Zim schooling gets $70m boost

Belinda Makutya, 11, and her classmates
share a textbook at a Unicef-supported
primary school in Zimbabwe.
(Image: Giacomo Pirozzi, Unicef)

Unicef Zimbabwe
+263 4 703 941/2
Kun Li
Communication officer
Unicef Eastern and Southern Africa
+254 20 762 2218
+263 4 721 692
Martin Dawes
Chief of communications
Unicef West and Central Africa
+221 338 69 58 42

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Zimbabwe’s ailing education system, once regarded as the finest in sub-Saharan Africa, has been given a US$70-million (R526-million) shot in the arm that will see every child receive a textbook and ensure vulnerable children are able to attend school.

The UN Children’s Agency (Unicef), in partnership with the Zimbabwe unity government, will be distributing funds from donor countries that include Australia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission on behalf of the European Union.

One of the largest social sector initiatives in the last five years in Zimbabwe, the funds will see school fees paid for a large number of the country’s orphaned and vulnerable children, provide textbooks and stationery, and boost skills in education.

Textbooks have become a rare commodity in schools – Unicef estimates the ratio of books to pupils at about one book to every 10 children. Teachers in the capital, Harare, said up to 40 pupils were sharing one textbook at some schools.

“The objective … is to reach every child in Zimbabwe with a textbook within 12 months,” said Peter Salama, the Unicef representative in Zimbabwe. “An assessment by the education advisory board has revealed that in about 20% of all primary schools there is not single textbook for English, Mathematics or an African language.

“It is no surprise therefore that grade seven pass rates have declined from 53% in 1999 to 33% in 2007; almost 50% of primary school pupils are not going on to secondary schools.”

Widespread food shortages, cholera outbreaks, an almost year-long strike by teachers in 2008, the country’s economic meltdown and political violence have all contributed to the near total disruption of education.

The formation of the unity government in February 2009 returned some stability to the sector, with public servants, including teachers, being paid in foreign currency as a hedge against hyperinflation. But the path back to Zimbabwe’s golden age of education will be steep.

“Although enrolment has risen in 2009, there are many signs that quality education is eluding most children,” Salama said. “In addition, one in four children in Zimbabwe is an orphan, struggling to survive with little or no public social safety net or systematic access to social services.”

Health services have also fallen victim to the economic implosion, and in 2007 UNAids put the national HIV prevalence rate at 15.3%, but shortages of antiretroviral drugs and medicines to treat opportunistic illnesses led to many Aids-related deaths.

The attempt to resuscitate the education system will take a two-pronged approach: the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam), and the Educational Transition Fund (ETF), which will provide technical capacity to the ministry of education to disseminate textbooks.

“The programmes we launch today are momentous. Beam will ensure that over 700 000 of Zimbabwe’s vulnerable children are in school, creating a huge demand for education,” said Salama. “On the other hand the ETF will boost the supply side, ensuring that every child has a textbook in all of the country’s 5 300 primary schools, within 12 months.”

Education minister David Coltart said this was a major step forward, but industrial action by teachers could mar progress.

“My most important task in restoring a basic education is to ensure … a body of motivated, committed and professional teachers … it does not matter how many educational materials we purchase, because children will continue to stagnate.”