Friday 2019-03-22

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AN OPEN LETTER TO LADY HOWARD-MABUZA

By Alec Lushaba | 2019-01-12

Dear Madam Minister!

Firstly, it is in order that I congratulate you for being elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Mafutseni Inkhundla and one of two women MPs to have contested and won a national election.

In an era where the vote for a woman campaign has been intensified but getting elected has become so difficulty like a Camel going through an eye of an needle, you deserve our congratulations for your achievement as this demonstrates the trust the electorate has in your leadership skills.

Today honorouable minister I take the pleasure to address you in your capacity as minister of education and training.

 I am not sure whether to be happy for you to have been assigned a ministry that you know very well having worked with closely in your past professional life as school principal or not. My over 20 years experience in the field of journalism has taught me not to raise my hopes too much, because having experience and exposure to your ministry is no guarantee that you are going to be a success. In fact, your predecessor, Dr. Phineus Magagula, with far more political exposure in education issues having been a unionist, heading the teachers association, proved to be a disaster for the ministry and in the process disappointed many of you. Maybe, I am being too harsh on the old man, a better phrase should be that he was not too lucky to transform the ministry with the ideas he shared with his colleagues and demanded of the incumbent ministers whilst he was still SNAT president. His poor showing made his processor, Wilson Mkhalempi Ntshangase to look good, reason being he defended teachers.

But still he performed far below the likes of Constance Simelane and John Carmichael. These two are the reason why we have Free Primary Education today, because they understood the concept of human capital. honourable minister, today we have veered off the road and we no longer pursue the agenda of developing human capital, but only ensuring that we develop human beings who can only speak English and write their names properly. I remember the words of Minister Constance Simelane in Parliament one time when she castigated those who were complaining that free primary education will be too expensive. She said you never know the value of education until you know the cost of ignorance. Madam Minister, let me settle in you nicely by demonstrating how intimate I know the issues affecting your ministry.

I am a parent, who like the thousands of other Swazis, have children in public schools around the capital. In fact, I am not just a parent but a chairman of the school committee, which is a conduit between parents and government to ensure that there is proper governance in our school administration. But I am not addressing you as chairman here, but as a citizen who reflects on pertinent issues affecting the country and threatens our goal of attaining Vision 2022.

I know firsthand honourable minister that when things get messy in our schools and we are accused of some maladministration, it is not your officials who account on behalf of the school but the principal and the school committee. Yet, when the school does well, the glory goes to the ministry and your officials are quick to claim the glory.

We understand madam minister, that’s the nature of human beings. Easy Glory! madam minister I challenge you to be that minister – the one who will prioritise human capital to human development. His Majesty the King and the country expect you to be that driving force behind the development of the country to attain Vision 2022. You know better what Vision 2022 is all about and I am sure that is what the Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini reminds you and team to achieve every day in Cabinet.

Madam minister, in order to be that minister who brings about change and focus on human capital, you will have to silence a lot of noise and in fact, at times fight your officials with ideas who seem now accustomed or attuned to the disaster happening around our public schools.

On paper, your ministry receives the lion’s share of the national budget, but the messy in your ministry makes it difficult for us as parents to appreciate  same. Your officials are too demanding of what principals need to do, from feeding our children to ensuring that they have the proper materials. However, your officials have resisted for nine years reviewing the funding made available to public schools. We cannot afford madam Minister to compromise the quality of our children on the basis of being politically correct. The funding model for both our primary schools and secondary is outdated and needs urgent review.

It cannot be madam minister that for nine years we have not reviewed the allocation per child we issue to schools. You cannot in this day and age run a school with a meager budget of E300 000 per year and be expected to excel.

Deceived

Don’t even be deceived by the 2018 Standard Five results which you said were the best in 10 years with more numbers. Be that as it may, it does not still suggest that money we allocate to schools is sufficient. It is not and never will it be.

I am aware that with everyone saying government has no money - that should not compromise the future of the country. We owe it to our children and therefore their development should not be compromised by our temporal circumstances.

What is worse madam minister is the arrogance of your officials when dealing with this question. Government at this point does not view parents as partners or as a stakeholder in the whole area of child development. There are some amongst us, parents, who are not genuine when we discuss the issue of Free Primary Education or the OVC funding. That government has desired every child to go to school does not mean that we should not come in and contribute for the wellbeing of our children including chipping in with some contributions if required. The people who feel the pinch about their children are not necessarily the government officials who now behave as though they were firstly consulted when we gave birth or sired those children.

 The person who worries more about the future of the child is the parent and then government. If parents resolve to come in and contribute towards the development of their school, that should not be determined by some official in Mbabane who knows nothing about the challenges on the ground. Madam minister, it is odd that your officials who are not in the schools can now start to doubt or even question the contribution whether in terms of ideas or monetary of the parents involved in the running of the schools. Ngive kahle Ndvuna – we still want government to continue regulating schools, that we accept, but cannot accept a situation where the survival of and well being of our children is dictated from somewhere near your offices.

As things stand madam minister, there is no relationship between schools and your ministry. If anything, the relationship between parents, as represented by school committees must be formalised and allow for constant engagement.

Your ministry cannot be allowed to promise one thing on paper and deliver nothing or the opposite on the ground. We all want you to succeed in your mandate, but work with parents and by extension the schools.

As a former principal or one who is on leave for the next five years, how does it sit with you that the ministry you are now heading has allowed for a scenario at secondary and high schools where parents subsidizes the education of OVC? This has been allowed to happen for the past nine years with parents saying nothing and the ministry not even concerned. It is time you reflect on that arrangement in public schools it is not good for surviving parents. madam minister, we can do much better in education with better support from your ministry and the understanding that we in it together. 

We need to balance the power relations issue between government and schools. We are all supposed to act in the best interest of the child.

If you can improve the areas of concern, you would have done well in marketing the Tinkhundla system as caring and responding to the people’s needs and human capital centred.

I can go on and on madam minister, but can you be on the side of the child and parents! 

I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Have a good Saturday!

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