sharing in governance of extractive industries
Sometimes we want to bottle up the pressure. Giving up on our citizen agency when faced with several accountability hurdles appears to be an easy route to take. Yet, this is a struggle we cannot afford to give up. If we cannot do it for ourselves, then for our children’s sake, our backs must not be turned away. With this, I feel motivated to allow the public the opportunity to download one of my personal struggles. This instalment relates to getting a grade one place for my daughter in 2010 at Eastridge primary school.
Parents were called to a meeting by the headmistress (now late) in 2010, we were informed that the school cannot accommodate all the children doing grade zero into grade one. Competition was stiff. Places will be secured by parents who pay school fees, uniforms and sports wear on first come first serve basis. If my memory is not failing me, uniforms and schools feels were slightly above USD100. Parents were then asked by the headmistress, if they had any questions to ask.
I looked around, there were no hands up, but the faces were telling a different story. Understandably, most probable the fear of antagonising the headmistress when competition for grade one place was stiff acted as a deterrent. I must confess, I also felt the pressure too. However, I had to summon my residual strength to seek clarity from the headmistress.
I remarked, I had no problems with the prices set by the school for purchase of school uniforms and sportswear. It is only fair for the school to provide samples to satisfy parents on value for money. Before I had gotten a response from the headmistress, from her looks, it was unmistakable that I had asked an annoying question. I was flatly told that we cannot afford to give places to children who have parents that are going to haunt us for the next seven years.
There was no solidarity response from the parents. “Each man for himself and God for us all” a saying that I heard repeatedly since my childhood whenever collective action was sought was at play. On that sour note, the meeting was ended.
I started to question my boldness, was it a matter of temerity or a genuine cause to demand transparency and accountability from the school authorities. This was just the beginning, back home, my wife got incensed knowing that my actions had probably extinguished the chance to get a grade one place for our child. She told me, “when you see other parents quiet, they are not stupid. But they care about the future of their children.”
Incalculable was the loss for failing to secure a grade one place for my child. This meant that we were going to deal with the uncertainty of securing a grade one place in other schools, if successful, fork out more money on transport. We decided not to give up on Eastridge primary school. My wife went and paid the required fees, a place was secured. Easily done, one would think. A colleague of mine whom I had known from college was nearly denied a place for her daughter because of mistaken identity by the headmistress.
Our angel on the day was the grade zero teacher of my child. She ignored the headmistress’s instruction not to enrol my daughter. Case closed, we celebrated. My wife though never missed the opportunity to remind me that I nearly jeopardised chances for my daughter to secure a grade one place. I could not blame her although I fell short on apologising.
When schools were opened in 2011, i received a letter from the school with a request for a meeting. In that meeting, sat the headmistress, the deputy headmaster and the senior teacher for early childhood development classes. Coldly, the headmistress told me that the educational policy demands that places must be given to children residing in areas around the school. By that time, I had relocated from Hillside to Warren Park.
According to the said educational policy, my daughter was not eligible to get a place from Eastridge. In my response, I reasoned that I am a tenant, does that mean every time I change a place to stay, I also must move my daughter to a new school. This policy, I cautioned, makes sense for property owners but tenants. She was adamant, take your refund and your daughter, there is nothing we can do but to enforce the policy.
Further, I argued, if you are genuine about implementing this policy, at my cost, i am willing to sponsor a survey so that children who are not living in suburbs near the school will meet a similar fate to mine. My point was not to make other parents and children suffer, but to prove in a subtle way, how unreasonable the headmistress was.
She maintained her hard-line stance, it was not my responsibility to tell the school what to do. Realising that there was no escape route in this conversation, I became agitated, I told her to release her dogs and I realise mine (warumwa warumwa). Quickly, I walked out of the office. This is how my daughter secured her place at Eastridge primary school.
I am sharing my personal struggles to motivate other parents and youths to be more open to share the struggles that they face when dealing with schools on transparency and accountability issues. This call is not limited to educational services, but all other essential services, health, water and sanitation among others. The following lessons can be drawn from the experience I have shared;
As it turned out, the sports wear we got was of poor quality, it failed to match the asking price we had paid. It is interesting to flag out that government has banned schools from forcing parents to buy uniforms from any other sources other than the schools offering services to their children.
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