24 October 2012

Zimbabwe: Girl-Child School Dropouts Alarming

HALF of the young girls meant to proceed to secondary education are being forced to drop out because of various reasons, chief among them being the unavailability of funds and societal preference to educate the boy-child, a senior government official said.

Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, David Coltart, described the situation as alarming.

"The number of girls reportedly dropping out from school after completion of their primary education has reached alarming levels and there is need for the government to develop mechanisms that would effectively curb this trend," he said.

The worst affected areas were the rural districts where most of the girls cannot proceed to secondary education because of lack of financial resources.

Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children, a documentary that tells the story of three children trying to survive in a country that was once the jewel of Africa but where systems and infrastructure have collapsed, epitomises the plight of the African girl-child.

The documentary, which highlights how three children struggled to feed themselves and how they also desperately looked for money to pay each term's school fees, points to the deteriorating education system not perculiar to Zimbabwe alone. Millions of girls are being denied the right to education in several other developing countries..

According to the Zimbabwe Education Act, all children have the right to education and equal access to same opportunities.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that poverty, abuse and cultural practices were preventing a third of Zimbabwean girls from attending primary school and 67 percent from attending secondary school, thereby denying them a basic education.

"Education is a right, but it is not a reality for too many women and girls. Education sends a message - a message of confidence and hope. It tells that child: you have a future; what you think matters," said United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon at the Global Initiative on Education 2012.

Although it has been proved through research and studies that education is key to industrialisation and modernisation and without it; one may find it difficult to develop socially, economically and politically, the girl-child continues to lag behind her male counterparts in terms of acquiring standard education.

Angeline Murimirwa, the executive director of Camfed Zimbabwe, which campaigns for the education of the girl-child, said schools should be inherently tailor-made to keep children in school.

"When this is not the case children will drop out," she said.

"The majority of children out of school are orphans or children of ailing or subsistence farmers. It is for this reason that as an organisation we provide comprehensive and long-term bursaries to over 17 000 poor girls in 26 rural districts. It is not enough to meet some of the needs for these poorest children: the support has to be comprehensive providing the fees, levies, stationery, uniforms, sanitary ware and the uniforms.

"This comprehensive package ensures benefiting girls are on an equal footing with their peers, reinforces regular attendance and meaningful participation in the classroom and has contributed to their high school retention," she added.

To support the education of the girl-child, a non-governmental organisation, Plan International, has launched a global campaign to support millions of girls to get education, skills and support they need to transform their lives and the world around them.

"Despite reaching global parity at primary school level enrolment, completion rates for girls lag behind boys and at adolescence the pressures of poverty and discrimination still mean that girls leave school because they get pregnant or married; or because school is too far away and parents think their daughters, and their reputations, are at risk.

"They drop out just because they are girls; their primary role, and their value to their families and communities, is a domestic one and as future mothers.

This is unjust; it limits a girl's life and opportunities and affects her health, her status, her earning power and her relationships with everyone around her," Plan International said.

While primary education is nominally free in most rural schools, keeping children in school and ensuring they go beyond primary level remains a challenge.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, 39 million girls aged 11 to 15 are not in lower secondary school. One in seven is married by the age of 15 and up to half of all girls in developing countries are mothers before they turn 18.

If present trends continue, more than 100 million girls would probably be married as children in the next decade.

A well-known African proverb: "If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)," aptly captures the necessity of educating the girl child.

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