Back to Index
Zimbabwe's education sector on the road to recovery
system, once regarded as the finest on the continent, was a casualty
of the country's economic meltdown in the 2000s, when it nearly
collapsed - but lately there have been signs of recovery.
malaise was widely blamed on hyperinflation, which made teachers'
salaries worthless and funding for school materials and maintenance
But with economic
reforms of 2009 and the establishment of a donor funding mechanism,
the school system is seeing modest, gradual improvement. Still,
vast challenges - from poor infrastructure to teacher shortages
the education minister, told IRIN that the country's education crisis
actually predates hyperinflation.
to what many people think, the downward spiral began long before
hyperinflation occurred. It started with the sector not getting
as much as it got during the first 10 years of independence,"
he said. Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.
system's deterioration accelerated under the effects of hyperinflation.
Then, in early 2009 the country ditched its local currency and adopted
a multi-currency financial system using the US dollar, the Botswana
pula and the South African rand, ending hyperinflation overnight.
By the time
Coltart assumed his post in February 2009 - after the opposition
party, the Movement for Democratic Change, entered a government
of national unity with President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF
party - the economy was beginning to turn around.
the education system "chaotic", with schools closed,
teachers on strike and infrastructure in a state of disrepair. One
of the first steps towards overhauling it was the establishment
of the Education Transition Fund (ETF), a mechanism to allow donors
control over their funds.
the fund works is the donor community provides funding, I chair
the education transition fund meetings, and UNICEF [the UN Children's
Fund] is the ultimate manager of the fund. So we reach consensus
regarding how the money is to be spent, and the ministry decides
what its priorities are," Coltart explained.
the ETF varies from year to year. A variety of donors - including
the European Commission and the governments of Australia, Denmark,
Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden,
the UK and the US - contribute to the fund, which UNICEF then administers.
In 2012, the
ETF was funded to the tune of about US$12 million, and in 2013,
$25 million is earmarked for it, UNICEF said in a statement.
shoots of recovery
had prevented the publication of school textbooks. "In some
schools, as many as 15 pupils shared a textbook, while in some rural
schools only the teacher had a bedraggled textbook," Coltart
principal of Gwinyai Public Primary School in Mbare, a poor neighbourhood
in the capital, Harare, told IRIN that erratic attendance by students
and teachers, combined with the unavailability of text books, proved
a toxic mix.
Prior to the
crisis, students learned to read and write in their first year of
school; student Kelvin Bimha, now 11, didn't gain those skills
until his fourth year, and then only with the assistance of remedial
classes during the holidays.
has since helped address the textbook shortage; the pupil-to-book
ratio is now one-to-one, Coltart said. Next are plans for the distribution
of non-academic books to encourage a culture of reading; $9 million
is budgeted for this in 2013, with donor support through the ETF.
At the height
of the crisis, in 2008 - during which food insecurity and waterborne
disease were widespread, and schooling was disrupted by political
violence and teacher strikes - the pass rate for the final year
of primary school dropped to 52 percent. The previous year, it had
been 70 percent.
In 2009, only
39 percent of those who sat for the final-year exams passed. It
has since improved, with 2010 seeing a pass rate of 42 percent and
2011 a rate of 45 percent.
expects the pass rate to remain low for several years and then gradually
way to go
says lack of infrastructure continues to undermine the education
system. In 2012, the number of students at Gwinyai was close to
2,000 - nearly double its intended capacity. The overcrowding has
led to a practice known as "hot seating", in which some
children attend morning classes and others attend afternoon classes.
the situation is not unique to Gwinyai. "We've got 8,000 schools.
If you go to most of these schools, you'll see the infrastructure
is crumbling - schools not being maintained, toilets in a terrible
state of disrepair. Many schools don't have desks, don't have blackboards."
He said the
$500,000 from the 2012 national budget for school maintenance was
"less than drop in the ocean", and his ministry would
be seeking donor assistance. "We could spend a billion dollars
on the education sector, and we wouldn't address all these structural
budget for 2012-2013 is $750 million. More than half of this, Coltart
says, goes to primary and high school teachers' salaries,
which average about $300 a month.
During the hyperinflation
years, many teachers just walked off the job, as their salaries
fell to the equivalent of $1 or less a month. The ministry has declared
an amnesty for these teachers, and many have returned. But many
others moved to other countries in search of employment and better
salaries, and it has proved difficult to lure them back. It is estimated
that 20,000 teachers left the country between 2007 and 2009.
There are currently
about 106,000 teachers; about 30,000 more are required. However,
even if the teacher target is achieved, Coltart says, there will
not be enough classrooms available for them to teach in.
He says the
government's relationship with the teachers' unions
- such as the Zimbabwe Teachers Association and the Progressive
Teachers Union of Zimbabwe - is improving. But threats of strikes
are never far from the surface.
sector had been stabilized, but remains fragile. "Until we
see literacy rates starting to improve, until we see grade 7 [the
final year of primary school] examination results getting back to
the levels they were perhaps 10 years ago, I will remain concerned
about the education sector," he said.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.