Members directly engaged schools in Bulawayo today on issues of education today as part of an ongoing campaign to demand affordable education for all children. Community-based demonstrations were held at five schools in Bulawayo whilst representative groups met with school heads at another five schools to outline the concerns of parents. Today’s activities will be duplicated across Bulawayo at other schools in coming days.
At all schools, members were protesting against the extra demands placed on parents by schools, in particular the demand for stationery and cleaning materials. In most schools, each child is instructed to bring several items of stationery for the teacher and also several items of cleaning materials or groceries for the school. Many children have been chased away from schools for not bringing these items, even if school fees have been paid. Teachers at some schools are also demanding extra money for lunch or transport from each child in their class. All of these demands are on top of the gazetted school fees and stationery and uniform needs of each child.
The five schools targeted in today’s protest were selected because of the high number of complaints by parents about the demands from that particular school.
At Pumula High School, approximately 70 parents met at the school gates to peacefully protest the outrageously high demands placed upon them by the school. Five representatives of the group were welcomed by the headmistress who accepted the petitions and flyers and promised not to send home any pupils who had not paid school fees.
In Nkulumane, nearly 100 parents protested at Nkulumane High School whilst three representatives were sent to deliver the petitions and flyers. Those left outside the school carried on singing “umtwana uyakhala, ukhalela imfudo” (the child is crying, crying for an education.) The representatives were well received. The headmaster promised that no pupils would be sent home for non-payment of school fees although he stressed that parents should see the relevant authorities if they are unable to pay. He also mentioned that the City Council is now demanding 20 litres of fuel to cut grass and as much as he would like school fees to be affordable to all, headmasters were just implementers, not policy makers.
In Pelindaba, 120 members marched to Induba Primary School amidst encouragement from bystanders. Five representatives were sent in to deliver the petition and flyers which were wrapped like a gift. Only three could see the headmistress as there was a shortage of chairs in her office. The headmistress addressed them promising not to send any pupils home if the fees are not paid but encouraged parents to buy exercise books for their children.
In Mpopoma, the two schools selected as targets, Mpopoma High School and Gampu Primary School, were compromised as around 20 riot police were seen waiting within the vicinity. Members decided to reconvene at Lukanyiso Primary School and Msitheli Secondary School where both authorities welcomed and addressed the representatives who presented them with petitions and flyers. Both authorities commended WOZA for the good work it is doing. The headmaster at Msitheli Secondary School explained that the ‘civvies’ day money was to kick start the school facilities and buy sundries for the running of the school. He explained that they did not have permanent staff as they had left without any notice. He also addressed members who were singing and chanting slogans outside the school, promising that their children would no longer be sent home because parents failed to pay fees.
In addition to the peaceful protests, representative groups of parents also engaged with the heads of schools at other schools in their area, delivering the petitions and flyers and outlining the concerns of parents. In Pumula, the reception was not very cordial at Amaswazi and Malindela Primary Schools for the representative groups. At Malindela, the headmaster refused to meet with the five parents selected (although they were able to leave the petitions and flyers in his office). At Amaswazi, the headmaster insisted that he did not understand the petitions or what the members were demanding. He asked them to return at another time to explain it to him. He has since called a meeting of all parents that signed the petition for tomorrow morning (Tuesday).
Headmasters were more receptive in Nkulumane with heads at both Ihlathi High School and Maphisa Primary School welcoming the representative groups cordially and listening to their concerns. As with the headmaster at Nkulumane High School, the heads at Ihlathi and Maphisa promised that no children would be sent away for non-payment of fees. The headmaster of Ihlathi also commended WOZA for doing a great job in fighting for human rights.
In Mabutweni, representatives visited Nsukamini Primary School despite the fact that plain-clothed police officers were observed entering the school premises. The headmaster received the group cordially and explained that he was open to engagement with parents but he did not want a demonstration at the gates of his school that is why he called the police. There was no incident and the parents dispersed peacefully.
These protests follow a meeting between Minister of Education David Coltart and nearly 300 WOZA members last week where members again outlined their concerns to the Minister. The Minister took pains to explain to the parents present what fees and levies should cover and also explained some of difficulties facing his ministry. He listened attentively to the concerns raised by those present and asked for patience from parents.
Please see below a copy of the text of the petition being handed in at schools, copies of which have also been handed in to Minister Coltart.
To: Minister of Education, Arts, Sports and Culture – Honourable David Coltart
Copy to: School Head and Chairperson of SDA
Honourable Minister Coltart,
On 24th February 2009, leader of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) met with you to advise you that members of WOZA are unhappy with the state of education in our country. We feel that parents have carried the education system on their heads for several years now. They are not receiving their right to an education because there have been not enough or no teachers present or proper lessons given. Our children have suffered as a result of adult hatred and intolerance. We feel that this new government must put our children’s education first.
We thank you for advertising the school fees in the newspaper. Unfortunately many of us cannot afford to pay the advertised fees. The fees are also just a small part of the total amount being demanded of parents of their children’s education. The demands from school are not torture for us. Parents are being asked for additional amounts of money in the form of levies, as well as stationary, cleaning materials and teaching aids; even money for teachers’ transport and lunch. Below is a list of concerns our leaders have already raised with you. Please you cannot suck blood out of a stone.
– We ask school officials if they genuine about teaching our children because all they seem to be doing is chasing them away. Children are being chased away from school for no clear reason including no school uniforms or school shoes.
– The demands by schools for EACH CHILD in class to provide teachers with stationery are also unreasonable. These include pens, 196-page counter books, reams of newsprint and bond paper, dustless chalk, receipt books, ink for stamp pads, manila for charts, text books and exercise books. Children are chased away from school if they do not bring these items.
– Also unreasonable is for EACH CHILD to have to bring floor polish, harpic, jik, handy andy, washing powder, six rolls of toilet paper and bars of soap. It is not clear what is happening to all these cleaning materials , as the schools remain dirty.
– We are also not happy that teachers demand bus fare or ‘entrance fee’ into the classroom from every child in the class. Some teachers demand money for lunch – 50 Rand per month from each child in the class. Children are chased if they do not bring these items.
– On top of all of this, parents are expected to pay for civvies days and other ‘days’ without knowing what the money is being used for.
– All of these extra demands, on top of the stationery and uniform needs of our own children, means most parents cannot afford to send their children to school, regardless of what the fees are.
We ask you to do the following as a matter of urgency:
1. Be honest with what schools can deliver and tell us what cannot be done.
2. Give instructions that no child must be chased away from school.
3. Stop the civvies and any other fundraising days.
4. Make a policy statement about levies and other charges so both school officials and parents know what is allowed and what is not permitted. Government education is now becoming privatised and commercialised by school officials.
5. Make a policy statement about what the fee announced by government covers. It is only teacher’s salaries or is it everything?
6. We demand a new education assistance module urgently – we cannot afford to educate our children.
7. Without some clarity of policy and discipline among school officials, 2009 is going to be another wasted year and will be the end of the road for many children’s education.
Please take our request seriously; millions of children’s lives are in your hands. We have sacrificed to bring our children to this stage and sometimes even starve them today so that they can go to school for a better tomorrow. Enough is enough!