BY VENERANDA LANGA
Education stakeholders have called on Parliament to ensure that the Education Amendment Bill includes provisions that guarantee good learning infrastructure at schools as well as facilities for people living with disabilities.
The Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education recently held public hearings on the Bill, where several parents also raised concern over schools failing to enrol children with disabilities because of lack of adequate infrastructure, teachers and teaching materials.
The Education Amendment Bill is meant to amend the Education Act (chapter 25:04) in order to provide for the right to a basic State-funded education, including adult basic education, the right to further education and the rights of persons with disabilities to be provided with special facilities for their education and rights to State-funded education and training, where necessary.
The Bill will also provide the right to language and culture, as well as use of the officially-recognised languages, among several other provisions.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) said the Bill should provide for an education equalisation fund to upgrade schools infrastructure.
“There should be explicit norms and standards around infrastructure, including classrooms, supplies, capacity and performance; and schools should be evaluated on these standards and an education equalisation fund should be set up … to upgrade the facilities in sub-standard schools,” Artuz said in their contributions to the Bill.
“The Bill should outline the guarantees of safety at schools, both in terms of disaster mitigation strategies, and ways to prevent partisan political activities at schools,” they said.
Artuz also said teachers’ welfare must be upgraded in efforts to modernise Zimbabwe’s education sector.
They said devolution of power will assist in decentralising planning and funding for education which are currently centralised.
The Institute for Community Development in Zimbabwe Trust (ICODZIM) expressed concern that the Bill was silent on special schools for persons with disabilities.
The trust felt that schools were not ready to be inclusive of them.
The Bill currently says the provisions for children with disabilities are “subject to availability of resources”, which is unclear whether or not the Bill will enforce availability of resources for pupils with disabilities.
“ICODZIM has received complaints from parents of pupils with disabilities who were being forced to leave specialised schools because they had reached 18, but depending on the disability, the development rate of children with disability may not be the same as that of able-bodied children,” they said.
Tag a Life International expressed concern over lack of explicit commitment in the Bill by government to focus on children who cannot afford to pay school fees and are struggling to enter schools because of prohibitive costs.
The Education Coalition of Zimbabwe (ECOZI) said there must be more teachers that are able to handle children with disabilities at schools.
They also emphasised upgrading of teachers’ welfare and involvement of parents and stakeholders in the running of schools.
“ECOZI recommends the Bill must specify the minimum standards of school infrastructure and the obligations of government to deliver these. Corporal punishment must be prohibited at schools and further, the 16 official languages of Zimbabwe must be recognised consistent with the Constitution,” the education coalition said.