HomeLocal NewsHunger poses serious threat to pupils

Hunger poses serious threat to pupils

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A school teacher speaks slowly using gestures to stress a point but only a small number in the class of 40 seems to follow him.

Some of the pupils are slouching in their chairs while others are gazing out of the windows and the teacher constantly exhorts them to sit up straight and pay attention.

“We often come to school without eating and when you are hungry it is difficult to pay attention to the teacher,” said Kudzai Hunda, a pupil at Kambarami Secondary School in Murehwa.

Rural dwellers in parts of Zimbabwe are battling to stave off huger after they lost their crop to the drought which ravaged the country in the last agricultural season.

Some children are forced to attend school – in some cases walking up to 10km on empty stomachs – while some families have withdrawn after failing to raise school fees. Most households are left with no food and income to pay fees.

Apart from affecting the food situation at home, the poor harvests mean families who pay their children’s school fees and incentives for teachers in the form of grain will not be able to do so.

Education minister David Coltart said the food shortages were likely to affect the pass rate this year.

“In rural schools, parents use grain to pay teachers’ incentives,” he said. “Now that we had a bad cropping season in some parts of the country, especially in the southern parts, parents are likely to face difficulties in paying the incentives.”

The government has intervened with a $12 million fund under which families deemed to be especially vulnerable will each receive $20 per month.

“The government has made a budgetary provision of $6 million for the harmonised social cash transfer programme, with donors contributing another $6 million,” said director of Social Services, Sydney Mhishi.

United Nations Children’s Education Fund said the programme will alleviate poverty and facilitate improved access to basic education for poor orphans and other vulnerable children.

To cushion the poor rural dwellers from persistent droughts, the government and other partners are said to be working to revive irrigation schemes.

The State availed $10 million in loans to A1 and communal farmers in Mashonaland Central Province to resuscitate irrigation schemes.

The European Union is also reviving irrigation schemes totaling around 1 700 hectares (43 schemes) set to benefit at least 4 000 households.

But the efforts still fall far short of the national requirement, with the education sector suffering most.

Coltart said incentives have helped boost teachers’ morale: “If teachers are not incentivised in this era of low salaries, they are likely to give a poor show,” he said.

He said an initiative by the government and donors to revive the education sector by supplying textbooks and exercise books was likely to be in vain as food shortages increase absenteeism and dropout rates.

“We have been doing our best to provide schools with learning material to up the pass rate, but this will be dented if students come to school hungry or not properly fed,” Coltart said.

Southern Africa has experienced droughts and floods in recent years and Zimbabwe has not been spared.

The effects have cascaded down to various sectors of the economy, with agriculture contribution to the gross domestic product compromised.

“We bemoan the situation considering that most of the rural people don’t have the capacity to buy grain,” President of the Chiefs’ Council Fortune Charumbira said.

The Grain Marketing Board is selling a 50kg bag of maize at $16, which is beyond the reach of many.

Charumbira called on the government to reintroduce the public works programme and food hand outs for the elderly and those who cannot perform public works.

The crop failure means villagers are unable to contribute to the zunde ramambo (chief’s granary) and this has left chiefs without food resources with which to help needy subjects.

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