Zimbabwe’s Achilles heel in achieving education for all

via Rural areas: Zimbabwe’s Achilles heel in achieving education for all – The Zimbabwean 11 February 2015

If recent statistics by the United Nations are anything to go by, the world is going to fail to attain universal primary education by 2015.

A sea of children of primary school going age around the world are currently out of school while some of those that are presently enrolled will most likely drop out before they complete their studies according to the 2014 Millennium Development Goal Report.

This article seeks to analyze causes for failure to attain millennium development goal number 2 – achieve universal primary education by 2015 – in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region where the biggest number of primary school age children in the world are out of school.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the article focuses on Zimbabwe chiefly because it is an area of interest for the Rural Schools Development Trust (RSDT) but also because it is one of the countries in the region that has not been prevented from achieving education for all by conflict or other emergencies. The question then is, if conflict or other emergencies aren’t the reason some children are out of school in Zimbabwe then what is?

That question will be answered in due course.

Within Zimbabwe, an attempt is made to zero in on rural settings as the major areas that are most likely going to prevent Zimbabwe from successfully playing its part in bringing about universal primary education by 2015 since statistics show that more children in rural areas are out of school than those in urban areas. This claim is also supported by a 2003 FAO and UNESCO commissioned report which asserts that rural children in low-income countries generally have less opportunity to attend and complete primary school than children in the better served urban areas.

For the avoidance of any doubt, achievement of universal primary education requires enrolment in, and completion of, the full cycle of primary education.

While Net Enrolment Rate in primary schools has been higher in rural areas than in urban areas in the past, schools in urban areas have had a higher completion rate than rural schools meaning some time from the day of enrolment till the time rural pupils are supposed to complete their studies, they meet insurmountable obstacles that prevent them from completing their primary level.

The biggest of those obstacles in rural Zimbabwe is poverty. An analysis by the United Nations of 61 household surveys from developing countries between 2006 and 2012 shows that children of primary-school age from the poorest 20 per cent of households are over three times more likely to be out of school than children from the richest 20 per cent of households. This means rural children are more likely to be out of school than urban children due to poverty since 75% of the poorest people in the world can be found in rural areas according to the FAO and UNESCO study mentioned earlier. The same research notes that 60% of the world’s poor are expected to be rural people up until 2020.

Out of all the interlocking dimensions of poverty, which include very little to no income, insufficient food, unsuitable accommodation, unavailability of resources to improve one’s economic situation or inability to utilize such resources if they are available, financial incapacitation is what hinders rural people from sending their children to school the most. Of all the children between ages of five and nine out of school in 2011, 59% left school because of financial constraints according to a 2011 Labour Force Survey (LFS) while this percentage was 72% for children aged between ten and fourteen. Up to date, financial constraints have remained the biggest impediment in access to education for pupils in rural areas were people of the lowest income live.

The government has failed to remove this obstacle by bringing about an economic environment that raises the income levels of general citizens. Though ILO has put Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate at 5.42% — many local sources put it at well over 80% — Zimbabwe is still classified as a low income country. Furthermore the government has not succeeded in assisting all the orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs) in the country that require government funding to access education. The government program that supports OVCs, the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), has not been able to sponsor all students that require funding. Former Minister of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart highlighted that in 2012 it was calculated that some 300 000 children who should have been on BEAM were not getting any support and were out of school as a result. In a recent article in the Financial Gazzette, he maintained that there was no doubt that the figure has grown in the last three years as support for BEAM has dropped in real terms.

The fact that over 60% of Zimbabwe’s population lives in rural areas means the biggest number of pupils that meet the criteria to be sponsored by BEAM come from these areas hence they are the most affected by the government’s failure to sponsor all students who should be funded by the scheme.

In the Labour Force Survey mentioned before, distance to school was also cited as a reason for children being out of school. Rural areas are the places were pupils have to travel the longest distances to and from school which automatically means rural pupils are the most affected by this hindrance.

The existence of child headed families due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other reasons have resulted in many rural pupils leaving school to engage in such activities as mining or to seek menial jobs in a bid to fend for their families.

While it may appear premature to state that Zimbabwe in particular, and the world in general, will not be able to provide primary education for all by the end of the year 2015, this is the reality on the ground and drastic action is required to ensure that even if 2015 is missed as a target for bringing about universal primary education, the process won’t take longer than it has to.

The only way Zimbabwe’s government can ensure education becomes accessible to all is by introducing policies that open up employment opportunities thus increasing levels of income amongst its citizenry. Furthermore the government has to sponsor all OVCs or offer free education for all but to do this it has to deal with its blotted civil service wage bill. In the last few years the wage bill has kept growing and growing, or rather, the tax base has kept shrinking and shrinking thus giving the impression that the wage bill is increasing. Currently, it gobbles up over 70% of the national budget.

Though education is the responsibility of the government, the international community needs to step up its efforts to assist developing countries to achieve education for all at the primary level. There have been some worrying trends in the past such as the drop of aid to low income countries for basic education while such aid has been increased in middle income countries. Between 2010 and 2011, aid for basic education fell by 9 per cent in low-income countries from $2.1 billion to $1.9 billion. Developing countries like Zimbabwe cannot achieve education for all on their own as long as they are still facing governance problems. A concerted effort is required by governments struggling to provide education for all and the international community to ensure that universal basic education is achieved.

Rural Schools Development Trust (RSDT)