By Leroy Dzenga
When the Government introduced e-map, an electronic schools application system in 2016, the intent was to inject sanity in the manner in which Form One places were being secured.
Before the introduction of the system, school heads had become demigods, selling admissions to the highest bidders.
Admission tests had become grand theft schemes, institutions would invite up to 10 times the number of students they were able to recruit, turning the process into an obscene profit-making exercise.
After widespread complaints from parents who felt shortchanged, authorities reacted by banning entrance tests.
They introduced an electronic platform that was meant to equate applicants.
In an interview with this writer just before the launch of the system five years ago, then Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Professor Paul Mavima explained the rationale behind the technology.
“This new application method will come to rationalise the whole Form One enrolment process. The situation had gone bad with some headmasters going as far as selling places to desperate parents,” said Professor Mavima.
One of the anchoring ideas on the e-governance system was that it would be an equaliser; allowing even low-income earners a fair chance at getting boarding school places.
Events that followed the release of the 2020 Grade Seven results are an affront to the reason why the e-map was established in the first place.
There was a lot of canvassing, which followed as parents found ways to bypass the system.
A parent who spoke to The Sunday Mail explained how she secured a place for her child, giving insights into how the underhand engagements work.
“A relative knew the head at the school we wanted, so they spoke to the head and we applied though we knew we were getting the place,” she said.
Parents whose children had units as low as five were heartbroken to learn that even their children’s brilliance could not cushion them.
Many still believe even with e-map, the question of who one knows still holds critical sway.
“These schools have their people who are guaranteed places, no matter what. Online applications are just a formality in some cases,” the parent said.
On why she was prepared to lose money paying for something that is legally free, she said the pressure of having a child who passed with five units struggling to get a Form One place was unbearable.
Another parent who also requested that we do not publish their name said e-map has made schools predatory.
When one gets a place through the system, they are told to pay money immediately or risk losing the admission.
“In my situation, we applied only to be told that the name had not reflected. We had to call the school and they kept saying they have not seen the name. When they finally gave us the place, they told us we had 48 hours to pay and we had to scrounge to meet the obligation as we wanted to avoid losing the place by all means,” said the parent.
Because parents would have emerged from an anxiety triggering application process, they are acceding to stringent demands by institutions in the interest of progress.
Some who got places had to physically travel to schools to meet with officials at these schools, which is against the spirit of the e-map system.
During these “visits”, money would exchange hands and parents would be asked to pay fees before returning to their bases.
The chaos in Form One applications can be interpreted as a paradox because some of the lesser known schools have been encouraging learners to apply for places, an indication that the system could function well, if it was not affected by the crisis of perception.
It appears some schools still have space and parents who are not fixated to common names have a chance to enrol their children.
Schools such as St Luke’s Jemedza in Chivhu, have been repeatedly advertising in the media calling for parents to submit applications through the E-map system.
Responding to questions from The Sunday Mail, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Director of Communications and Advocacy Mr Taungana Ndoro gave perspective on why some parents are getting rejections on all their options.
“A learner can be rejected by the schools they might have applied to depending on whether the schools have available places. Boarding schools have a limit to the number of learners that they can absorb. One of the greatest challenges associated with E-map is that the majority of applicants prefer certain schools.
“As such we have situations where more than 3 000 applicants apply to one boarding school that has a capacity to absorb 120 learners. Clearly, the majority of learners will get a rejection at such a school,” said Mr Ndoro.
According to him, the system is reviewed annually and the ministry will be investigating possible malpractice.
“One of the reasons for introducing the e-map was to do away with underhand dealings which were allegedly emanating from schools.
“That still stands even now and in the future. We ask stakeholders to report any cases of underhand dealings, not necessarily on issues to do with e-map but within the entire education system,” he said.
Mr Ndoro said there are schools in some provinces which still have openings, but in the event that a learner fails to secure a boarding school place through E-map, they can apply to their nearest day school.
This year the ministry allowed parents whose children had gotten three rejections to be able to apply to 12 more schools to better their chances of securing a place.
Explaining the feature, Mr Ndoro said; “The rationale for creating more schools is for applicants to maximise the chances of getting places at boarding schools that could be having places.”
Fake news also played a part in creating fertile ground for corruption as parents were pressured by fake news reports which claimed that the Government had instructed schools to reduce the number of boarding admissions it made.
The ministry refuted the claims and Mr Ndoro reiterated their position on the matter.
“The correct position on admissions into boarding schools is that schools should operate normally and to full capacity as long as they adhere to WHO protocols and guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Child Care for the prevention and management of Covid-19.
“We never said scale down on boarding places, we said adhere to Covid-19 protocols and guidelines,” he said.
When the e-map system was introduced it was touted as the solution to rampant corruption which had seen school heads become barons, selling academic space.
For a few years, it appeared to be working well but it seems people have found ways around it and corruption is slowly creeping back in the education sector.
Authorities have, however, promised to review its applicability and investigate malpractice. The Sunday Mail