Harare — Government in conjunction with Unicef and some international donors yesterday unveiled a US$70 million fund under the Educational Transition Fund to revitalise the Basic Education Assistance Module.
The programme is meant to ensure access to quality education by all underprivileged schoolchildren. The funds will see school fees being paid for over 700 000 vulnerable children, provide textbooks and stationery to improve capacity for the education sector.
The donor community has already pledged over US$30 million needed for the transition fund and has also agreed to reallocate US$20 million more to BEAM. Speaking at the launch of the scheme in Harare yesterday, Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart expressed gratitude for the support offered by the donor community.
He said it was a positive step towards the revival of the education sector. "The education sector faces a number of challenges, but it is gratifying to see Government, donors and the United Nations coming together to ensure quality education for the children.
"As a Government, we are grateful and encouraged," said Minister Coltart. Of the US$70 million, he said US$50 million would go towards ITF, which will address the supply side issues through a massive textbook drive and technical support.
Minister Coltart said the remaining US$20 million would address the demand side, ensuring that Zimbabwe's most vulnerable children, including those who are disabled were able to get to school.
Minister Coltart said some of the funds would be used to print millions of textbooks for primary and secondary schools.
"This exercise will go a long way in restoring acceptable ratios in most Government schools though a lot of work needs to be done before we get to our objective of establishing a one is to one ratio," he said.
He, however, stressed that restoration of basic education would be achieved if the ministry had a body of motivated, committed and professional teachers whom, he said, were the building block, which was fundamental to the development of the nation.
"Without such a body, it does not matter how many education materials we purchase because children will continue to stagnate. I deeply regret the ongoing teachers' strike and hope that an arrangement can be arrived at shortly to ensure that we get teachers back into classrooms," he added.
Speaking at the same occasion, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paurina Mpariwa said her ministry would administer the US$20 million provided by the donors in a professional manner so that all vulnerable children benefited.
"We will make sure that everyone who is supposed to benefit gets something and the Government has already started sensitising stakeholders on the resuscitation of BEAM through provincial workshops," she said.
She said the funds, though insufficient, would at least ensure access to education by vulnerable children and was hopeful that the Government and its partners would continue to mobilise financial resources for the benefit of the nation.
"BEAM requires about US$35 million to cover every child and this donation has surpassed the half way mark thereby reducing our burden as Government, but we must not stop here.
"We must continue to look for funds if the dream of achieving education for all is ever to be accomplished," said Minister Mpariwa.
United Kingdom Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mark Canning, European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe Xavier Marchal, senior government officials, local councillors and some school heads attended the event.
Scores of vulnerable schoolchildren have dropped out of school over the years owing to harsh economic conditions caused by economic sanctions.