BY PRIVELEDGE GUMBODETE/LORRAINE MUROMO
AN ESTIMATED 68% of children under five years and 47% of teenagers in Zimbabwe are currently out of school with government spending towards education also inadequate, a latest Unicef report has revealed.
The Unicef report said the government spent only 13,1% of the national budget towards education against 20% global recommendation.
“Sixty percent of pre-primary aged children (3-5 years) and 47% adolescents (13-18 years) are not in school,” the Unicef report reads in part.
“Government only spent 13, 1% of the national budget on education – though the Dakar Framework for Action goal is 20%.”
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro, however, downplayed the Unicef figures saying school enrolment rates in the country were good.
“The gross enrolment rate is 95,82% (96,46% for males and 95,20 for females), while the net enrolment rate is 83,51% (83,22% for males and 83,79% for females), which means that enrolment is not low,” Ndoro said when contacted for comment.
Another recent report by the United States Embassy also stated that an estimated 840 000 schoolchildren in the country had quit school during the past two years.
The Unicef exposé came when parents in Mutoko yesterday expressed dismay over poor learning infrastructure in the district saying their children were learning in churches, beerhalls and tobacco barns.
They made the claims during a Save Our Education Campaign in the district coordinated by the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union (Artuz).
“At Chinzanga Primary School, children are now learning at the council bar. We appeal to the government and relevant stakeholders to intervene. Since 2018, our children have been learning in beerhalls because there are a few schools to accommodate all the children, forcing schools to resort to alternative learning centres,” a parent Ngoni Kakarawo, told the Artuz delegation.
“Teachers are demotivated and it is pushing them to now demand money for extra lessons, which is a further burden to the parents.”
Another concerned parent Alice Mujaho said: “Our children are learning in churches, while others learn under trees. The reasons why beerhalls have been turned to schools are that there are inadequate classroom blocks.”
Another parent, Mapango Mapengo said: “In Mutoko, a single teacher was supervising a class of about 50 to 60 children.”
Artuz president Obert Masaraure said the government should set up an education equalisation fund to improve school infrastructure in rural areas.
“Sons and daughters of the working class are now being excluded from accessing acceptable quality education. Our education system is now worse than during the colonial era,” Masaraure said.
But Ndoro dismissed claims of children learning in beer halls saying: “Malicious reports of learners in beerhalls are preposterous.”
Child rights lawyer Caleb Mutandwa said the reports of learners dropping out of school, and learning in beerhalls was disturbing and unacceptable.
“The government should restore the value and dignity of the education sector,” Mutandwa said.
“The statistics are alarming and unacceptable. There is a need for multifaceted strategies to ensure that children enjoy their rights to education. The government needs to commit more financial resources towards education, including construction of infrastructure and the human resources.”
Lawyer and child rights expert Opal Masocha Sibanda said the government must bridge the existing digital divide by providing universal access to affordable education.
“Lack of education is a life sentence of poverty and exclusion. The government is, therefore, urged to address the root causes of school non-attendance, and allocate more resources to ensure that every child attends school and enjoys their right to education,” Sibanda said citing Aspiration 6 of Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040 which states that education is central to enhancing a child’s full potential.