BEAM cancellation hits special school

The Jairos Jiri Southerton School is struggling to pay 40 staff after the government’s suspension of the BEAM grant for special schools left it nearly bankrupt.

Pupils at the Jairos Jiri Southerton School.
Pupils at the Jairos Jiri Southerton School.

“The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) is the financial backbone of our operations and the sudden suspension of the funds dealt us a big blow,” headteacher Margaret Mukwe told The Zimbabwean.

In January, the government wrote to all special schools postponing BEAM 2014 allocations, alleging lack of assessment reports from appropriate authorities.

BEAM is designed to help orphans and vulnerable and disabled children get access to basic primary and secondary education.

There are 170 students at Jairos Jiri and each gets $600 in school fees a term from BEAM.

“Teachers and health personnel are paid by government, but we have 40 other employees who cost $10,000 a month in salaries. Other school expenses are met using BEAM funds too.

“We last paid them in January using last year’s balances. As for February and going forward, we do not know how we are going to pay them,” said Mukwe.

She said this year they opened a secondary school to cater for students who didn’t have a chance to enroll in other schools.

“Most of our students come from rural areas where schools are far from their homes and inaccessible on wheelchairs. Opening the secondary school means more students who require support from BEAM.”

Last year the school had a 71 per cent pass rate for the grade 7 examinations.

Mukwe said only a few self-sufficient students were enrolled at Danhiko or King George secondary special schools in Harare and Bulawayo, where there were boarding facilities.

The new secondary school is a satellite school of Kwayedza in Highfield and currently has one class with one teacher.

“We expect two more teachers from our feeder school, but ideally five are needed. At the moment one teacher is teaching the 14 students mathematics, accounts, English and science. We need a ratio of seven students per teacher, but we currently have only 18 teachers, including those in primary,” she added.

Mukwe said the school was also in dire need of secondary textbooks and a science laboratory.

However, Mukwe said her institution was expanding its income-generating projects to help cover expenses.

“We are growing greenhouse tomatoes for sale, which give us about $4,000 by the end of harvesting, and we have 300 laying hens. We now have to divert some of this money to keep going,” she said.

The Jairos Jiri Association for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled and Blind has 16 special schools countrywide.

National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) director Farai Mukuta said special schools in the country were facing closure.

“Considering that government is also struggling to pay teachers, including those in special schools, and the suspension of BEAM, most of these schools will shut down if the situation is not arrested,” he said. Mukuta said that when government took the decision to suspend BEAM to special schools, disabled people’s organisations, NASCOH and parents of children with disabilities were not consulted.

“The argument about the funding for special schools is fluid and complex, because students with mental challenges may also have additional handicaps and require special facilities and food.

“All these things cost money. Special schools’ budgets are therefore justifiable,” he said.

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