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Many Students in Zimbabwe Find Themselves Without Schools

A girl who was turned away from school jumps a puddle. Even schools that are open lack desks and books, and fees must be paid in U.S. dollars.
A girl who was turned away from school jumps a puddle. Even schools that are open lack desks and books, and fees must be paid in U.S. dollars. (By Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi -- Associated Press)

While costly private schools remain world-class and moderately priced religious schools are managing, the public schools that educate about 95 percent of students spent just 18 cents per pupil last year, down from about $6 in 1991, according to a recent U.S. Embassy report.

One high school history teacher in Harare described what she and other teachers call their "floating pool" of 20 aged textbooks, which rotates from class to class and is used by 240 students. School toilets, she said, function only because parents paid to drill a borehole; city water long ago stopped flowing. Coltart said the "vast majority" of students have no desks.

And last year, many had no teachers -- leaving students, in some cases, to teach themselves.

Two years ago, Lovemore Kuzomunhu, 19, had teachers for just two of his four classes. So Kuzomunhu and his physics classmates gave each other lessons. He taught forces and electronics, using textbooks he bought from street dealers.

Kuzomunhu finished high school last year. But with no exam results and therefore no degree, he is now teaching an 80-student math class at his alma mater. Administrators seem to trust him, he said; none has ever stopped by to assess his skills.

"It's very difficult to start on your own," Kuzomunhu, who lives in the southern Harare suburb of Chitungwiza, said of his decision to teach this year. "You don't know if it's wrong or if it's right."

The schooling that has continued survives on donations from international charities and Zimbabwean parents' steadfast dedication to education. Many scrimp to send their children to bare-bones academies known as "private colleges," which charge about $40 a month per subject. Last year, many paid striking teachers $5 to give their children one private lesson.

This year, with government permission, parents associations at many public schools drew up school budgets and determined fees -- typically $50 to $150 per pupil for each four-month term -- sufficient to attract teachers and buy toilet paper, chalk and gas for the school bus.

But those fees are out of reach for many Zimbabweans. On a recent afternoon in a township on the western edge of Harare, a tiny and barefoot Michael Muchuchu, 14, leaned against a tree in his front yard, waving at friends passing by in khaki uniforms and striped ties on their way to school.

The $25 term fee was too much, said his aunt, Petronella Muchuchu, 34, a security guard who said she made 150 trillion Zimbabwean dollars last month, "which doesn't even buy you a loaf of bread."

An aspiring electrician, Michael seemed beset by a sort of malaise.

"Uh, nothing?" he said, describing what he had been doing on this Thursday morning. "We don't have a TV. Books, I don't have any."

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