The Link between Lack of Water and Education

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In early February 2013, the Zimsec O Level results were released. As expected, the rush to find A Level places for the young children began in earnest. What marred this event this year was the seemingly lower than expected pass rate of some 18.4%. The Zimbabwean social media community was awash with a multitude of comments, various thoughts, blog articles and even a dedicated 263Chat regarding this pertinent issue.

From the #263Chat I organised that day, it became apparent that this result was not as surprising as others suggested. There were some long standing issues relating to the low pass rate and in fact related to some schools and/or education in Zimbabwe generally.

I took the discussion off social media and found myself talking to one of the staff members at work. Let’s call her Tendai in this instance. Tendai is a working mother who understands the importance of education for her 2 children. She understands this because of her own situation.

Her highest level of education is a couple of O Level subjects with limited work experience prior to her appointment within our organisation. Her last child is very keen on going to school and loves doing her homework, so much so that Tesa will wait for Tendai to get home from work just so she can check her homework before going to bed. Given Tesa’s attitude and the appropriate support, in theory I envisage Tesa surpassing her own mother’s educational achievements.

It is common knowledge in Harare that the perennial water shortages affect daily lives especially those who don’t have boreholes and/or wells. This obviously relates to the majority of residents in Harare. Instead, city council, some NGOs and some good Samaritans have drilled some boreholes and wells especially in high density areas to assist the local residents.

It is in this area where Tendai and her family live. Typically water rationing is part and parcel of life for Tendai and many of us. We typically schedule our lives around the arrival of water and collect container loads for the usual domestic purposes i.e. cooking and cleaning around the home.

In Tendai’s case, water usually ‘turns up’ at approximately 11pm every night. As usual they set their alarm and wake up to check and usually fill up their water containers for the following day. This story isn’t new to me. I know many people who have to ‘make a plan’ and this has become part of what they do in their daily lives.

However the challenge and focus of this blog article is how the water situation affects education, in particular Tesa and subsequently the ‘lower than expected O Level results’ I mentioned earlier.

Given this brief background of life in Tendai’s household, the water situation is bound to affect Tesa at school in some way. This is how it does. Tesa’s school has several water tanks scattered across it. However the primary school is quite often adversely affected by the water shortages.

When this happens, the school head makes an announcement and the children are advised to return home until water has returned and the situation has normalised. This is done to help curb any potential outbreaks such as typhoid and so forth. The kids return home and as far as they are concerned, an unexpected and welcome break from school for a few days takes place.

The break usually doesn’t last long and within 2 or 3 days the children are back at school. In the meant time however they are theoretically lagging behind on progress at school so their teacher has devised an interesting way of solving 2 problems with 1 simple solution.

Let’s just assume that Teacher A earns about $350 per month from this government school. To supplement her income, teacher A, let’s call her Mrs Makombe, has extra lessons after school with the same children she teaches in the morning. Tendai pays Mrs Makombe $1 per week for these Monday to Friday extra lessons.

There are approximately 50 to 60 students in Mrs Makombe’s class. Not all will pursue the extra lessons; some simply because of lack of funds and others may not value education and/or the lessons as much as Tendai.

Tendai advises me that approximately 50 children attend these extra lessons. These lessons give comfort to Tendai and her husband and more importantly extra income to Mrs Makombe. She takes home an extra $200, tax free I might add because of this situation.

The venue of these lessons depends entirely on the teacher and their resources. In this case, Mrs Makombe lives in Tendai’s neighbourhood and the students are crammed into her yard at home. So every day, Mrs Makombe see her students both at school and at home in her attempt to teach them more and earn a little on the side.

These extra lessons are increased on days when water is problematic at school and this obviously generates extra income far beyond the usual $1 per week per child.

Many of us have tried to diagnose the reasons behind the drop in Zimsec O Level results but one aspect is evident. The bottom line is our government simply needs to invest more resources overall into education. With the demise of our economy during the last decade or so, the gap is clearly evident.

However what has not changed is the need for parents to play their role in educating their children. No wonder a spurt of private colleges and schools has mushroomed all across the country. Various education providers have seen a gap and an opportunity in the educational market.

Much needed investment is required in terms of infrastructure, textbooks at all levels and better working conditions for teachers are amongst some of the solutions to address the challenges parents like Tendai and her husband face.

We are only too aware of the work that David Coltart, the Education Minister, is doing and it has been reported that Minister Coltart had managed to secure $9 million to print books in local languages. Given the task that lies ahead within education in Zimbabwe, Tendai sincerely hopes that more resources are invested in education so Tesa experiences a better life in the future.

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