their own educational competencies to be part of the SDCs and some disadvantaged communities many front members with issues of literacy for the work.
It is therefore incumbent on the ministry to promote policy literacy and cultivate ethics among SDCs to ensure enhanced performance and forestall abuse.
Nyandoro, Mapfumo and Makoni recommend that the ministry through its provincial offices ensure distribution of pertinent guides to all schools for the successful implementation of decentralisation. Their report also faults communities for failing to establish effective SDCs who can raise funds from various sources.
This can be attributed to the economic setting but also to the competencies of the members and to poor strategy.
The researchers suggest that SDCs partner into knowledge-sharing and strategy development clusters.
With respect to competency issues, the trio also urges the Primary and Secondary Education Ministry to sustain training and supervisory efforts to ensure that SDCs understand policy circulars.
The trio also suggests that a handbook for SDCs be developed in simple language to guide SDCs in the day to day execution of their work.
On a summative score, decentralisation is subject to critical challenges but it is up to the ministry to correct rather than to phase it out.