By Nyasha Makovere
Zimbabwe’s education system was among the best in the world. We prided on producing skilled graduates and artisans, but as out country has sunk so has our crown jewel. I wonder, will we ever reclaim our status as the best?
Like Abraham and Sarah’s proverbial journey to the Promised Land, it is every Zimbabwean parent’s dream for their child to get an education, a good job, and escape poverty and change the economic fortunes of the family.
In the Zimbabwean culture the path to the Promised Land starts with going to a primary school first, a high school then a university. Zimbabwe’s education system was regarded as the finest on the continent until the 2000s when the economy began to collapse and volatile political environment erupted. The ZANU-PF government now seems to be failing to provide basic primary education to children.
An estimate of 20 000 teachers left Zimbabwe between 2007 and 2009. Teachers’ salaries have at one point become worthless. Funding for school material and maintenance has been impossible for years. In some schools 15 pupils share one textbook while in most rural schools only the teacher has the textbook.
It is every child’s right to get educated, yes in Zimbabwe, but today the free education is no more. Education is only for those that can afford. As a result many parents have resorted to various innovative ways of raising money to pay fees. Instead of waiting for miracles, many are enterprising; they are doing projects such as potato farming and poultry rearing.
The painful and sad reality is that some intelligent children cannot afford to go to school because they have lost parents or guardians who could have financed their education persists. At the end these children become jobless and succumb to the ravages of poverty.
It is therefore very important that these children get assistance. The children need to be helped on how they can obtain information from advertisements and access organizations that deal with children’s welfare.
While some parents can afford, through hard work, they face limits on the level of education their children can acquire.
It has become a basic requirement that at least every child should attend primary and high school. Some parents even sacrifice their livestock, leaving themselves without anything for as long as their child goes to school.
After such sacrifices questions must be asked whether these children manage to pass, get jobs and give back to their families.
Other children manage to go up to A Level but find it hard to go to tertiary institutions which are even more expensive.
Government funded study grants were replaced by facilitated bank loans which were later scrapped when the Zimbabwean dollar devalued. Little does the government know that today giving loans to graduates is the first step indegenisation?
It became hard for students to pay their tertiary fees especially at state universities. The cadetship facility was introduced but universities have shunned the facility.
At the end of the day many students are failing to register for classes as well as exams. And who is to blame for failing to finance an average of $3600 for the four years required to complete an honors degree? Is it the government or parents and guardians?
Parents and guardians need to be industrious of course but they need to be educated on how they can save money from the moment a child is born up until they reach 17 years, the age at which most complete high school and leave for tertiary education.
While it is common knowledge that the country is facing persistent liquidity constraints in the financial services sector banks can still play an active role.
They need to create more awareness on facilities such as Junior Savings Accounts and the Education Savings Account.
With state universities becoming so expensive, many people are opting for private colleges. Hundreds of such colleges have recently opened in Zimbabwe, offering similar programs to well-established institutions.
This situation, while it may be a solution for some, poses a number of serious challenges for learners and their parents on one hand and regulatory authorities on the other.
Who is monitoring the tutors at these colleges? Are the pass rates also monitored after every national examination? And who is in charge of doing this job? Is there any protection for learners from bogus institutions?
Media have been awash with reports of illegal backyard schools sprouting all over the country with garages, houses and churches being converted into classrooms.
According to these reports most of the schools are being run by teachers from government schools as they try to complement their low incomes.
Education Transition Fund (ETF) has been established as a mechanism to allow donors control over their funds. UNICEF said a statement that in 2012, the ETF was funded to the tune of about US$12 million, and in 2013, $25 million.
A lot of countries Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the UK, the US and the European Commission and the governments of Australia – contribute to the fund, which UNICEF then administers. And has this recovered the education system of Zimbabwe.
And just last year the Zimbabwe only adopted STEM under Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo euphoria. A number of countries already adopted this in 2009 since its origins as far as 2008 under UN initiatives.
STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Corridors of tertiary education have been painted, ‘students registering for Advanced Level subjects at public schools are going to get free education as Government will cover their full school and boarding fees’
The government already is struggling to pay the teachers against wanting to implement STEM successfully. STEM may not be successful, effective and efficient as Zimbabwe is not ready to implement it.
Rigorous research revealed the need for 8,65 million workers in STEM-related jobs such as manufacturing, computing, traditional engineering, physical sciences, life sciences and mathematics in America by 2009.
And in the UK, there is a demand such that Brits has to graduate 100 000 STEM majors every year until 2020 according to Royal Academy of Engineering reports.
Germany also has a shortage of 210 00 workers in the mathematics, computer science, natural science and technology disciplines according to reports.
What is it that we need in Zimbabwe and what is the specific target and how best can STEM be implemented to meet the target?
Zimbabwe’s education sector has been lauded for the high literacy levels the country has achieved. In 2013 the country’s literacy rate of 90,7 percent was ranked as the highest in Africa.
It is important to note that literacy levels are not a perfect measure of educational results but do offer a valid yardstick for international comparisons.
However questions remain on the quality of the education on offer in the country, particularly its ability to equip students with necessary life skills. Is Zimbabwe going to reclaim its education system? Are there any future signs of recovery?
What part of the national budget is really being set aside every year for the schools maintenance and textbooks and teachers salaries?
Education has always been viewed as a necessary tool for economic development. The African Economist says that it is impossible to overstate the importance of education especially in Africa.
The late Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Low levels of literacy and education in general, can seriously impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.