Friday, 24 September 2021

ANGLICAN CHURCH BACKS DOWN OVER SCHOOLS PRIVATISATION

CONSULTATIVE meetings to determine the way forward regarding the controversial plan to privatise five schools under the Anglican Diocese of Manicaland will be reconvened under the guidance of a neutral authority to avert conflict of interest by the Responsible Authority.

The diocese intends to privatise and monetise St Faith’s, St David’s Bonda, St Augustine’s, St Mathias Tsonzo and St Anne’s Goto high schools next year, and last week embarked on consultative meetings which turned out to be chaotic as local communities, church members, teachers and non-teaching staff vehemently opposed the move.

The meetings were tense, full of heated debates and finger-pointing, with communities arguing that the move has negative implications on the poor who will not be able to enrol their children at the schools.

In a bid to ensure exhaustive and informative consultations, Manicaland Provincial Education Director (PED), Mr Edward Shumba annulled the outcomes of the recently held meetings and ordered fresh ones chaired by District Schools Inspectors (DSIs).

The schools’ alumni have also joined the fray and vowed to resist the privatisation of the five schools against the wishes of the majority stakeholders.

Mr Shumba said the outcome from the reconvened meetings will be communicated to his superiors at the Primary and Secondary Education Ministry headquarters in Harare.

“We have written to them asking them to reconvene the meetings, with parents of children at the schools, local community leadership, community members, the church assembly, teachers and non-teaching staff. After a decision has been made by these stakeholders we will forward it to our head office.

“We gathered that they had chaotic meetings with parents last week. We are now saying these meetings should be chaired by the Office of the DSI. You cannot be the son-in-law and father-in-law at the same time; somebody has to be a go-between,” said Mr Shumba.

The diocese spokesperson and registrar, Mr Ashel Mutungura, said they were agreeable to the ministry’s request to a neutral person chairing the consultative meetings.

Mr Mutungura admitted that the Responsible Authority was an interested party.

“Consultative meetings are by nature argumentative as people present facts, figures, arguments, though some take it personally.

“The PED’s point of view was that the Responsible Authority is an interested party and wanted someone neutral to ensure transparency of the whole process. We do not see any problem with that. In fact, it enhances transparency of the whole process as we don’t have anything to hide. Let us have consultative meetings which are informative.

“It is not like we are doing something dubious. These consultations will continue, whether one likes it or not for us to come to a conclusion. What the ministry advised us to do is fair and proper,” said Mr Mutungura.

The alumni at St Faith’s High has indicated its willingness to assist in improving infrastructure and remuneration to match desired standards without necessarily privatising the school.

A representative of the ex-students, Mr Francis Chapuredima, said there was no guarantee that monetising education would translate into success.

“The idea to convert St Faith’s High School into a Trust school has risen because of the need to increase revenue to fund infrastructure and also increase remuneration for teachers and staff. The argument is that existing infrastructure does not reflect the brand that St Faith’s High has come to be.

“However, as an alumnus, I am worried that this decision may damage the school’s mandate, which is to educate. The majority of us who went to St Faith’s High appreciated the so-called ‘lower standards’ because we knew this also made the school affordable.

‘‘The school did not achieve pole position in Zimbabwe because of revenue streams. It got to where it is because of committed educators, learners, and leadership. More revenue is no guarantee that those who handle the funds will set the priorities right.

‘‘Maybe it is time for us to do more to help cover some of the financial gaps, and help towards infrastructure and staff remuneration. As for this ‘privatisation’ issue, if it is not broken, please, do not fix it,” said Mr Chapuredima.

National Association of School Development Committees (NASDC) and Zimbabwe School Development Committees/Association (ZSDC/A) have criticised the wholesale privatisation of the schools.

They called for a phased implementation of the whole exercise.

NASDC official, a Mr Mupakati said the move was motivated by money.

“It is all about upping their business. Schools have become big business in Zimbabwe. This drive will negatively affect the generality of Zimbabweans, especially those in host provinces. Why not phasing the process?” he said.

ZSDC general secretary, Mr Evaristo Jongwe, said if the decision is rushed, the catastrophic consequences will be felt across the education sector.

“This is tantamount to disaster. It will have catastrophic effects, and I don’t see how Government will allow this,” he said.

Zimbabwe Rural Teachers’ Union president, Mr Martin Chaburumunda said the move was ill-advised and borders on cheating communities that assisted in the construction of the schools.

“It is wrong timing by the church. They should agree with all stakeholders and as it stands, their attempts have no support. They should not force people. Anglican should open new private schools and leave mission schools as they are.

“These schools were built with massive community involvement. They are community assets being managed by the church. A church must not cheat. We have consulted teachers and they are opposed to the privatisation move. The move has potential to destabilise these schools as it is traumatising teachers who are against it,” said Mr Chaburumunda. Manica Post

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