27 April 2012

Zimbabwe: Poverty Decimating Education

Photo: Dylan Thomas / UKaid / Department for International Development
Lazarus and his schoolmate Hasani walk back to the boys shelter after finishing lessons for the day.

THAT Zimbabwe's rural communities have annual school dropouts of over 300 000 children, a primary school pass rate of 28,9 percent as of last year and a secondary school completion rate of 40 percent is shocking to say the least.

In fact, it brings to question the country's subscription to the universally accepted norm that: "Every child has a right to an education."

In most rural communities, child care and education are under serious threat. Many unfortunate children face a bleak future because their parents or guardians lack the means to fund their education. Education infrastructure in most of the rural communities is also in a deplorable state, among a host of other challenges.

Trained teachers shun rural schools because of poor housing and lack of other amenities such as running water, electricity and accessible clinics.

For the rural child, poverty is real as many of their parents or guardians cannot afford providing them with school fees and even a decent meal.

The school dropout ratio is worse in the 700 satellite schools situated in the country's resettlement areas.

Sadly, while these schools are the only alternative available, they are not legally recognised, which means that those children going through them are simply whiling up time.

Most of these satellite schools operate from tobacco bans, disused mine buildings and old chicken runs, mostly established during the fast-track land reform programme in 2000.

Children in these schools are exposed to extremely harsh learning conditions: No desks or chairs, no teachers.

Although some enterprising parents have built pole and dagga buildings as classrooms, some of these structures have no roofs, exposing learners to unfavourable weather conditions.

The state of these satellite schools highlights the extent of the deterioration suffered by Zimb-abwe's education sector.

Still, there is no guarantee that those parents or guardians who can afford to enrol their children in school today can see them through their education because of the frequent fee hikes.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe, said the steep fee increases were unacceptable, adding that the poor were the worst affected.

"A lot of parents cannot afford these fees, forcing children to drop out of school. Already they are creating a situation whereby those born poor will die poor," he said.

"The prevailing situation is that education rewards those with money and condemns the poor to the abyss of uncertainty," he added.

The PTUZ secretary-general described the situation in schools in rural communities as shocking.

He said it was the responsibility of the government to ensure that the satellite schools in resettlement areas have proper infrastructure, adequate learning facilities and qualified teachers in order to meet the United Nations set standards on education.

"It is unfortunate that the chaotic nature of the land reform programme created unplanned schools.

"However, these schools are there to service seriously disadvantaged communities.

"These schools are wanted and it is not the prerogative of the war veterans to determine who becomes headmaster or teacher in these schools," Majongwe said, in reference to the former liberation war fighters who are chasing away teachers and headmasters/headmistresses perceived to be opposed to ZANU-PF.

According to the Zimbabwe Education Act, all children have the right to education. But in practice, education is not free since pupils are required to pay tuition fees as well as development levies: Education has therefore become a preserve for those who can afford it or those who are lucky to get scholarships or bursaries.

While tuition fees in government schools have been generally low, development levies at times have proved to be a deterrent to children keen on accessing education.

In his 2011 National Budget Statement, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, indicated that there was a dropout rate of eight percent in 2010 among children between six and 17 years because parents failed to pay fees for their children.

The Food Security and Livelihoods Project Baseline Survey Report 2010 undertaken by Oxfam and focussing on Chirumanzu, Gutu and Zvishavane Districts shows that the main reason for non-school attendance in the districts was due to lack of finance.

Discussions with key informants at the Chirumanzu Rural District Council revealed that lack of money for school fees has pushed some young school going girls into prostitution as a means to paying school fees and buying food.

Recently, the Education, Sports, Arts and Culture Minister, David Coltart warned that the level of poverty in Matabeleland North Province was alarming as students were being crowded out of university opportunities because of a breakdown in education infrastructure.

On average, 20 pupils share a single desk in the province while 17 sit on a single bench and about 40 percent of children learn under trees because of the shortage of classrooms.

Not only do these children have to endure walking long distances, they also face severe food shortages because of perennial summer season crop failures.

Social commentator, Tawanda Zata, said in a country were rural families are faced with food shortages it was unavoidable that children were forced to drop out of school largely because of poverty.

"The Education Minister, David Coltart, has to be commended for working flat out to ensure that the 1:50 text book ratio is changed to 1:1 but some things are beyond his ministry. It means government has to prioritise the education of the future leaders of Zimbabwe. Instead, they concentrate on accusing the very same person who is trying to provide a future for the Zimbabwean child ," Zata said.

The Zimbabwe Reads Survey indicates that: "If current conditions continue, Zimbabwe will have a literacy rate of 70 percent in 2020. At this stage, it seems unlikely that Zimbabwe still has the highest literacy rate in Africa of 90 percent, with the more reliable estimates from Botswana (85 percent) and Tunisia (87 percent)".

What is more disturbing is the observation by Zimbabwe Reads where it said about 15 percent of the country's children never enter the school system while a further 30 percent never make it to secondary schools.

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