“Teaching is a position that can make or break a child – a position of power that if taken up by the wrong person, can do more harm than good. It requires more than just a degree, the academic knowledge of a subject-it requires passion, patience, empathy, and an unfailing desire to teach children not just how to structure a sentence properly, but to show them how to dream, to face failure and learn from it, to care for others, be individually and socially responsible, and to develop a love of learning.” – a Zimbabwean teacher.
Education has always been of a high standard in this country, although difficult economic times have brought challenges to the system. One consequence is that the divide between private and government schools has widened. Private schools have become very expensive, hard to get into and are only a realistic option for a decreasing amount of people. Government schools are more affordable, but with smaller budgets than private schools, the facilities are not as good or as up-to-date. Pupils at private secondary schools do world class exams i.e. the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) by Cambridge. Whereas government schools do local exams, known as Zimsec (Zimbabwe School Examinations Council.) Pupils from government schools are consequently at a disadvantage as the quality and standard of exams is not as high.
The Cost of Education
There is a large disparity in school fees between private and government schools. However, there is a common element: parents and guardians who send their kids to government schools as well as those who send their kids to private schools are burdened by the cost of education. All Zimbabweans want their children to be well-educated and they make huge financial sacrifices to make sure they are. But the cost of living has become so high that sending children to school and keeping them there has become increasingly difficult no matter where they go to school.
Private secondary school fees range from approximately $1,700 to $2,000 to as much as $2,775 per term (Hellenic Academy in 2013). Full boarding can cost $4,000 per term for pupils who attend boarding schools. Hellenic Junior School costs $1,900 per term and the pre-school charges $1,700. The Harare International School which mainly serves the expatriate community, charges approximately $27,000 a year per student at the high school.
For families with several children, the cost of education is astronomical. It is not surprising that parents are sometimes forced to pull their children out of schools because they can no longer afford the fees. If you are lucky enough to get into Hellenic School, which is one of the most prestigious schools in Harare, the cost of sending 3 children to the primary school for 1 year is $17,100! Only a small portion of the Zimbabwean community has this kind of money. Unfortunately, from what I’ve observed, this has created an exclusivity in private education.
I attended Hellenic Junior School in the 1990s. Then, it was not a school reserved only for the rich. I have attended several functions there recently, and I am always struck by the number of luxurious cars in the car park. It is undoubtedly still a lovely school with some of its old character. But I do feel that it is unfortunate that the current predominant trend in Harare to divide people because of money has crept so severely into education. A lot of private schools also ask for large sums of money for applications for a Form 1 place, which are non-refundable. According to figures from last year, this can be as much as $2,700. Not only is it hard to get into these kind of schools, but parents have to invest huge amounts of money into their children’s education for many years afterwards. Teachers tell me that Zimbabwean fees are as high as the top schools in South Africa. Should the cost of education, even if it is private and of a high standard, be this expensive?
Government schools on the other hand, charge a fraction of the amount that private schools do. High schools such as Vainona High School charge $200 per term and junior schools are approximately half that amount. Compared to what private schools charge, this amount may seem small, but in reality this is still very expensive for the majority of people in Harare. Salaries are very low in relation to the cost of living and so $600 a year for only one child is not affordable for many. A domestic worker for example, earns around $200 a month. I know families who help with their domestic worker’s children’s school fees because their basic salary cannot cover the fees.
Parents struggle to send their children to government schools and increasingly, many children are forced to stay at home. According to a security guard who has a child at Vainona High School, the standard of teaching has improved over the last two years. He said that this is because of the increase in teachers’ salaries. However, I have heard reports that the level of education at Vainona is not very high, and that quite a few pupils struggle to pass their exams.
An increasing amount of people have turned to home schools for their children. This is a more financially viable option, but from my own experience working at a home school, there are some disadvantages. Facilities are very limited, with no formal sport lessons offered. The teaching that I witnessed, was generally not of a very high standard and discipline was severely lacking. However, standards vary from school to school and at least home schools provide parents with a less-expensive option. Fees can be as low as $300 a year for very basic home schooling, with full parental participation.
The Teachers’ Perspective
Schools have high running costs and there are caps on school fees. Consequently, a teacher’s salary is not very high. Teaching in my view is a hugely important profession, which influences the lives of so many. My education at Hellenic and Harare Convent defines who I am today. The great teachers that inspired me to learn and to think creatively, continue to influence my thoughts today. Yet are teachers earning what they deserve? School fees may be high but teachers struggle to live off their salary. Schools and teachers (especially private ones) are very wary to discuss salaries. Some teachers don’t even know what their colleagues are being paid. Why is transparency lacking in this regard? To me it is a reflection that salaries are not what they should be. From the little information that I received, private school teachers can earn approximately $1,300 per month. Some schools offer more. There are other benefits to teaching however, such as medical aid, a fuel allowance and sometimes accommodation. But a “teacher’s salary is not liveable on, unless it’s supplemented somehow, and young, unmarried teachers cannot live on their salary,” according to a private school teacher.
Government teachers earn around $500 per month if they have a degree, and without a degree they earn $400. However, the amount that they take home is less than this, as a portion of their salary goes to their pension, medical aid and housing allowance. Apparently government school teachers are complaining as current conditions are tougher than previous years. Remuneration such as transport has been taken away and basic things such as tea at break time, are hard to come by. Although, I was told that government teachers are better looked after in times of sickness, getting three months pay while absent. Apparently private teachers receive no salary if they are ill for a long time. This is according to a teacher who has experienced both systems but I’m sure every school has a different policy.
So why do teachers love their job?
“I don’t think I would want to teach anywhere else in the world,” one private school teacher told me. Good teachers are passionate about their job and for many it is a vocation. Education is valued and respected in Zimbabwe. The students are motivated, disciplined and bright. The working conditions are good. Teachers who have children attending school can get a free education. There are perks, certainly for private school teachers that make teaching worthwhile. The legacy of grateful students who remember their teachers, and approach them many years later to thank them are plentiful. On many occasions I have experienced this myself through my mother who is a retired teacher from St. George’s College. A teacher from Chisipite School told me:
“The staff must be contented as many have worked there for years. I myself have worked at Chisipite for the past ten years and the Head has been there for over 30 years. There is also a number of ex-pupils, who were so inspired by teachers in their youth that they vowed to come back to inspire the next generation.”
Government teachers despite difficulties and low pay, do also enjoy teaching and have a passion to educate. Although the perks for government teachers are hardly comparable to private teachers’, government teachers also appreciate the respect that they get in the community. It seems that teachers in both spheres benefit hugely from their profession. In many ways it is a selfless job rather than a selfish one. Teachers may have long holidays, but a lot of time is spent planning lessons and giving extra lessons.
In my opinion teachers are the most hard-working people that I know, and they should be credited for it.
Main image taken from www.phg.co.zw