Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Reporter
Private school education and facilities are no longer the preserve of the eastern suburbs in Bulawayo as a number of such institutions have been built in western areas targeting the swelling population there.
A drive around Bulawayo’s high-density areas reveals that there are new school structures dotted around different areas.
Parents are of the opinion that their children must learn at institutions better equipped than the ones that they learnt at so that they can make their mark in the world.
The facade that western areas are laden with poverty is thrown out of the window as there are many well up families that live there and have built themselves beautiful homes. There is also a healthy number of children whose parents are in the diaspora who can afford fees charged at these private schools.
The fees range from $15 000 per term to around $35 000 for each child and the pupil teacher ratio stand at one teacher to 25 or 35 children.
According to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s policy, the teacher-pupil ratio for primary school is 1:40 and at secondary school it is 1:35 from Form One to Form Four and 1:25 for Advanced Level classes.
However, some schools are forced to enrol learners beyond their carrying capacity due to a shortage of schools and teaching staff. Some secondary school classes have more than 50 learners.
One private school situated in western areas is Angel Primary School situated in Nkulumane. Here the private school is working hard to finish off infrastructure that will house more children.
Angel Primary School is part of a group of schools operating under the acronym ACTV and the others are Cana Primary School, Tshebetshebe Primary School and Vmhlophe High School.
With a 23-member teaching staff complement and over 600 children, Angel Primary School has witnessed massive growth in just three years.
The headmaster, Mr Mduduzi Tshuma, said he started off with only 18 children in 2018, when they opened their gates to the public.
Mr Tshuma said they opened their institution because they wanted to bring what was being offered in the eastern suburbs to western areas.
“Parents take their children to the eastern suburbs because it is said the private schools offer the best. For my class to be full, they should be at most 30. This is for the teacher, pupil ratio and that’s what parents want.
“We want to bring that, where we are saying to parents, we are cutting on transport costs, you will no longer go that side,” said Mr Tshuma.
He said they want to offer all sporting codes that are offered in private schools in the eastern suburbs.
“We want to take all the sporting disciplines that we have there and offer them at the school. We want to put up cricket fields and produce the next Henry Olongas, Tatenda Taibus and the like from here. We have them here and that is the thrust; all the glittering things that the parents were going for that side, let’s try to bring them this side at affordable prices. As we grow, the school fees will increase,” said Mr Tshuma.
During these Covid-19 times, Mr Tshuma said they were equipping teachers with ICT skills so that they could conduct online learning.
He said on Monday they will resume lessons, but online classes.
“We haven’t stopped as when we started doing online learning there were a lot of teething problems. But as the years have gone by, we are seeing an improvement.
“On Monday we are opening schools; not physical classes but online classes through Zoom and WhatsApp. Before, they were using Google Classroom, but after some consultations with parents, we have opted for Zoom and WhatsApp,” said Mr Tshuma.
At Tshebetshebe Primary School, the headmaster Mr Phonet Nyoni welcomed the crew and gave them a tour of the school.
The most interesting structure at Tshebetshebe Primary School is a swimming pool.
Most former Group A government schools in eastern suburbs have defunct swimming pools.
And for children in western areas, having such a facility will widen the pool in finding the next Olympic gold medalist, like the Minister of Sport, Arts and Recreation Kirsty Coventry, who remains Zimbabwe’s most decorated swimmer.
A parent at one of the schools Ms Linda Moyo said she enrolled her child at Vmhlophe High School because teachers are committed.
“The school has great potential. It’s only disadvantage is its location. I enrolled my child there because I saw the commitment the teachers put. Even if there is one student in class, they still teach like it’s a full class. Lessons are there every day without fail,” said Ms Moyo.
Another parent who has a child at Maranatha Primary School said it was prudent for any parent to enrol their child at a private school because they had lost confidence in public schools.
“We work very hard to put our children through private schools because at public schools there is low morale from teachers and that translates to poor results. So, it’s better for us to enrol our children there,” said the parent who preferred anonymity.
Chairman of the ACTV Board Mr Victor Moyo said they want to bring quality education to where the people are.
“Better schools are seen on the other side of the town. Those schools are housing people who are coming from the other side of the town.
“We were saying why not go to the people, give people what they want. Education is one important tool for every community and most of the people at the helm of the schools are from the other side of town. Our children travel to the other side of town and they are run over by cars and kombis trying to get to school,” said Mr Moyo.