The era of new ‘elite’ schools
Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
It’s every parent’s dream to send one’s children to top schools for the best education.
The fortunate can afford such schools as Ruzawi Primary School, Hartman House or Barwick School.
Some would want to have their children attend private school like Peter House College, Lomagundi, Plumtree, Gifford and other so-called “elite” schools that have been the envy of many Zimbabweans for years with only the well-heeled managing to send their children to these schools, usually underwritten by the parent’s employers.
The good thing about those who can afford to send their schools to such schools is companies’ ability to offer allowances that afforded individuals to send their children to these schools.
The results were evident as children got the best out these opportunities with pupils not only excelling academically but also getting an opportunity to nurture their sporting talents. These are the schools that produced top sportsmen such as the Olonga brothers, Victor and Henry, Kenneth Handern, Tendai Mtawarira, among a host of other athletes who have gone on and represented other countries when they moved out of Zimbabwe.
The schools continue to produce the best of results with some offering both the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council and Cambridge certificates. However, firms that used to offer school fees for their top executives are struggling to pay the high fees with some encouraging their employees to consider other alternatives.
Some of the fees at the schools such as Peter House, St George’s, Chisipite or Arundel charge as much as US$3 500 or more per term, leaving parents with no choice but to try other cheaper schools.
According to a senior executive in the banking sector, several companies have moved their children from the former Group A schools because of exorbitant school fees and levies.
“There is a general trend where parents are moving their children to schools that they believe offer the kind of high quality education which is almost similar to what they expected at the former Group A schools. There is a general furore at some Government schools as parents try to get their children into the schools that have tried to match the standards at the elitist schools charging high fees,” she said.
Educationist and Zimbabwe Distance Education College director Dr Sikhanyiso Ndhlovu hailed the establishment of private schools that complement Government efforts in developing the education system in Zimbabwe.
He said there was need for corporates, individuals and other investors to come into the education system for Zimbabwe to maintain its high education standards.
“Education is a right in the early years of a child and that is why it is mandatory to make it free but as you go to the higher levels of education it becomes a privilege hence one has to choose which school to attend,” the Zanu-PF national secretary for education said in an interview.
Dr Ndhlovu said there is no need to have uniformity in the education system hence the development of “elitist” institutions like Peter House and others.
“What we need is to create competition for the various schools to provide the best quality education system in Zimbabwe. It is necessary to have people who look forward to getting the best quality education for their children through well-resourced schools,” he said.
Dr Ndhlovu said the development of other schools challenging the Group A schools was a wake up call for the established institutions to put more effort in developing their schools.
“No-one was condemned to poverty. We need investors in the education system for the transformation of our communities and education in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans should take possession of the education of their children and invest in their schools. We can create a Peter House in Mbare or Gifford in Makokoba as long as there is a community buy-in from the people so that they contribute to the development of schools in their communities.
“We cannot leave everything to the Government because schools will be destroyed since it is struggling. We need investment into the schools so that the results are good. There is need to build more schools,for the elitist or for the privileged and even for the farm labourers as long as they have the necessary tools for a great education system for Zimbabwe.”
He added: “It is proper for companies, church organizations, individuals to invest in the development of schools in all communities across the country.”
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora said private schools played a crucial role in bridging the gap.
“All schools are classified as Government and non-Government schools, including trust schools, company-owned or built by churches or individuals but we expect these to formalise their operations with Government for supervision and monitoring. However, there is need for parents and guardians to look at the results produced by such institutions. If you look at the latest June results, parents paid a lot of money to some of these institutions but when they go for examination the results are not commensurate with the investment made,” he said.
Minister Dokora said there was need to increase supervision in these schools so that the results match Government expectations.
“Some of these institutions hire unqualified teachers to reduce operational costs but we will be looking at all these areas so that there is proper monitoring of the systems so that parents get value for their money,” he said.
Mr Hans Christen of the recently constructed Rishworth House in Harare said the economic challenges being faced in Zimbabwe had affected most of the private schools.
“Many parents are struggling to raise fees for school children at the elite schools that are now struggling with maintenance costs at the schools. There is need to establish institutions that can focus on academic excellence while providing affordable education that is of the highest quality,” he said.
Rishworth House is expected to open its doors in January next year to provide the best of education in computer studies, science and different international languages such as French at an early stage.
The veteran educationist who has worked at Peter House for many years said it was essential for children to learn different language at an early stage so that they develop in a similar environment.
“The world is becoming a global village hence the need to introduce children to an education that will prepare them to face the world. Children should be exposed to computer education with the qualified teaching personnel,” he said.
Mr Christen said small private schools can provide top class education for the middle class citizens who can’t get into the top schools charging up to US$5 000 a month.
“There is a quest for top education in Zimbabwe but people cannot afford some of the schools established for the elite and the small institutions provide a wonderful opportunity for children in that category,” he said.
The private schools, he added, complement Government efforts to produce quality education for Zimbabweans.
“We are playing a part in the development of education and there is need for investors to look at such investments so that Zimbabwe maintains its top spot on the continent while producing students who can fit in any society across the world,” he said.
Minister Dokora said Government had put in place the necessary apparatus to monitor all schools in Zimbabwe so that the country maintains its education standards. He, however, called for the institutions to make sure that there are open to all Zimbabwean children.
“We want all responsible authorities who have their own schools to make sure that they do not allow any form of discrimination whether on creed, colour or religion,” he said.
Zimbabweans continue to establish private schools that have provided a necessary bridge for Government shortcomings due to economic challenges that have bedevilled the State for the past decade.
Zimbabweans who have also benefited from Government’s land reforms have also established schools to reduce distances travelled by their workers’ children.
However, private schools offering top class lessons and other non-curricular activities have taken the initiative to another level by providing small but intricate classes that guarantee academic excellence for children in Zimbabwe.