Education – A Preserve For The Rich

When she wrote her ordinary levels in 2006 and passed, her mother assured her that despite living from hand to mouth, from the little money she got from selling the few crops they harvested from their over tilled land, she would struggle to see her through Advanced Level.

When the Minister of Education David Coltart announced in 2009 that those in upper six would pay US$20 per subject, Sarudzai Mombeshora said she hoped that after the majority of the students failed to register as they could not afford, the Minister would consider and lower the examination fees.

She was shattered when the Minister announced that the same fees would be charged again this year.

“I had hoped that the fees would be lowered because I knew that my mother will not be able to pay for me. I know that I have the potential and if I am to sit for the exams I will come out with good points,” Sarudzai told VOP while struggling to restrain the tears streaming from her eyes.

“I just wish the government could make education affordable instead of making it a privilege for the few elite. We have a right to learn and we want to learn but it is just a pity that at the moment no one seems to care if education continues for everyone in Zimbabwe,” Sarudzai said bitterly.

Sarudzai  said she hoped that the Minister would keep his word that assistance would be given to all those who will not be able to pay for the examination fees.

However, she said she was not very optimistic that the word will be kept. “Judging from past experience, I am not sure that the deserving students will get the assistance but since there is no other option, I will keep my fingers crossed and keep hoping,” she said.

Despite being intelligent her future is in limbo. The dilemma that Sarudzai finds herself in is not only unique to her, but to thousand other children.

When Zimbabwe gained its independence from colonial rule in April 1980, the majority of her people lacked the opportunities and facilities for quality schooling, most only finishing primary level.

Over the first 15 years of independence, Zimbabwe’s population of over 13 million witnessed incredible strides in school expansion, teacher training, and resource improvement.  As a result, Zimbabwe boasted the highest literacy rate in sub-saharan Africa with an adult literacy rate of about 90 ‘per cent’.  School education was made free in 1980, but since 1988, the government steadily increased the charges and now they are beyond the reach of many. This is despite the policy of education for all by 2010 with most education analysts saying Zimbabwe’s education system is regressing.

Now on the brink of collapse, Zimbabwe’s education is alleged to have been destroyed by the mismatched policies of the Zanu (PF) government. Past successes have been reversed by a raft of problems hinging on the lack of financing, which has led to a marked decline in the salaries of teachers, infrastructure , school improvement grants and leaving most students with a student textbook ratio of about 20:1. Grossly underpaid teachers are fleeing to neighbouring countries and many qualified teachers are becoming self employed leading to the deterioration of the quality of education.

While Zimbabwe’s education system has been collapsing drastically since 2000, government ministers, largely responsible for the crumble, especially in public schools and universities, send their children to private institutions inside and outside the country leaving the children of the ordinary Zimbabweans bearing the brunt of the collapse of the sector.

Registration faculties of universities in South Africa, and many other countries, which boasts of good education would reveal a very high student enrolment from Zimbabwe as the governing elite continue to send their children to receive better education in foreign lands while the majority of school going children are dropping out of schools and tertiary institutions.

Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu )said the education for all by 2010 is a dream that Zimbabwe has failed to achieve.

Zinasu Education and Research Secretary Artwell Chidya said:“What the government has managed to achieve is deterioration.”

Chidya said Zimbabwe was killing its future leaders by refusing them affordable education. “It is a shame to note that the majority of the students cannot afford to get educated and it seems the authorities are not really concerned. As students and future leaders we demand a right to be educated and we believe that the right to education should be enshrined in the new constitution and that there should be redress if this fundamental right is violated.”

A member of the Zimbabwe Universities Lecturers Association said that that education needs to be urgently addressed. “For the past two years, some universities including the biggest University of Zimbabwe have failed to open on the scheduled times for a number of times. Three quarters of the qualified staff has gone for greener pastures and students do not have decent accommodation. Even primary and secondary teachers have deserted the country in droves; all this has to be addressed if the education sector has to be improved.”

With the dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy every parent is expected to pay school fees and levies in the United States dollar or the South African Rand, which is still a scarce resource for many in the grassroots, civil service and corporate world.

Students interviewed expressed anger to the authorities whom they accuse of making education a privileged for the few elite instead of making it a right to everyone.

Since the formation of the current government of national unity, civil servants are paid between US$200 and US$220. A family of six needs over US$250 a month for basic goods. Government schools ask for about US$100 per term while private schools and universities require between US$500 to US 2000.

Wilbert Muringani the Midlands Chairperson of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, a teacher’s association, said Zimbabwe’s first class education had gone down the drain. He said education in Zimbabwe could only be achieved again once governments realised that teachers were the pillars of education.

“A country without education cannot develop. It is so painful to note that a country that was boosting of the best education in the 1990’s in Sub Sahara Africa, has deteriorated to the extent that students went for almost two years without learning because teachers were incapacitated to go to work,” Muringani said shaking his head.

Besides the economic meltdown that led to the failure by the government to pay both teachers and lecturers’ salaries, Muringani said political victimisation also led to the deterioration of education standards in Zimbabwe.

“Teachers were politically victimised, tortured and others killed since 2000 especially in the rural areas. This led to teachers fleeing and many leaving the country. Salaries have to be adjusted if we are to retain to the Old Zimbabwe education level so that parents are able to take care of their children’s education needs. Political stability is of essence. We want a new constitution that will emphasize that education should be a right to every Zimbabwe child,” he said.

Peter Muchengeti a human Rights Activist said “It is the responsibility of government to ensure that every child receives an education. It is worrying to note the high school dropout rates. So many young women and men are roaming the streets because they cannot afford tertiary education. Some female students are actually resorting to commercial sex work to get money for fees and this is not acceptable. Children should be given the right to learn.”

Lack of funding for the educational sector has led to total shame through collapsed infrastructures, no text books, unqualified teachers and administrators. Electricity and water shortages have compounded the problems bedevilling the Zimbabwe Education Sector. A return to the once enviable, first class education system in Zimbabwe might take decades to achieve again.