New lease of life for Zimbabwe’s children


Thirteen year old Sarah Motsi (not her real name) is writing her Grade 7 examinations this year and has high hopes of passing.

She wants to become a doctor when she finishes school. A few months ago Sarah would not have harboured these ambitions at all as shortages of textbooks and stationery made it difficult to study at home and learn in class.

“Our teacher had the only textbook in our class and this made learning very hard for us,” recalled Sarah.

“I remember in Grade 5 I failed my end of year examinations because I couldn’t write fast enough.

Each time I was finishing off the first part of the exam, the teacher was already erasing it. I failed because I wasn’t able to write fast enough not because I didn’t know the answers to the questions. I wanted to quit, I thought school was very hard.”

But for Sarah, the new lease of life given to the education sector through the Education Transition Fund (ETF) programme, has revived her desire to use education to better her life. Under the ETF programme, the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, has overseen the production and distribution of more than 13 million textbooks and stationery to all primary schools in Zimbabwe allowing children like Sarah to realise their full potential.

For the past six years of their primary education Sarah and her classmates have experienced the collapse of Zimbabwe’s education sector first-hand.

They had no idea until a few months ago what it meant to own and read from their own textbook.

With a weakened economy and political challenges Zimbabwe’s education took a huge blow.

Challenges in school funding meant that many schools had no funds to buy textbooks and learning materials decreasing the quality of education in most schools.

For Sarah this had meant sharing one textbook with as many as 15 others or having the teacher read for them from the only textbook in the class.

In fact, 20% of all primary schools did not have a single textbook in English, Mathematics, Shona and Ndebele.

The ETF is a $50 million multi-donor programme which pools resources with the singular purpose of improving the quality of Zimbabwe’s education through the provision of learning materials including textbooks, supplies, capacity development to School Development Committees (SDCs) and technical assistance to the Ministry of Education Sport Arts and Culture.

The financial support comes from the governments of Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States and the European Commission. The ETF is managed by Unicef.

“The ETF is arguably the most effective joint venture between the Government and the Donor Community since the Global Political Agreement was established,” said Education, Sport, Arts and Culture minister David Coltart

“In a remarkably short space of time, we have distributed 13 million textbooks to primary schools and before the end of 2011, we will deliver another batch to secondary schools. This has been achieved through an exceptionally good working relationship of the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, Unicef and the donor community.”

By April 2011, every Zimbabwean primary school child will have a complete set of core textbooks.

Since the distribution of the textbooks began last year at least 13 252 000 books have been dispatched to 5 667 primary schools in the country.

A further 2 million books is being distribution in April, bringing the total to 15 million textbooks and ensuring all children have access.

ETF has already begun bridging the pupil/textbook ratio from 15:1 to 1:1 in all primary schools across Zimbabwe, benefiting more than 2,8 million pupils.

“As Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture we are very pleased with the difference that these resources have made to Zimbabwe’s education sector,” said Stephen Mahere, permanent secretary in the ministry.

Unicef Country Representative Peter Salama believes the ETF is a good foundation for the recovery of Zimbabwe’s educations sector.

“Over the past decade and against great odds, Zimbabwean communities managed to keep their children in school and maintained high national enrolment, despite a declining economy, rising unemployment, an orphan crisis and an under-resourced education sector,” said Dr. Salama.

“The ETF is the first large scale, external support to the education sector in the last decade and it has managed to provide much needed learning resources to every Primary School in the country.

With these much needed resources I think Zimbabwe’s education sector is on the road to recovery. Over the years we have witnessed a decline in Grade 7 pass rates from 53% in 1999 to 39% in 2009 and we know that almost 50% of primary students are not going on to secondary school.”

Within the next months the ETF is expected to move into its second phase with the distribution of textbooks to Zimbabwe’s secondary schools and continue to support the strategic priorities of the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture.

These priorities include Water and Sanitation in schools, “Second Chance” opportunities for children out of school, review of the curriculum and school grants to ensure access of Orphans and Vulnerable Children as well as children with special needs to school.