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Education Crisis In Matabeleland Widens Gap Between Public and Private Schools

Children learning in a crowded classroom at Makwika Primary School in Hwange. Image by Calvin Manika, March 2023

In Hwange, a small coal mining town in Matabeleland North, children growing in the same community are exposed to different educational circumstances—one with endless opportunities and the other with none.

This story is part of a reporting series supported by the Pulitzer Centre.

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAR 23, 2023

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Tawanda*, a grade 6 pupil at a local school in Lusumbani township popularly known as Number 5 in Hwange, Matabeleland North says his dream is to be a pilot.

The example of successful people from seemingly uninspiring backgrounds is a major obstacle for him to overcome.

The lack of textbooks and inadequate Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure at his school prevents him and other students from reaching their full potential.

The Citizen Bulletin recently reported about inadequacies of ICT in most public schools across Matabeleland North, a challenge which impedes learning and contributes to poor pass rates.

Tawanda's school is no different from the public schools in the surrounding suburbs of number 1 (Lwendulu), number 3 (Makwika), and number 5 (Lusumbani).

About 10 km away from these public schools, there is Coalfields primary, a well-resourced private school in the northern suburbs of Hwange offering world-class academic and recreational facilities.

The school is located beneath the Hwange Colliery concession near the edge of Number 1 low-density suburb where Hwange’s most affluent community members reside.

These include Hwange Colliery Company executives, private company managers and directors as well as business people among the well off in society in the coal mining town.

Sibongile Phiri, a resident from Lusumbani, says she would like to enroll her kids at high-end schools like Coalfields and Thomas Colter but she cannot afford the exorbitant tuition fees at the two schools.

Tuition at Lusumbani is US$50 compared to US$1000 at Coalfields per term.

Pupils at Coalfields Primary School attending computer lessons in a lab. Image by Facebook

“The fees are discriminatory and segregate us here in public schools, especially at Coalfields,” Phiri says.

According to 2023 public salary data, an average Zimbabwean earns between $180 and $230 per month.

Lusumbani Primary School is located within an open-cast mine, and children find it difficult to concentrate due to noise from continuous blasting and earth moving machines.

At the school, most learners are children of low-level mine workers who are mostly manual laborers.

Educationists say the infrastructure divide condemns learners from poor backgrounds to a perpetual cycle of poverty with little room to maneuver and attain their dreams.

A former teacher Tinotenda Mbeure says Hwange Colliery Company and the Ministry of Education are failing to provide learners in Hwange with equitable access to resources and opportunities.

“Even so, the problem of equity is not only one of equal opportunity,” Mbeure says.

“The situation in Lusumbani and other Matabeleland North schools with limited resources is extremely unjust.”

He adds: “The potential of children is limited because some won't be able to enrol in quality secondary schools.”

In an ideal situation, experts say, the central government and coal mining companies in Hwange, including Hwange Colliery Company, should establish Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to improve the infrastructure development and resources provision in all schools, private as well as public schools.

According to the World Bank, private providers are playing an increasingly important role in education. Private participation in education has increased dramatically over the last two decades across the world, serving all types of communities — from high-income to low income families.

“Although governments remain the main financiers of education (at least of primary and secondary education), in many countries private agents deliver a sizable share of education. Other governments’ contract with a private organisation to manage and operate a public school, as is the case with concession schools,” the report says.

The report adds that, the continuum of the extent to which countries are using PPPs ranges from those in which education is provided only by the public sector to those in which it is largely publicly funded and privately provided.

The majority of children in Matabeleland North attend underfunded public schools, and stakeholders believe that poor education has a long-term impact on the region’s progress.

Residents of Hwange say the Hwange Colliery Company is not doing enough to maintain the schools it built, and that even though they are now controlled by the government, the company has enough resources to dedicate to infrastructure and manpower retention.

Hwange Colliery Company spokesperson, Beauty Mutombe, says it is not true that the company has not been investing in the development of local schools around the mining town.

“We actively participate in the construction and refurbishment of several primary and secondary schools around Hwange,” says Mutombe.

“Donations are made in cash and kind to support a number of activities in schools. By investing in education we are investing in the future generation.”

Nevertheless, residents contend that the apparent failure in public education is as a result of the ineptitude of the central government which is responsible for ensuring that no child or young person is deprived of education.

Coalfields Primary School pupils in an uncrowded classroom. Image by Facebook

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration says it has done more for public education since it took over power through disputed elections in 2018.

However, an education budget brief prepared by UNICEF Zimbabwe shows that, at 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product, the country’s education sector spending is below the 4-6% Education for All Target.

In late 2022, the country’s Treasury announced that it had allocated ZWL$631.3 billion (US$698 340 707) or 14% of the total budget for 2023 to public education.

However, residents say public schools in Matabeleland North hardly get any penny from public funding to improve the quality of education owing to the country’s centralized system of government and other existential factors.

According to educationist Christopher Madzinga, lack of funding and a teacher brain drain have hurt public schools in Matabeleland North.

ALSO READ: Poor Infrastructure Disrupts Education In Mat North

He says this has prompted many parents to enroll their children in private schools, but due to the nation's economic woes, they frequently cannot afford hefty tuition fees.

“The amenities and infrastructure are often better than those in the public sector, but most people cannot afford them given the current economic situation,” says Madzinga.

“In a society where corruption is pervasive, the public has lost faith in the architecture of governmental institutions, including education.”

“Private education is preferable because it is not hurt by challenges such as teacher strikes, insufficient funding, and public sector bureaucracy and corruption.”

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