Free education and all that by Inocência
Mozambique has made good progress in getting kids into school over the last few years and most children now at least start primary school.* This week the government announced that there was no shortage of places for kids to enroll in school in Maputo and that ‘everything will go well in the enrollment period’.** Each year parents across the country have to enroll their children that are entering classes 1,6,8 and 11; they pass automatically into the other classes. This week our night guard also came to me to ask to borrow about $40 because he needed to make sure that his two children got into their respective grades 1 and 6 in primary school. He said that the school places had all but run out and that the only way he would get one of the remaining ones was to pay nearly $20 for each of his children as a ‘refresco’ for the teachers.
Meanwhile the weekly ‘Savana’, probably the best of the independent weeklies, reported that there was a shortage of places in many schools across the capital. Amazingly what Savana did not report at all was the money that parents were having to pay teachers and other school staff in order to ensure their kids a place in school. Even AIM, the state news agency reported bribing by parents of school guards, if not of the teachers.
Who in Maputo does not know somebody who has had to pay anything from 10 – 100 dollars in order to get their child in school? Everybody knows it is wrong, but which parent will dare to challenge the teacher when their child’s educational future is at stake? Last year our neighbour had to pay a similar sum to get her daughter enrolled in 1st class in the local school. She wasn’t competing for a sought after place in one of the schools with the best reputation, which the Education Minister seems to think is at the root of the problem. $20 for a woman with 3 kids, with half the family HIV positive, no husband and no job apart from selling some bits of charcoal outside her door, is a huge hole in her budget. Also last year our cleaner paid $100 to get her daughter a place in school. The girl had failed her year twice, which meant the state does not guarantee her a place a third time. But nor does it sell off the places.. $100 in the pocket of the teacher got her one nonetheless.
Teachers are undoubtedly underpaid. And maybe a salary raise would partly solve the problem. I wonder though. The fear that people have to speak out against those in any position of authority in my mind is probably a bigger obstacle to overcome.
*UNICEF quotes on two different pages of the same site that 83% and 100% of the children are enrolled in primary school. Confused? it is not explained in their text but if you look at their stats page it seems to correspond to gross and net enrollment ratios. Perhaps most accurate data on Government Statistics Institute site: – just not opening today.
**(Tangent.. we all know govt’s like to predict that everything is going to go well.. my favourite from this week are the transcripts released from the US Fed in 2006 about the housing market)