via Zim education better off with donor funding | The Financial Gazette – Zimbabwe News by Tabitha Mutenga 22 Jan 2014
ZIMBABWE’S 34-year-old education for all drive is fast losing momentum.
Gains the country had made in education since independence in 1980, which government had fervently and unrelentingly pursued, much to the envy of neighbouring countries, are rapidly evaporating.
Deteriorating standards in the education sector spurred on by an economic meltdown and to an extent a volatile political environment particularly in the countryside where political collisions by opposing parties have oftentimes found expression on school grounds and school management, have played havoc on the state and delivery of schools across the board.
The latest in a potpourri of challenges bedevilling the academic sector is increasing pupils’ drop-out rates.
An estimated one million children could drop out of school because government has failed to provide money for their fees in an ironic development that could quickly reverse all the gains made over the past three decades.
As the late Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
It then becomes a misnomer when a government that has previously pumped billions into education is now losing heart in extending the basic right to an education to society’s disadvantaged people; more so when the same government is reluctant to look to the foreign donor community that has propped up the sector for the past decade or so.
When schools re-opened for 2014, the acting principal director of the Social Services Ministry, Sydney Mhishi, said government intended to fund 750 000 primary and 250 000 secondary school pupils this year, but with just US$15 million allocated to the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), it can only support the education of 83 000 secondary school pupils at a cost of US$180 per child (US$60 each per term at government institutions), while the Ministry owes schools US$15 million in school fees as of November 2013.
BEAM, a special scheme which assists children from poor families that cannot afford school fees, without donor funding cannot cater for the nation’s poor and disadvantaged children.
Despite the excellent reputation the country had gained over the years in the education sector, the nation is now nurturing an interesting paradox whereby some can comfortably afford to pay fees of up to US$2 800 per term at private schools while in the rural areas parents are struggling to pay US$5 for primary education and US$10 in urban areas.
Zimbabwe’s education system was once upon a time the envy of Africa having achieved 90 percent adult literacy way back in 2002 and 98 percent youth literacy.
The once vibrant education system has largely been weakened by economic challenges and undue political interference over the past decade which resulted in 94 percent of rural schools closing and school attendance declining from 80 percent to 20 percent by February 2009.
Consequently, government abandoned all efforts to support rural schools, and parents could not afford to pay teachers as well as run the schools.
As a result, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), approximately 50 percent of primary school students did not move on to secondary school in 2009.
About 90 000 teachers went on strike, public examinations were in shambles, 20 000 teachers had left the service between 2007 and 2008 and there were no textbooks.
However, through donor assistance the education sector began crawling out of the doldrums between 2010 and 2012.
Parents and teachers were no longer up in arms over incentives and order was restored at the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council.
But things seem to have once again turned for the worse less than a year after the inclusive government ended as the ZANU-PF government now seems to be failing to provide basic primary education to children.
Former education sport and culture minister, David Coltart, said the problem relating to BEAM was not so much that donors have withdrawn but because government had not applied sufficient funding for the programme and the education sector in general.
“The primary responsibility of funding BEAM and the education sector in general falls on government. I remain deeply concerned about the education sector. Children are our future and unless we build a strong education system the future of the entire nation is in peril,” Coltart said.
In his presentation, before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service Labour and Social Welfare, Mhishi acknowledged that the nation still needed donor assistance, a stance that was rejected in the ZANU-PF manifesto when the publication referred to it as “donorfication”.
“Donorfication of the education and health sectors over the last four years of the Global Political Agreement government, a cluster of regime-change donors have taken sinister advantage of the fact that the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare fell under the opposition formations and they have been pouring funds into the two ministries through illegal parallel structures,” the Manifesto said.
ZANU-PF highlighted that this “donorfication” was driven “by sinister motives inspired by the desire to uproot the architecture of education and health delivery built by ZANU-PF since 1980 and widely acknowledged around the world as hallmarks of unparalleled success.
“This threat needs to be nipped in the bud to restore the people’s confidence in education and health delivery systems and to ensure their sustainability and relevance to the indigenous imperatives,” reads part of the manifesto.
Lawyer and writer, Petina Gappah commented: “ZANU-PF is correct that no nation should have a critical sector like education funded only by donors because this is not sustainable. However, if government is going to go it alone, it should be clear about where the money will come from to replace the donor money. In any event, education in this country has always relied on donor funds, and for this reason alone, the ZANU-PF manifesto is talking about a utopia that has never been.”
However, a spokesman for the Department for International Development (DFID) which provides support from the United Kingdom told the Financial Gazette that they had received a request from government for assistance.
“We received an initial request from the Zimbabwean government earlier this week and we are now considering our response. I can confirm that the Government of Zimbabwe requested the UK’s support for this project on January 13, 2014. As with all funding requests, we are now considering this request in the usual way.
“At the Government of Zimbabwe’s request, the UK provided additional funding to the Basic Education Assistance Module for primary education in 2012 and 2013. The UK’s support in 2012 and 2013 has helped around 330 000 orphans and vulnerable children attend primary school each year,” the DFID spokesman said.
UNICEF’S chief of communications, Victor Chinyama, said the fund managed BEAM until the end of 2011 when the donors identified an alternative funding mechanism.
“Contrary to media reports, UNICEF was not a donor to BEAM but a manager of funds contributed to BEAM by donors. UNICEF’s role as fund manager therefore came to an end when the donors decided to channel their BEAM contributions through a different funding mechanism. UNICEF continues to support the education sector through the Education Development Fund, which it manages on behalf of donors and the government,” Chinyama said.
DFID and UNICEF have been the major players in the education sector, channeling in close to US$200 million since 2009.
An educated son or daughter is a source of pride and joy for every parent and government has no right to take away that satisfaction simply because of an aversion to donor assistance.