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Education in Zimbabwe: A Conversation with Patience Chaitezvi

Meet Patience, a teacher at Chinhoyi High School:

Patience

Photo credit: Diana Green

She was kind enough to let me, as the UR’s student intern, ask her some questions about how education in Zimbabwe is currently working, and how it affects her.  Her comments were enlightening, but it was her persevering spirit that kept me intrigued.

The Government Used to Fund Education for its People

That’s right. Even through the University level, students could receive a free education.  That’s not even something most of the western world has. Patience now teaches students music at the very same high school she attended free of charge as a youngster, but now, those students are charged tuition. Why the change? Well, when the economy fell to pieces it seemed to have affected the educational system disproportionately. The schools were no longer able to cover basic costs like paying the professors and maintaining the schools general upkeep, so they were forced to charge the students.

But the students don’t have money either. Many of them have to choose between food and an education. This is especially true for the nearly 800 students orphaned that attend the school Patience teaches at. She told me how many students would come to school so tired because of their hunger that they would opt to take naps on the grass.

Even though the government is not able to provide assistance, the cell phone provider Econet provides scholarships to ease the burden for some students. But even then, the money only covers tuition, not the additional costs required to attend school, like mandatory uniforms. Even if a student has full tuition paid for, if they can’t afford a uniform they will not be permitted to attend school, and that money goes to waste. This is something Tariro recognizes, and therefore allows funds to be allocated to uniforms and school supplies as they’re needed.

The schools do make an effort to fund-raise, though, but the attempt to raise money often does more harm than good.  The main effort comes from what’s called “Civics Day.” The funds from this are aimed at things like school trips and sports balls, which seem harmless enough, however these things are afforded by having the students pay to wear their non-uniform clothing. This means that if a child doesn’t have untorn and clean everyday clothes they can wear their uniform, and then have it become apparent they have no money, or they can come in their raggedy clothes which would have the same consequence. As a result, many of the poorest students chose to stay home this day in order to spare themselves the embarrassment. When the school encourages its poorest students to stay home, there is a problem. Especially when you take into consideration the whole point of having a uniform is to blend the poor and the rich. Are the soccer balls worth the cost of public shame? I really don’t think so.

Teachers Are Being Held More Accountable

It used to be the case that if a teacher got frustrated with their students they could just walk out with no punishment. Now, students are asked to write down what time teachers leave and if they come in late. But why are the teachers so dissatisfied?  Mainly, their salary is awful. For someone who has 18 years of experience teaching, Patience is only receiving $258 a month. For teaching professionals who have had to take out loans, a portion of their salary gets deducted, so that (after rent is paid for) they’re left with $30-40 dollars a month. The bottom line is if they’re not happy, they can’t focus their energy on their teaching.        

How Has This Impacted the Community?

For Patience, the increased cost of an education just adds to the challenges that come with being in an area where good health is hard to come by. When her brother died in 2010, she agreed to take care of his daughter, because his wife did not have steady work. She’s also been helping with the children from 3 other brothers she has lost which definitely takes a toll. Tariro has been working with her to help her nieces attend school.

One niece, Gillian, also known as Rutendo, is trying to write her exams, but they have no electricity, so as soon as it becomes dark, she has to stop working. Fortunately, she was able to temporarily move in with her sister who has electricity, so she can study. Many students stay up late every night to do their school work and some even wake up at hours like 3 am to begin their studies. But living with her sister comes at a cost, literally. She now has to pay a dollar a day for transportation to and from school, which over time does add up.

Patience teaches mbira at a Zimbabwean high school and recognizes the needs of the students. Recognizing that the students have trouble affording supplies, she has started raising money to help support the students’ education. This year, she was able to raise enough money for supplies for over 700 students. Her motivations? She believes in the healing power music has in the lives of individuals who produce it. Music has the ability to let you forget your everyday challenges and struggles, if only for a short period of time. This emotional release is something that is much needed in lives as stressful as the students. Not only that, but that ability for people to network when they have musical interests in common is great. The communities it produces provides a network that the students can turn to when they are having challenges.

Patience is going above and beyond to provide opportunities for her students and its really inspirational. If you’re interested in learning more about her project, you can find her Facebook page here. 

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