Fragility and Education in Zimbabwe

Our blog today is a summary of our latest report on the effects of political violence experienced in schools and especially the effects on children who witness this violence:

“In a crisis, education is the strongest investment that can be made to reduce poverty.”        

-Carol Bellamy, Chair for the Global Partnership for Education

There has been increasing international debate on what role the state plays in facilitating or promoting the right to education, and, more recently, in states in crisis. This latter development is due to growing evidence that attacks have been directed on education – schools, teachers, and pupils – by governments themselves or insurgents aspiring to take over government. In Zimbabwe, attacks on education have been recorded from the struggle against colonial rule, where schools provided recruiting grounds for freedom fighters. However, in post independent Zimbabwe, the attacks have been directed at teachers, either directly or indirectly. Education has been both politicised and militarised by the setting up of militia bases in schools, attacking teachers, and exposing pupils to violence.

The impact of the attacks can have serious long-term consequences. Politically motivated violence against teachers does not only affect the teachers in person, but affects the prospects of better communities in general and the nation at large. The Research and Advocacy Unit, in collaboration with the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), conducted a national survey in 2010 to document teachers’ experiences with elections. This culminated in two reports, “Every school has a story to tell: Preliminary Report of a study on teachers’ experiences with Elections in Zimbabwe” and “Political Violence and Intimidation of Zimbabwean Teachers”. The reports identified the profile of perpetrators of violence, and the types of attacks teachers had to contend with, including attacks in front of school children. In some embarrassing cases, the children were given whips to beat the teachers. Important to note from the findings is the politicisation of education as well as militarisation by setting up militia bases in schools.

This paper contends that the long term impact of violence is now being experienced and has affected the quality of education in Zimbabwe. For instance, schools in the rural areas that have experienced high levels of violence have continuously failed to attract qualified teachers and are increasingly manned by temporary teachers. The pass rates have not been pleasing with some schools recording zero percent pass rates in public examinations. Some of the more direct effects of attacks on teachers include closure of schools, as happened in 2008 when 94% of all rural schools were reported to have closed as teachers fled attacks. Even when schools don’t close, attendance is affected, with the impact felt more by girl children. When militia bases are set in schools or within the proximity of schools, they pose real and potential danger of pupils to abuse, especially rape or sexual abuse of girls.

There is ample evidence that exposing children to political violence can have serious effects on the mental and social adjustment of children, and some of the possible consequences are outlined in this report. As regards social adjustment, it is important to note the possible impact of violence in engendering a culture of violence for the future of Zimbabwe: exposure to violence, especially by other youth can inculcate both a tolerance of violence and even future participation in violence. Thus, by exposing children to violence, the psychological and social consequences for the nation can be highly undesirable.

Accordingly, a number of recommendations are made. The recommendations are drawn from the previous reports by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), and are re-stated as there has been little or no acknowledgement by the Inclusive Government of the need to address the implications of these reports:

1. The Government of Zimbabwe must immediately declare schools as zones of peace and as such enact laws that restrict and criminalise the use or occupation of schools for political activities, especially during the electoral period.

2. Civic society and teacher unions must develop monitoring systems to detect early warning systems of attacks on education and to report political disturbances in schools in compliance with UN Resolution No. 1612 with additional modifications relevant to the situation in Zimbabwe.

3. The Ministry of Education in conjunction with critical stakeholders like the police, parents and teacher unions must set up school protection committees so that social services rendered by schools are not interrupted during times of conflict like elections.

4. The Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) must actively investigate all reports involving political violence and intimidation against teachers, and at schools.

5. The government must uphold strictly provisions of paragraph 20 to the First Schedule of Statutory Instrument 1 of 2000 (Public Service Regulations, 2000) and clauses 79, 80 and 81 of the ILO/UNESCO Recommendations concerning the Status of Teachers to negate the current insistence on teachers being compelled to support only one political party.

6. The Ministry of Education must introduce civic education in the primary and secondary school curriculum which promotes national cohesion, peace and tolerance.

7. The process of national healing, if it is ever going to take off meaningfully, should have a thematic area dealing with the education sector in order to restore the social bond between teachers and communities which has been weakened by recurrent election violence and politicisation of the public service.

8. Overall compliance with the spirit and letter of the GPA is strongly recommended in order to curb institutionalised violence.

Please go to our website to download the full report:


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