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  • Let children speak for themselves in the constitution making process
    Justice for Children Trust
    February 01, 2010

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    The new 2010 school term: is there any hope for an end to the education crisis.

    The year 2009 presented children with multiple challenges in accessing their right to education. Hopes were high as schools opened for the first term of 2010 that the inclusive government would prioritise the revival of the education sector. A survey of both print and electronic media revealed that children are still facing difficulties in accessing their fundamental right to education. Revelations were that parents were still finding it difficult to afford exorbitant fees and school uniforms for their children. Continuous threats by teachers to take strike action over low salaries worsen the plight of children, as there is always uncertainty over their access to education.

    A review of last year indicates that children are in the middle of the education crisis due to the failure by the Ministry of Education, Sports, Art and Culture and the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) to provide a lasting solution to the challenges facing the sector. Various surveys carried out in 2009 indicated that education was compromised by, among other factors, the introduction of unaffordable levies and examination fees, the delay by ZIMSEC in announcing both examination fees and examination dates, strike by ZIMSEC, and the failure of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) to pay school fees on time for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

    The above challenges contributed to the poor pass rate recorded at Grade Seven level for the final examinations.

    The Sunday Mail of 17-23 January 2010 reported that, "rural schools recorded zero percent pass rate following the release of 2009 grade 7 examination results". Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) Secretary-General, Mr. Raymond Majongwe was quoted as saying that, "the academic pass rates for all levels tumbled to below 11 percent." What is also saddening is that there were unconfirmed reports in the same paper that some children did not receive their results as their scripts were lost.

    The challenges faced by children during the opening of the first term for this year are also a cause for concern as the situation further compromises their right to education. The right to education is clearly spelt out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which points out that every child has a right to education and that all member states shall put in place the necessary measures to ensure that all children access basic education. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Charter) article 3 (d) provides that state parties should take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates. The Education Act (Chapter 5:25), section 4 also stipulates that education is a right for every child and that primary education is compulsory and free of charge in Zimbabwe. The situation on the ground however, does not reveal the commitment of the government to ensure that the right to education is accessible to all children.

    The Financial Gazette edition of the 8th of January 2010 reported that the major pre-occupation for most parents was the issue of exorbitant fees, the soaring cost of uniforms and the threats of a strike by teachers over poor salaries. The paper further revealed that most private and trust schools are charging fees of between US$1 200 and US$2 000 for secondary school boarders per term while government schools are demanding US$850 for boarders at former Group A public schools. It also reported that at most high-density public secondary schools authorities are charging US$105 per term per child.

    JCT carried out a research on the status of Harare schools in March 2009. The research revealed that education is continuing to be affordable to a few at the expense of the majority of the children, considering that most families are surviving on an average monthly income of US$150. The situation is further complicated by the continued threats of strike by teachers. This follows disagreements on the salaries. This is very disturbing considering the sacrifices being made by most parents who work hard so that their children receive quality and consistent education. Such disturbances are contributing to poor results and high dropout rates as some parents have lost confidence in the education system.

    The consequences seriously affect children because most of them end up attending bogus schools and "colleges" in the high-density suburbs where standards are very low, with no proper sanitary facilities and where they are exposed to abuse. Some frustrated children end up being involved in illicit activities such as vending and foreign exchange dealings. It is saddening that some girls are reportedly engaging in prostitution while others turn to being housemaids thereby increasing their vulnerability to abuse.

    JCT reiterates that it is the duty of the government to ensure that all children have access to education as provided for by both international and regional treaties it signed and ratified. The government is further urged to remove from parents the burden of paying for teachers'' incentives as this is a clear abdication of its duty as the government. The recently revived Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) could go a long way in alleviating the plight of orphans if it is effectively administered and monitored.

    JCT continues to call for the inclusion of the right to education in the constitution as a way of ensuring a lasting solution to the problems confronting the education sector. The government's responsibility in ensuring that all children this right should also be clearly spelt out in the constitution if any efforts to revert to the standard of the education sector of the 80's and 90's are to be successful.

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