The morning paper says that classrooms in Bulawayo are ‘almost empty as schools send pupils home’. Teachers are currently only paid $160 per month and want $500 which the poverty datum line, so some schools are charging an extra ‘incentive’ fee to top-up teachers’ pay, as well as fees for textbooks and other items. This can take the fees up to $70 per term, and many can’t afford that. It was apparent yesterday on the drive to Gwanda that many pupils had gone to school only to be sent home early. Pupils in Zimbabwe these last few years are really missing out. And there could be an illiterate generation in a country that had become used to having one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.
Back to the library visits – a long drive out of town today to see two rural libraries in schools supported by the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Programme (RLRDP), a long-standing partner of BAI. The schools are both in a village called Guwe, one primary, one secondary. We visit the secondary school first and though it has an established library, it is dominated by multiple copies of US textbooks, many not that relevant, and which have displaced from the shelves many better books including for example a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The library is also very disorganised and RLRDP tell me it was organised and classified efore. However, it does seem the school is starting almost from scratch again following the economic collapse. There is a young teacher-librarian who is unqualified who has a big task to improve the library, but he does have support from pupil librarians, one of whom says the Baby-Sitters Club is a very popular series. RLRDP will offer advice and training to improve the library. A youth NGO in Bulawayo is supporting some former students to resit their O-Levels and most seem to use the library – a Mills and Boon novel is being read by a young male student, and everyone says they enjoy them. Setting up and sustaining school libraries is always challenging, but particularly in a period of economic collapse, but RLRDP, with a track record going back to the early 1990s are well placed to kickstart them again.
The electricity supply has gone in my hotel so I am now writing by the light of my laptop!
The primary school is more of a storeroom than a library but does have two teacher librarians, a borrowing system and library periods, and the books are being well-used. The Ugly Duckling is popular for example. The school also benefits from RLRDP’s donkey drawn mobile library in which I have a quick ride. This visits the school every 3 weeks and adds to the diversity of books available, and also visits two other schools. This is one of 20 donkey drawn mobile libraries run by RLRDP. Elsewhere, there are 120 schools served by book delivery bicycles to transport book boxes. The school charges the official $5 for school fees but does not load on any other charges so most pupils are able to attend – it also has an almost full complement of qualified teachers showing that it is not all doom and gloom, though with my laptop power fading, it will be for me in a few minutes!