The revelation that almost a million pupils risk dropping out of school this year owing to government’s failure to pay their fees under the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) threatens to derail the only real Zimbabwean success story.
Social Welfare director Sydney Mhishi told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service on Tuesday that government intended to fund 750 000 primary and 250 000 secondary school pupils this year.
But with just $15 million allocated to Beam, it can only support the education of 83 000 secondary school pupils meaning 167 000 targeted secondary school pupils and all the 750 000 targeted primary school pupils will miss out unless funding is secured.
The Zanu PF election manifesto for the July elections last year put education as an anchor of the country’s economic development and the party has always, justifiably, boasted about the success of its education revolution launched at Independence in 1980, which saw ZImbabwe become the most educated nation on the continent.
But the latest development shows that the wheels are now off.
The ruling Zanu PF government should critically look into this issue as leaving education to donors does not bode well for the development of our country.
The reasons why donor money has dried out should also be looked at honestly. The government — as usual — cites economic sanctions imposed on it by Western countries as the reason, but a critical look reveals another reason. Donors doubt the safety of their money and that it will be used for the purpose for which it is donated.
During the subsistence of the inclusive government, donors were willing to assist because they believed their money was safe and would not be misused.
They are aware government is broke and is likely to divert their money to other areas as proposed by Finance and Economic Development minister Patrick Chinamasa that donors should channel funding directly into government coffers.
Government needs to reassure the donor community that money raised for the education sector will be used for education programmes such as Beam and the purchase of textbooks.
Zimbabwe has for decades been ranked at the apex of the literacy rate in Africa. But the huge gains made in the formative years of independence in education are now being eroded. This is an unfortunate development that must be addressed.
The sad part of all this is that it is the children of the poor who are affected most. In the long term this unfortunate development will lead to the growth of a huge class of illiterate and unemployable youths in both urban and rural centres threatening national stability.
It is, therefore, imperative for all stakeholders — parents, educationists and the government — to critically look at the education system and figure out a way of helping those who cannot pay their way through.
In the past the Education ministry came up with a distance education programme which is cheaper and quite effective if administered correctly. Many people during the colonial era got their education this way. It must be explored again.