The Basic Education Assistance Module (beam )is largely benefiting children from well-to-do families at the expense of the vulnerable, representatives of teachers' unions have said.The unions yesterday said Government should review the beam selection criteria as competition for limited resources has seen the money not going to those who really need it.
They said the number of recipients had ballooned to one million in the past year because of "undeserving pupils" being considered vulnerable.
As such, union leaders said, teachers should be involved in the identification of needy pupils as they have great knowledge on the backgrounds of most children.
Previously, beam beneficiaries' selection was done by school authorities but this was stopped after corruption allegations were raised.
This comes in the wake of reports that nearly a million pupils risk dropping out of school owing to financial constraints after the Government and donors cut funding for beam.
Unicef and dfid provided the bulk of funding in the previous years, but they have withdrawn their services. Government intended to fund 750 000 primary and 250 000 secondary school pupils this year, but with just us$15 million allocated to beam, it can only support the education of 83 000 secondary school pupils at a cost of US$180 per child (us$60 each per term at Government institutions).
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Mr Raymond Majongwe said the figures were not a reflection of students in need of assistance.
However, Director of Social Services in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Services, Mr Sydney Mhishi said Government was not to blame for the selection criteria as it was community based. He said no school authority should participate in the selection exercise.
"In terms of the policy, there is community based selection where at every school, a headmaster facilitates, with the local councilor, to bring parents to an association meeting," he said.
"Parents then choose a committee among themselves and 50 percent of the people in that committee should be at least women. It should not include a chief, a councillor and only the school head is involved but as an ex-officio member without voting powers."
Mr Mhishi said every year Government sends nomination forms to every school and everyone in that community had a right to take them and nominate a deserving child.
"They do so clearly outlining the reasons why one deserves," he said. "At the beginning of every year we have a budget and we use the combination of the poverty index and enrolment of the school. We allocate that budget to every school and after their nomination the number of children will depend on that budget. Five hundred children might have been nominated but 150 might be taken because of budgetary constraints."
Added Mr Mhishi: "The committee is given a checklist that is looking for poor children, pupils with dead parents and one parent dead or those who have a history of being chased away from school. We expect the poorest child to qualify for the programme. This was done with the view that it is the community that knows best deserving children."
Mr Majongwe said nomination papers were just sent to Government which would in turn rubber stamp them without verifying if a child deserves or not.
"We have noted with concern that BEAM has been systematically abused and most of those deserving are not covered under programme," he said.
"That we have one million to drop out of school is an overstatement because that figure is flooded by undeserving people. Just like the intervention of the Civil Service Commission, Government should bring in another body to look at how allocation and selection of BEAM beneficiaries is done."
Mr Majongwe said teachers should be part of the selection criteria as "they know and understand the predicaments of pupils."
Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive Mr Sifiso Ndlovu said local development structures that were in place in the communities were not doing enough to monitor the selection criteria.
"We do not expect people on a living wage to seek assistance from Government," he said. "People should desist from this dependency syndrome. Some want to benefit when they should be helping these pupils and we believe heads also should assist in the identification process."
Teachers Union of Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Manuel Nyawo said: "The criteria should be urgently reviewed, and consideration should be given to ensuring that certain categories of children from extremely poor households are guaranteed assistance within the overall framework of social protection.
"There is evidence of lack of transparency in some schools and pockets of abuse in the application of the BEAM."