Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Correspondent
THE Government is planning to close 40 schools in Matabeleland South Province because they have failed to attract learners.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango, told ZBC News it was not viable to continue running the learning institutions.
The report immediately attracted a backlash from educationists and legislators who felt the decision would exclude poor people from small communities from attaining an education.
Dr Utete-Masango is quoted on the national broadcaster’s website as saying due to the sparse populations in Matabeleland South, there are some schools in the province that have a low enrolment of below 120 pupils at primary level and less than 140 scholars at secondary level.
She told the broadcaster that some of the schools were being run by up to three teachers, which is not productive for the Government.
The names of the schools could not be established yesterday.
The Chronicle could not reach Dr Utete-Masango for a comment yesterday on her mobile phone.
The problem seems confined to Matabeleland South.
Matabeleland North Provincial Education Director Mrs Boithatelo Mnguni said her province was not considering closing any schools.
Matabeleland South Provincial Education Director Mrs Tumisang Thabela acknowledged the development but declined to comment, referring questions to Dr Utete-Masango.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive officer Mr Sifiso Ndlovu said the Government was offside on the planned closure of schools.
He said there is no such thing as an unviable school as schools are serving communities regardless of how small they were.
“I don’t subscribe to the notion that there are some unviable schools. I subscribe to the philosophy that there is unviable financing of education because those small schools are a result of community and settlement patterns. So we cannot go on and try to justify our inability to support those schools under the pretext of saying they are unviable,” he said.
Mr Ndlovu said such a stance would lead to marginalisation of impoverished communities.
“What do you mean by unviable? Do you mean that you cannot find teachers to teach those children when our philosophy is that no one should be excluded from learning? The Government is actually sabotaging the education agenda. We are going back to the situation where the children of the poor community and impoverished communities will be left out,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said by shutting down the schools, the Government would be contradicting its construction of schools policy as it has highlighted that there is a shortage of 2 000 schools countrywide.
“It’s a contradiction. It’s an oxymoron; you can’t have a policy statement which contradicts itself like that. You can’t say you need more schools and at the same time you are saying you are closing down schools. We should be addressing a problem of how do we make small schools great schools,” he said.
A senior Government official who declined to be named said it would be ill advised for the Ministry to close the 40 schools as pupils who are already walking up to 20km to reach to the nearest school would walk longer distances.
“These small schools are called composite schools where we have a single teacher teaching different grades at the same time. They’re difficult to run as they need a multi skilled teacher. However, they are very necessary to accommodate learners from sparsely populated areas,” said the official.
“Closing of the schools won’t be a solution. We have small schools because of the distance walked by children to and from schools. If they are closed we will see children walking up to 25 km daily to school. They will be exposed to criminals and wild animals along the way.”
Insiza South legislator, Cde Malachi Nkomo, said operating fewer schools which provide quality education will improve the current poor pass rate while Chief Vezi Maduna said the move to close the schools violates children’s rights to education.