A sharp upsurge in the number of private learning insitutions operating in Manicaland have seen many of them shortchanging learners by employing unqualified staff, negating recommended teacher-learner ratios and operating in substandard infrastructure, The Manica Post has established.
With parents and guardians often scrambling to get places for their children at Manicaland’s good schools, others end up opting to enroll their children at dubious privately-run schools.
Although official statistics indicate that Manicaland has a total of 140 private schools and independent colleges, much more could be operating without following the requisite registration procedures.
Manicaland has 898 primary and 414 secondary public schools.
Investigations conducted by The Manica Post revealed that some private schools are operating with no qualified staff, especially those offering Early Childhood Development (ECD) and primary school learning services.
It emerged that in all the seven districts of Manicaland, some private schools are operating in areas that are not designated for schools, for instance industrial sites and at homesteads in rural areas.
In Dangamvura and Chikanga, Mutare, some private institutions are making use of church buildings or halls where Grade One to Grade Seven learners are taught in one hall, in most cases by a single teacher.
The situation is even worse for ECD learning centres in all parts of Manicaland as some residential houses have been turned into learning centres, some without adequate basic facilities such as toilets and clean drinking water.
In Chimanimani, there are two well-known private schools with substandard infrastructure — one operating in Ngangu Township and the other operating in the village — whose learners do not wear school uniforms.
The Manica Post also understands that some teachers and heads in formal public schools are running their own private schools, thereby prejudicing their employer with regards to commitment to their work.
In Mutare, some private schools are nomadic and keep changing premises.
In Rusape, only two private schools are known to be registered, yet the town has numerous private schools and colleges that enroll learners who are then referred to formal schools for national examinations.
In terms of costs for enrolment, some registered private schools and independent colleges are more expensive than public schools, while makeshift private learning centres are charging nominal fees that fit their unprofessional standards.
When contacted for comment, Manicaland Provincial Education Director, Mr Edward Shumba said even some registered private schools are operating in substandard infrastructure.
He also noted the poor remuneration for the staffers at some of the dodgy privately-run schools.
“We have registered 62 privately-run ECD centres, two infant schools, 20 formal primary schools, nine formal secondary schools and 47 independent colleges.
“Challenges bedeviling the private schools include the substandard infrastructure they operate from, inadequate toilets, under-qualified teachers, as well as poorly remunerated teachers. We also have some private schools that are operating in areas that are not designated for schools, for instance in industrial areas. Some are using rented premises and move a lot. They do not inform anyone about the changes of location,” said Mr Shumba.
He said the ownership of some private schools is not clearly defined.
“The ownership of private schools is not clearly defined as we normally find purported principals on the ground. Some owners are in partnerships, but they do not have deeds of partnership or partnership agreements.
“Stakeholders should be aware that police clearance is mandatory for school owners. We also have some schools with constitutions that are clearly defined, but are not judiciously adhered to,” he said.
While some privately-run schools have performed relatively well, some are performing dismally. Mr Shumba said: “Academic results in most registered private schools are good since they are closely monitored. However, it is difficult to monitor and even collect results from illegal institutions.
“Levels of qualification for teachers in private schools are a bit worrisome as teachers in secondary schools are hired and fired willy-nilly, therefore schools end up employing some A-Level school leavers.
“Primary schools are employing teachers from colleges with the requisite qualifications, while secondary schools employ teachers with university degrees but no teaching pedagogy,” said Mr Shumba.
He said the Education Ministry will intensify the supervision and monitoring of privately-run schools, adding that local authorities and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should have a coordinated approach in the registration of such schools.
“All those willing to open such schools should liaise with district offices and all infrastructure should be inspected by the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education,” he said.