Africa, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs

EDUCATION-ZIMBABWE: ”It Is All Zero Here. We Have Nothing”

Stanley Kwenda

HARARE, Apr 12 2007 (IPS) - Chippy Ncube, aged 6, jubilantly hurried home as soon as she received her school report. She could not hide her excitement at being the top student in her grade one class when schools closed for the holidays recently in Zimbabwe.

Such an achievement can only be attained with great effort in a country where the education system is under severe strain. Chippy deserved it. Her parents can no longer afford to pay bus fare for her. She has not only had to contend with walking to school but also to carry a chair along with her books to school.

The governing body at her school, Blackstone Primary School located in the capital Harare’s Avenues area, sent letters to parents requesting them to buy chairs for their children. The school can no longer afford basic infrastructure due to the extreme costs caused by hyperinflation of over 1000 percent.

Chippy’s experience represents the state of primary education in Zimbabwe. Several of Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped public schools have requested pupils to bring furniture from home. The education system is struggling under the weight of the country’s seven-year-long political crisis.

Zimbabwe’s school system was one of the best on the African continent after the country gained independence in 1980. Previously the government provided furniture and other necessities.

Government provision has faltered and the authorities have imposed a ceiling on fees to prevent schools from raising money to cover the cost of chairs and desks.

Blackstone Primary School, a ‘‘whites-only” school before independence, is regarded as one of the top primary schools in the country. At first, it was one of the many schools which benefited from the strides the government made after independence in building new schools, libraries and providing learning materials.

But Blackstone Primary School has lost its glitter after years of under-funding. Like all government schools, it lacks everything from textbooks to toilet paper. Infrastructure at schools is in a state of total dilapidation.

The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, one of two teachers’ representative bodies in the country, said the fact that authorities required parents to provide chairs was testimony to the state of decay in most public schools. ‘‘It shows the extent of the chaos in the education sector,” stated a representative.

Teachers have also been adversely affected. High levels of stress due to low wages are driving scores of them from the profession. Those that remain are spending their time selling sweets and other goods to supplement their meagre salaries instead of concentrating on their core business of teaching.

Zimbabwean teachers on average earn between 400,000 and 800,000 Zimbabwean dollars. This is between 1,600 and 3,200 US dollars, using the official exchange rate, and between 25 and 50 US dollars on the parallel market. According to the government’s Central Statistics Office, an average family of five people requires about 900,000 Zimbabwean dollars per month for basic goods and services. This is 3,600 US dollars according to the official exhange rate and 56 US dollars on the parallel market.

Farai Mpofu, a parent, believes it will be a ‘‘miracle” if Zimbabwe attained universal primary education by 2015, as per the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

‘‘Education in Zimbabwe is in a bad state. The standards have deteriorated alarmingly compared to 10 years ago. Because of the harsh economic environment, teachers are now selling sweets and knitting jerseys,” said Mpofu.

‘‘The education sector is losing highly qualified teachers to neighbouring countries. Kids at public schools are left with teachers who have no interest at all in the job because of low salaries,” according to Mpofu/

Alice Muchine, a primary school teacher, described the state of primary education as ‘‘near zero”. ‘‘It is all zero here. We have no resources. We want textbooks to help the children during reading time. We have no charts of instruction, or chalk, or syllabuses. We have nothing.

‘‘Most of the parents can no longer pay fees for the kids. The BEAM scheme only pays for the fees and not for books for the kids,” said Muchine. BEAM or Basic Education Assistance Module is need-based financial aid awarded by the government to orphans. It is limited to school fees and caters for 10 pupils per school.

Tariro Shindi, a student, shares the same view. ‘‘There are a few textbooks which are shared by four students at any given time. Students are sitting on the floor. Teachers sometimes abscond and if students do the same, no questions are asked. Everything is disorganised.”

Last year, the UN launched a national education plan for girls to help Zimbabwe with achieving the education MDG. The plan also aims to address emerging HIV/AIDS related and cultural challenges, such as forced early marriage, abuse and economic exploitation which harm particularly girls.

The UN has also actively supported the ministry of education and other partners in the launch of a back to school campaign in September 2006. The campaign sought to re-enrol children who had dropped out of school during the government’s widely condemned Operation Murambatsvina (‘‘Drive Out Filth”).

Before Operation Murambatsvina, United Nations Children’s Fund statistics indicated that national primary school enrolment rates improved from 92 to 96 percent between 2000 and 2004. Nearly four out of five orphans and vulnerable children were attending primary school.

Even the most recent data from a UNICEF-led assessment of the impact of Operation Murambatsvina on children’s schooling status across Zimbabwe showed that 90 percent of children affected by the operation are going to school despite being forced to relocate.

‘‘Zimbabweans are making many sacrifices so that their children can continue going to school,” said UNICEF’s representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe.

According to the US state department, the country continues to boast the highest literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa.

Republish | | Print |