Of all the millennium development goals (MDGs), achieving universal primary education is something that Zimbabwe has recorded tremendous progress in. We boast of the highest literacy rate in Africa, recording an impressive 90.7%; the only country on the African continent with a literacy rate above 90%. I, as some Zimbabweans do too, consider these statistics with a pinch of salt, given that in my context-it is not how the world views us but how we view ourselves that matters the most. Even though we may be considered highly educated, I am disgruntled with the quality of education that our children are receiving. The education system is fraught with challenges, among these;
- the inability of parents to pay fees because of the harsh economic climate resulting in school drop-outs and frequent absenteeism;
- the inability of government to protect children who cannot pay fees from getting expelled from school. Even though policy says children should not be expelled, its implementation is weak;
- the brain drain which has seen many qualified teachers migrating to so called “greener pastures” because they can’t stand a life of grooming other people’s children to become significant members of society while their own become paupers given their meagre salaries;
- the lack of motivation amongst our teachers because of their poor working conditions characterised by low salaries and no incentives, which causes them not to teach our children in normal time and forces parents to pay for “extra-lessons;” and
- the challenges that the examination body; the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) faces in creating examination scripts, disseminating examination material, marking examinations and distributing results of examinations on time.
It is consoling however to hear that enrolment into primary school is still high despite the fact that primary education is not free anymore as it was soon after independence. Rural areas record higher rates of enrolment (84.1%) than the urban areas (73.4%). This could partly be explained by the fact that the majority of Zimbabwe’s population resides in the rural areas. The number of girls in primary school also remains high, although dropouts begin to increase from secondary level going upwards.
What have we done well?
- The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) has been instrumental in enhancing girls’ and boys’ access to education, especially orphans and other vulnerable children. This programme has paid school fees and other levies for the under privileged members of society. However it is worrying that this programme is undergoing financial challenges, meaning that many of its beneficiaries have been left stranded and are likely to fail to continue going to school.
What have we not done?
- Our budgetary allocation to education remains low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recommend that an education budget should be at a minimum 6% of the Gross National Product. Although we have done this to the book, our economy’s performance means that this amount is so little that it only pays for teachers’ measly salaries.
- We have not been compiling statistics on the completion rate of primary level education by girls, to understand in particular why girls drop out of school. This would help us to understand the prevalence of some of the factors that cause girls to leave school such as child marriage,early marriage, sexual violence against girls, teenage pregnancy, domestic servitude and inability to pay fees and how much girls suffer because of it. It would also help us to know where we should focus our interventions.
What more can we do?
- We used to have free primary education soon after independence, what happened to that? Now parents have to bear the costs of sending their children in a challenging economic environment. Let us bring it back if we want to ensure that we have an educated nation. Primary education is the most basic form of education and if we can’t give that to our citizens then what kind of population are we growing?
- It is clear that some traditional and religious practices are preventing children from going to school or continuing with their education kunyanya mapostori. Mere policy encouraging them to send their children to school remains inadequate. We need stronger penal provisions to force such religious sects and traditionalists to conform and allow their children to have the most basic need in their lives; an education. If politicians are going to mix and mingle with mapostori when they campaign during elections, but fail beyond the campaigns to have meaningful dialogue with them about treating their women and children better, then the politicians have failed us all and these children.
- We allowed our schools, especially primary schools to be used as political bases where rallies and political meetings were held. In the 2008 election period, such activities were marked with devastating levels of violence which children either experienced or witnessed resulting in some dropouts. Teachers were also targeted, some beaten, others abducted and causing many teachers to desert their posts and migrate. Most of these were replaced by unqualified temporary teachers. Cumulatively, this has also affected the quality of our education and we need to address this and ensure the highest quality of education.
We love bragging, and we have reason to brag because we are better educated than all the other African countries but can our government fix all these problems already so we brag some more!