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Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Thursday, 19 April 2007 16:54 UK

Forty years in Zimbabwe's schools

Zimbabwe school children

Zimbabwe boasts one of the highest literacy rates in Africa thanks to a huge school-building programme after independence, 27 years ago this week. The country's school system was the envy of the region, but Zimbabwe's economic collapse now threatens to ruin this legacy.

A recently retired junior school teacher tells the BBC News website anonymously about her career spanning four decades.

1960s: First job

I am from a family of teachers.

My father was a junior school teacher, but in the 1950s he stopped teaching to look for better-paid work in Salisbury, which is now Harare. He worked as a foreman at a construction company so he could pay for all eight of us children to go to school.

Zimbabwe school children in uniform
Children in the rural areas behaved much better than those in the urban areas
1960s

We lived on my father's farm where we were the labourers. We attended a Methodist Church school to begin with. Afterwards I was at boarding school.

I did my teacher training at a mission school and my first job in 1965 was right out in the rural areas. It was a rule that you had to take a posting in the rural areas before you could transfer to the cities.

To be honest, I have completely forgotten my first day. I just know that I wasn't scared at all. I was free as anything then and I was enjoying my kids.

I didn't have to be strict, because children in the rural areas behaved much better than those in the urban areas. They were not a problem at all. Much more respect.

I remember that the accommodation was very poor - just simple houses built with daga [clay] and thatched with grass. No running water.

During that time we taught about 30 children in a class - enrolment was very low there.

Most rural schools were run by missions and the children didn't pay school fees. Our salaries were paid by the government.

After a year I transferred to a larger boarding school where I stayed until I got married and moved to a township near Salisbury.

1970s: Townships

Working in the townships was easier - bread was available to you, sugar and everything - compared to the rural areas where you had to walk or travel by bus to a shopping centre to buy all those things - which was a bit hard.

I taught at a government school where about 40 to 45 pupils were enrolled in a class. Most children came to school.

I taught white children for the first time
1980s

Their school fees were about nine cents per term, so 45 cents for the whole year - which was cheap at the time because the price of living was low generally.

I was happy teaching there; the environment was good. The liberation struggle did not directly affect schools in town.

We used to teach in English, although sometimes we'd mix English and Shona as there were some who didn't understand English very well.

All the text books were in English, even those for teaching Shona.

1980s: Independence

Four years after independence in 1980 I transferred to what was called a Group A school in Harare.

Zimbabwe school children with bowls of food
More children started to come to school hungry after 2000

Group A schools had been only for white children; Group B schools had been for black children.

My class was mixed and I taught white children for the first time. They were good students except for Shona, which they tended to lose interest in.

Group A schools had always been better funded and equipped, and their way of teaching was different too.

For instance, they used phonics and a lot of activities in lessons. We didn't teach English phonetically, we used the look and say method.

Children also received milk in break times, although unlike the high density area pupils, they had to pay for it.

The milk scheme was stopped altogether in around 1990.

The school classification actually remained in place for about another 10 years - with the Group A schools getting more money.

1990s: Bigger classes

Class sizes began to grow in the 1990s: I think it was because people were moving to urban areas, building houses and so on.

Many of us only manage to pay our transport costs because our children overseas are giving us money
2000s

At one stage, there were so many children in our area that "hot-sitting" was tried - with morning and afternoon sessions.

However it didn't work out as teachers found it hard sharing classrooms and text books with their colleagues.

A teacher's salary has always been low. But in the 1990s a teacher could get by. The 1980s were the best when a teacher could live well and pay credits - even during those first days we could survive as things were cheap.

2000s: Hunger

But life became really difficult on a teacher's salary from 2000. Teachers went on strike recently and were given an increase, but many of us only manage to pay our transport costs because our children overseas are giving us money.

My standards didn't go down right up till the day I resigned
Hunger also became a very big problem with some children from struggling families coming to school with nothing to eat.

Uniforms, which were never very expensive, are also a problem now.

More and more people have come to settle in the high density areas, where the schools are very few.

Whether or not standards in education have fallen, I am not sure. I can just measure by my class and my standard of teaching didn't go down right up till the day I resigned.

I was very, very particular that a child could only go into the next grade once he or she was able to read.

In my younger days it was very competitive among the teachers to see who could get good results.

Teachers today don't seem very serious because you can just see them chatting to each other during teaching time; sometimes they come in a bit late, they don't even bother - to them it's nothing.

And if you don't have enough text books that is lowering the standards.

Will I miss teaching? No, after all this time I was very tired.




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