THE economic reality in the country and ZIMSEC demands are complementing each other to make the life of school heads and SDCs miserably untenable.
If there is a job at the moment that is unenviable, it is that of a school head, particularly one in charge of a boarding school. The situation in schools at the moment is acerbic, cutting, biting, barbed and critical. The school heads see and live it every day. They fear and dread it, but there is nothing they can do. They watch, suffer quietly and endure it all in dignified and honourable anger.
Let me stop dramatising the plight of school heads and go down to facts.
First, the economic environment is precarious and rickety. When the prices of food and items for everyday use in the school go up instantly, as indeed they go up for every citizen, planning and budgeting becomes erratic and futile. When the cost of a kilogramme of beef soars overnight from $5 per kg to $15 or $18, any normal head in a boarding school develops stomach trouble and resultantly budgetary diarrhoea.
When fuel dries up and Shimmer Chinodya nonchalantly rewrites his story about Queues in Writing Still, then Chinua Achebe also dispassionately rewrites his Things Fall Apart and its sequel No Longer at Ease.
And when all this happens, no one understands and fears the times like a school head, particularly of a boarding school.
How does and how can a school head continue to feed 900 or 1000 difficult-to-please students with the same quality and quantity of food under the same budget when the costs have doubled, in some cases tripled?
How does he or she tell parents whose own salaries have not been increased to increase the school fees instantly and considering the daily soaring of prizes how many times per week, per month, per term must this happen?
School certainly becomes some sort of hell.
This writer is not an economist, thank God, because that way he is saved the pain and mental punishment of having to understand what is happening, how and why? He does not have to understand anything to do with the money market and forex exchange rates etc. But one thing that he knows is that the economy is sneezing heavily and the flu which is most severe in schools is catching every Zimbabwean and is not an ordinary cold that will go without any special medication.
The havoc the current economic reality plays cannot best be told by economists, but by school heads in charge of boarding schools. The best way to describe the tragic economic realities in the schools and indeed in the country, can best be understood not by economic jargon in Economics encyclopaedias, but in the language of our own black philosophy embedded in our own vernacular proverbs: Amai vatsva musana, mwana atsva mudumbu (The mother has a burnt back and the child a burnt stomach). What this means is simple but frightening. The mother who is supposed to safely carry the baby on her back has a back scoured with burns and as if that were not tragic enough, the baby itself who needs the safety and comfort of the mother’s back, also has a stomach lined with burns.
As if the economic teeth were not biting enough and the life of a school head not miserable enough, ZIMSEC comes in at the same time with Mosaic laws that must be followed to the letter.
The schools must comply with the new curriculum, naturally. That is understandable.
Zimsec forces schools to buy relevant science-kits, chemicals and other laboratory equipment. Again that is understandable.
But the schools have no special budget or donor agency for this new development, but it must be done. Without appropriate science-kits, there are no examinations. The schools have no money, but must find it, in heaven or in hell. They must beg, steal or borrow. And that is none of Zimsec’s business. What they do and do it well is tell you what to do. How you will do it or not do it is none of their business.
Zimsec tells schools what to do? Yes they do, ‘‘Build special cabinets and strong rooms to keep the examination papers safe’’. Very good!
No one wants these to leak and embarrass the nation. That too is good. ‘‘This school and that school shall be an examination centre where cluster schools shall collect their examinations papers every day.’’
‘‘Thy will be done,’’ the school heads must say. If you don’t have a suitable school car or truck to collect the question papers and to return the answer scripts to the examination centre in your cluster, that is your baby, not Zimsec’s. If you have no fuel or don’t want to sleep in the diesel or petrol queue, again that is not Zimsec’s problem. Again the school heads must say, ‘‘Amen!’’
In all these nightmares demanding unbudgeted money and solutions next to miracles, no one chips in to help the school head and his or her school. This is when heads spend nights awake. When morning comes there is still no answer . . . but the job is still waiting to be done.
The schools are plunged into a hell-fire of confusion and anxiety. Some teachers, many of them per school, stop attending to their classes. They are up and down the road every day making sure examinations at their school do not attract any unfavourable headlines from journalistic hawks too ready to blow the whistle. They are not paid any allowances by Zimsec for helping it do its work.
They are away from their own classrooms and families, sleeping in queues to get diesel or petrol for the school. Yet above all this pain and chaos which they neither cause nor understand, they must not only do what is required but do it quietly, diligently and with a smile on every face.
Have you ever been in a situation you must cry but are forced to smile because that is the only way open and left to you?
This is what school heads today know best how to do. They still wear the headmaster’s suit and drive the school Navara or D4D.
The school bus is still there fast assuming the stature of a white elephant. The SDC still exists, though it too now knows that running a school is not a game of power and talking. Things must be done. But in all these schools, lest we forget, business is not business as usual. Things have fallen apart. Things are no longer at ease! It is the hope of this writer that though there are no more plastic balls to play in the schools, soon these schools will not run into Animal Farms angrily pondering why they are in this state of disillusionment and administrative quandary yet they have done everything right and played every game according to the rule.
Perhaps the best book to read for school heads, for now, particularly those in charge of boarding institutions, is Mujajati’s The Sun Will Rise Again. For indeed the sun will rise again tomorrow despite tonight’s ugly and frightening darkness.
Instead of daydreaming and getting bitter instead of better; instead of finger-pointing and ‘‘politicking’’ about the nightmare school heads are silently and obediently suffering under, does anybody have wise ideas to assist them out of this ‘‘website’’ of costly confusion and dilemma, now or in future? If you cannot help, don’t just be angry. Just hold your peace and listen to those who have wise counsel to give.
Join me MM, your radio teacher and Head-To-Head talk-show host on Diamond FM Radio very Thursday night exactly 8pm! Be my guest! Feel free to join in the conversation! Online numbers are 020 (60308) or WhatsApp 0719103103 and SMS texts on 0782 228 578! You are free to post your concerns, remarks and questions before the programme.