Private vs Government schools

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. . . Is there a difference?

. . . how much would you pay for a good school?

Charles Mushinga, Deputy Editor

The leaked ZWL$106 000 school fees receipts from Riverton Academy in Masvingo has sent social media into overdrive.

The furore has seen people trade insults with some saying the fees are exorbitant whilst most argued that there is a class of our society that can afford the fees and should be left in their lane.

Based on the social media exchanges, the $106 000 figure receipted as cash is said to be payments made in US$ and understood to be US$2100 while the conversion rate is bizarrely 1:50.

“Zimbabweans are crybabies. You spend days crying over Riverton Academy fees of $100k when you have no kids there!Are the parents with kids at Riverton crying? Schools like that are for those who can afford. Iwe do the best YOU can afford. Chero ku States is everyone super rich?” wrote a Nicole Hondo on Twitter.

“I don’t care what people be saying but to pay this much fees for Secondary school at a school like Riverton is hebetudinous. What are they teaching the kids? Enriching uranium? String theory?” retorted Adio Dinika, another Twimbo.

Private school students enjoy various luxuries

If someone pays an average $106 000 per term for their child’s fees up to university level, it equates to about ZWL$6 million invested on the child and over US$300 000. And this excludes educational trips, uniform costs and other related expenses over the 19 years today’s generation will spend from ECD to university.

Would this be a wise investment given the comparative figure of only ZWL$28.500 (US$1781) that one spends on a child who goes to a government school from ECD to university over the same period?

Why do some people opt for the more expensive option? Is there a difference between a child educated at a government school and one who went to a private school?

Educationist and university lecturer Professor Nhamo Mhiripiri reckons the difference lies in their character.

“From an academic point of view, depending on the type of academia, there may be little difference. It is not dependent on where one goes to school whether they pass mathematics at school for example. A student from a government school can pass all their subjects, and so can one from the more affluent schools.

“But it is about grooming, more than the actual marks they get in different subjects. Some schools inculcate certain values in their students which help them later in life. If a student goes to St Georges or Midlands Christian College for example, there are remarkable differences in their mannerisms and ways of networking when compared to students that went to township schools,” he said.

Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe leader, Raymond Majongwe, expressed similar sentiments.

“The starting point is not whether students pass or not. It is about the culture they are nurtured into. The parents that sacrifice paying more value discipline and etiquacy. They want their kids to be brought up in a particular way. The challenge in public schools is there are no consequences for ill manners. Things like ill manners, drug abuse, truancy, even sexual misdemeanor are being allowed unpunished all too often at public schools and parents that can afford do not want their children to mix with such characters. Government is allowing the assassination of public education that is why people are running away from public schools,” he said.

However, Majongwe was not full of praise for the majority of private schools that are mushrooming all over Zimbabwe of late.

“You must note that most of these private schools are actually fly-by-night capitalists looking for cheap money. There is actually a school in Bindura now that is marketed on social media – especially to parents in the diaspora – as a classy private school. The reality is it is a farm school, tobacco barns turned into a school. Not every private school is good or better than government schools.

“I urge government to strictly monitor these private schools. How are they getting certification and licences to operate. The owners have no idea how to run schools. They employ their relatives or girlfriends to be school heads and the students only pass because there is a lot of cheating when exams are written at these schools. We need to have government tracking these schools and seeing how they are getting 100 percent pass rates because there is a lot going on,” he said.

Professor Mhiripiri reckons the future of students that go to private schools is not restricted to academic professions where one ends up as a doctor or lawyer or other such professions. He argued that government schools nurture students into becoming workers whereas private schools nurture passions that usually see the products turning into business owners or artists or sportspeople who have better prospects in life than workers.

“You will notice that private schools concentrate a lot on things that the majority may not afford. When it comes to sports they have elitist sports like tennis. One has to be well resourced to excel in such a sport. Their parents have to be able to afford sending them abroad for tournaments and international tours for them to make a living out of the sports and this does not happen in public schools simply because they cannot afford it.

“The differences lie also in the small and basic things like failure to eat with a fork and knife. Most cannot swim because there were no swimming pools at the public schools they attended.
“But private schools offer these things and parents end up sacrificing to pay for the services offered. At the end of the day it is also a status symbol to enroll your child at a certain school – which also raises their self-worth and helps them in future,” said Prof Mhiripiri.

But there are some things that do not need money that private schools offer. Etiquette, for example, costs nothing. Any school can teach pupils to greet elders, say thank you, dress smartly et cetera. Any school can also hire a French or music or Art teacher the same way it engages a history, English or Mathematics teacher.

“It is not so simple. These schools rely on government funds which must be fairly distributed. So in some township schools you find a handful of students interested in French, another handful interested in music. Trying to expend public resources to cater for these teachers who will teach very few students might be considered outrageous,” argued Prof Mhiripiri.

The debate rages on and there are enough examples of great achievers nurtured by either type of school that people point at as shining beacons to trust the respective school.

Meanwhile, school heads have a task to instill manners and etiquacy in their pupils and make good behaviour a part or their culture and upbringing because, as the analysts have said, it is all about grooming.