Tuesday, September 25, 2007
By Ruth Butaumocho
Zimbabwe’s education system continues to receive accolades the world over despite challenges that the country is facing. According to latest statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Zimbabwe has the highest rate of literacy in Southern Africa at 90 percent, followed by South Africa at 86 percent. The statistics show that 98 percent of the country’s youths are literate compared to a regional average of 69,4 percent, while the adult literacy rate stands at 89,4 percent, way above the regional average of 59,2 percent.
Unesco defines "literacy as the ability to read, write and count". Such a remarkable and notable achievement for Zimbabwe is a result of years of unwavering commitment by the Government to ensure that its people have access to quality education.
Not only has the Government managed to bring education closer to communities through the construction of schools in every district — within walking distances for the majority of pupils — but sound education policies have also contributed to the achievements that the world is marvelling at today.
Soon after independence the Government took a major step in crafting an education policy that ensured that education would become a basic human right.
The decision was premised on the fundamental that many African nationalists held (which has proved to be true) that education was key to black advancement and as such it had to be extended to everyone, regardless of colour or background.
Take for instance, the Education Act (1986), which stipulates that "every child in Zimbabwe shall have the right to school education . . . and no child in Zimbabwe shall be refused admission to any school on the grounds of race, tribe, colour, religion, place of origin, political opinion or the social status of his or her parent".
The Act not only stimulated eagerness to learn among communities, but it also ensured that no one would be denied access to education, particularly at primary level.
Having established a solid foundation on education, Government went a step further and launched an adult literacy programme.
This was meant to cater for those who had not been able to go through formal education, as a result of skewed education policies that were in favour of the white minority during the colonial era.
Even when free primary education was scrapped following the adoption of the macroeconomic policies prescribed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund after 1990, the less privileged children could still get assistance from the social welfare programme under the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.
Currently, needy students are getting assistance from the Basic Education Assistance Module, a school-fee waiver programme that relies on geographic and community-based structures to identify the most needy students.
Thus, it is these sound education policies and other complementary activities that have seen Zimbabwe continue to get accolades for its high literacy levels, not only in the region, but also on the continent, where the country is ranked third best in Africa, after Tunisia and Kenya.
Such a high quality education system has seen Zimbabweans holding top jobs in different parts of the world, and the brain drain that the country is experiencing bears testimony to that.
Several Zimbabweans living and working abroad are doing fairly well in their line of work and have become a living example of how an investment in education can transform a nation and the livelihood of its people.
It is a fact that Zimbabwean graduates and professionals are sustaining the economies of several countries, both within the Southern African region and beyond, a clear indication that Zimbabwe’s education system is one of the best in the world.
Even President Mugabe’s critics do acknowledge that Cde Mugabe, a Jesuit-educated teacher who acquired half a dozen degrees while in detention for 11 years, heavily invested in education since independence, a development that has seen the country holding its own against developed nations when it comes to education.
Unequalled as the country’s record must be as compared to other nations in the region, the nation should not sit on its laurels, but should work hard towards consolidating what is already on the ground, while looking at ways to improve the quality and standards of education being offered in many institutions.
The biggest challenge that the nation should seek to address is that of brain drain that has seen thousands of qualified teachers leaving the country to look for employment in neighbouring countries. The Government and the private sector should work together to come up with measures to retain teachers, such as provision of ancillaries like motor vehicle loans, housing schemes and retention allowances
Such a prevailing situation in regards to the brain drain in the education sector also calls for parents and communities at large to play a pivotal role in their children’s education by coming up with other incentives to retain staff within learning institutions.
Apart from stemming the brain drain, communities and the private sector should also be instrumental in improving the quality of education. This they can do through assisting with equipment and learning materials, instead of leaving everything to the Government.
It would be folly to let the gains achieved in the education sector go to waste. Looking at global statistics on illiteracy, it is evident that large numbers of children emerge from primary school without a secure command of essential literacy competencies. Many developing countries, despite their highly organised and well-resourced education systems, are finding that a significant proportion of children has limited grasp of core literacy.
With far less resources and high levels of poverty, exclusion and marginalisation, many developing countries are stuck with thousands of children who leave school barely able to read or write.
Within a few years, many of these children will join the hidden ranks of the functionally illiterate.
Zimbabwe cannot afford to sink such low depths.