Harare — Standards of learning and teaching in Zimbabwe, at one time the envy of the African continent, have been plummeting, says a report by a cross-party parliamentary committee.
The Portfolio Committee on Education painted a grim picture after visiting institutions of higher learning, and in some cases finding female students resorting to sex work or cohabiting with men to pay for their fees at universities and colleges.
Tuition and examination fees, as well as accommodation costs, have rocketed and students have to fork out as much as Zim$200 million (US$2,000) per semester, while their grants have remained stagnant at Zim$13 million (US$130) per term. An average worker earns about US$150 a month.
"Education is now a preserve for the rich, some students have dropped out of programmes, others will not be able to write examinations, which they cannot afford, while others have had to defer their studies," the committee noted.
Promise Mkhwananzi, president of the Zimbabwe National Students' Union (Zinasu), which represents students at 38 higher learning institutions, told IRIN that some male students had also turned to crime to pay for their tuition and other expenses. "From the desperate situation that we find ourselves in, we can understand why our comrades have had to resort to that."
He added: "When we factor in the fact that institutions of higher learning cannot attract and retain staff, and that libraries have no or outdated books, then that means the quality of our education will be severely compromised."
Academic and non-academic staff at the University of Zimbabwe in the capital, Harare, threatened to go on strike last week after there were delays in salary payments.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, commented, "The future of any country lies in the hands of its youth; citizens of any country should hold their governments accountable if they abandon their responsibilities."
He said the government would become more serious about addressing problems in the education sector only when a decent education was made a basic human right.
Zimbabwe has been in recession for six straight years. It is struggling to cope with food shortages caused by erratic rainfall, the impact of a chaotic fast-track land reform programme on the agricultural sector and a critical lack of foreign currency to cover imports. Inflation has climbed to 1,200 percent and unemployment is over 80 percent.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]