It is a strange quirk of human nature that there is an instant suspicion and therefore dislike of anything that is independent. The thinking is perhaps that being independent implies arrogance, secrecy, greed, exclusivity or just downright non-conformism.

Since the beginning of Independent schools in this country there has always been some concern, suspicion and dislike of them. It is interesting to note that the drama surrounding the history of the Independent schools in Zimbabwe, under the umbrella of ATS, has unfolded either side of the country fighting for and gaining its own national independence. The ATS schools have had to fight their own battles, facing severe opposition from successive governments, based on the total commitment of the ATS schools to be able to offer multi-racial, value- based, holistic education. The Heads’ Conference of 1958 proposed (and approved) that “admission to these schools should not be subject in any way to considerations of race or nationality”. ATS led the way for multi-racial education, providing considerable Bursaries to enable pupils from less-advantaged areas to attend. Yet in later years the ATS members were criticised for not being multi-racial enough.

Before ATS was founded, there had been independent schools in this country for many, many years, for the most part instituted by religious foundations, predominantly Christian ones – one current member of ATS is celebrating its one hundred and twenty-third year this year (2018). ATS has only been functioning as an organisation for sixty-two years but its existence arose in response to the very threat to independent education as a whole. The cause of that threat was clauses in the draft of the Education Bill in 1955 which appeared to be “making independent schools subservient to the policies of the political party in power”. ATS simply yet humbly wanted to remain independent of politics, of being used as a political football being kicked around for different political ends, and it remains committed to this cause. It has always stood up for developing the children of this land, enabling them to live well in society, caring for those less fortunate.

In the mid-1950s CHISZ was formed with nine member Heads: those of Arundel, Bishopslea, Chisipite, Eagle, Falcon, Peterhouse, St Peter’s, Springvale, Whitestone. Their purpose was mutual support and encouragement, especially in non-racial enrolment in a Christian environment. By the mid-1970s, twenty-four schools attended the Conference. A dip then followed leading up to Independence with only nine members attending in 1981. However, the Independence War years had led to a number of member schools closing down, including two of its founder members (Eagle and St Peter’s), while two other founder member schools closed but did re-open again later (Whitestone and Springvale). When government schools then opened up to multi-racial classes post-Independence, those people who had turned to Independent schools chose government schools rather than high fee-paying independent schools as what they were being offered was much the same. However by 1983 the demand for Independent schools had gained pace again – many more new schools were founded, nearly all Co-Educational schools, while nearly all the founding members of CHISZ had been single-sex schools. In 1983 six new Independent schools were started; from 1983 to 1986 nineteen more were founded. Now, sixty-six schools are members of the ATS, with twenty-four at Secondary level and forty-two at Primary with over 23,000 students enrolled and over 800 teachers employed; and each year more schools are applying for membership.

Why is this?

The ATS schools offered, and continue to offer, something different and something more. In the early days, it was the multi-racial component and the Christian education that appealed to many people; latterly it has been the holistic education on offer. At all times, the ATS schools have proclaimed the significance of every pupil – they believe in teaching and upholding values that are fundamental to the survival of civil society (honesty, integrity, fairness, tolerance) and seek to encourage pupils to serve the interests of their fellows and their country.

Furthermore, their Independence does not prohibit their commitment to inclusivity. They are inclusive by participating with government and non-government schools in sporting, cultural and academic activities; they assist other schools less fortunate than them in practical ways from running courses to sharing resources; they assist individuals with bursaries and scholarships; they include pupils not just of all colours and races but also of all abilities, seeking to provide a curriculum that is relevant not just to them but also to the country. They have keptsport alive in this country by continuing to compete at a high level throughout all the difficult days of sanctions, war and hyper-inflation.

Independent schooling has a long and distinguished history in Zimbabwe and Independent schooling has played a significant part in the history of Zimbabwe. As we look to the future, the following points remain relevant.

  • There is a need for Independent schools as they relieve the burden of education to an extent from the government of the day.
  • There is a demand for Independent schools, from Cabinet Ministers to cabinet makers, from Ministers of Religion to masters of commerce. People want the education that is offered in Independent schools, for the promise that they bring of the future. People want quality education that smaller classes and greater resources can provide. People want the holistic education that prepares the whole person. People want the values underpinning the Independent education. People want an international education.
  • There has been success in Independent schools, with pupils being highly respected and eagerly sought-after all around the world.
  • There has been a significant growth of Independent schools over the years.
  • There is a place for Independent schools, working in partnership with the Ministry of Education and many other sectors.

Independence is not about being on one’s own or going one’s own way, but it is about being free to choose one’s future (according to one’s position and means). It is about being different. Though there are sixty-six ATS schools, each one is different, offering a very wide range of different opportunities, facilities, ethos, curriculum, size and position. However, all offer a world-class education, with Zimbabwean pupils standing out on account of their all- round education, work ethic, acceptance of authority, commitment to respect, initiative and discipline. And while each ATS school is an independent school, they all recognise the value and importance of being part of a larger body.

There is nothing secretive or suspicious about that. There is everything positive and propitious.