Locadia Mavhudzi Midlands Correspondent
Gweru residents have urged Government to scrap school fees for rural primary pupils as well as establish a national education fund to cater for other vulnerable members of society to improve access to education in the country.
Speaking during public consultations by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education on the Education Amendment Bill, a local welfare organisation, Jointed Hands, said that children had a right to education.
The organisation’s programmes manager, Mr Peterson Dube, said there was an urgent need to consider free primary education for all starting with rural areas considering the prevailing economic conditions.
“The current law talks about the right to basic State-funded education. The Constitution should protect children from interruption of education as we are seeing children being sent home for non-payment of fees. The new Bill should come up with a clear definition of basic State-funded education. Our recommendation is that from the age of three up to secondary level, education must be free.
“While we know that this cannot be achieved overnight, we propose that rural and community schools must be immediately declared centres for free education,” he said.
Mr Dube said the new Bill must also address issues of early childhood development education as there had not been adequate support to the rural schools to offer vibrant ECD classes.
“There is need to come up with an effective teacher pupil ratio especially for infant classes because currently there is a teacher pupil ratio of one teacher against 70 pupils, a situation which is not conducive for learning. According to the state of ECD education, Government has only managed to train 37 percent of the required staff complement,” he said.
A local clergyman, Pastor Tapiwa Sibanda, said there was need to redefine corporal punishment as sparing the rod is tantamount to spoiling the schoolchildren.
“Corporal punishment should be redefined so that it is done in the interest of guiding the children. What we must do away is the abusive manner of the traditional corporal punishment. Therefore, we recommend that there should be once centre that administers regulated corporal punishment,” he said.
Ms Nyasha Mahwende, a representative of people living with disabilities, said all education infrastructure and the learning processes must be disability friendly.
“We expect the Bill to make it mandatory for sign language to be taught at all schools since it has been officially declared as one of the 16 official languages. The State should clearly define its role in the provision of disability friendly infrastructure,” she said.
Meanwhile, some parents recommended the extension of the tenure of School Development Committees from one year to two years to facilitate the implementation of development plans.