THE pricing out of school of almost a million pupils following international donors’ withdrawal of funding to the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) speaks eloquently to how the programme has played a key role in turning around the fortunes of children from poor backgrounds.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
SENIOR FEATURES REPORTER
The Zimbabwe government would only be able to support the education of 83 000 secondary school pupils after Beam was allocated just $15 million in the 2014 national budget.
Government had initially intended to fund 750 000 primary and 250 000 secondary school pupils this year and with the scarcity of resources, the targeted
167 000 secondary school pupils are going to miss out unless additional funding is secured.
Beam was conceived as part of the Enhanced Social Protection Project (ESPP), launched by the government in 2000 in response to “worsening social conditions in the country that were causing the poor to suffer deepening multiple shocks”, according to Nelson Marongwe of the Centre for Applied Social Sciences Trust in his 2007 report on the programme.
The “shocks” included escalating basic commodity prices, retrenchments and high unemployment rates, high drop outs of school children and high interest and inflation rates.
Labour and Social Welfare ministry Social Services director Sydney Mhishi recently told a parliamentary committee that the ministry had asked for a budget allocation of $73 million to cover Beam, but only received $15 million, just enough to pay for 83 000 children in need.
“We used to have a basket funding where (European Union) countries pooled resources and gave it to Unicef which would interface with our schools,” Mhishi said. “That fell off two years ago. Their argument was that primary education must be free and compulsory. The current circumstance is that there will be no free primary education.
“We still think DfID (Britain’s Department for International Development) might come again. If they don’t come, it means Government will have to look for the money.”
The module is a national programme implemented in the country’s 61 districts in both urban and rural areas. According to Marongwe: “Its main focus is the provision of educational assistance to orphans and other vulnerable children aged between 6-19 years. In brief, Beam targets children in school, but failing to pay fees, children who have dropped out of school and children who have never been to school. Its main support is in the form of payment of tuition fees, examination fees, building fund and school levies.”
In recent years, however, there have been calls for the overhaul of Beam owing to its failure to fulfill its objective, spelt out in the policy document as “to reduce the number of children dropping out, and reach out to children who have never been to school due to economic hardships . . . to prevent irreversible welfare losses for poor households who resort to perverse coping mechanisms, like withdrawing children from school in response to increasing poverty”.
On paper, the module remains a well-established framework implemented through community participation but has not been spared the devastation wrought by economic decline in the country and withdrawal of key funders.
Education Coalition of Zimbabwe national co-ordinator Maxwell Rafamoyo believes that the rate at which Beam is falling apart demands the need to implement the new constitutional provision of free primary education.
“The fact that there are a million children under Beam shows the extent of the need and right now, Beam is falling apart so there is need to look at other ways, such as free education. In terms of education, we are asking government to come in and make at least basic education accessible to all,” he said.
Statistics from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare show that between 2002 and 2005, a total of 2 738 903 pupils benefited from the programme. Out of these, 1 384 298 were boys while 1 354 605 were girls.
Beam, however, has always been problematic, as noted by Marongwe who said: “Despite the existence of Beam and other educational initiatives, most of the pupils attending primary and secondary education remain self financing in terms of paying school fees, implying that their parents pay for their educational costs.
Thus in 2003 for instance, about 87% and 84% of primary and secondary schools were self-financing respectively.” He further noted that Beam was a national programme conceptualised with donor support as an important pillar for its successful implementation.
Former Education Minister David Coltart said it was clear that government had failed to provide basic education and Beam-related challenges were symptomatic of a bigger problem.
“The government is allocating insufficient funds to education and if we are to ensure that children at least get a primary education, this has to improve significantly. Beam is a symptom of a bigger problem,” Coltart said.
“It is underfunded and was devised a decade ago for a much stronger economy when there were far more people in formal employment than the current situation where a lot of people are poverty-stricken and can’t pay fees. The scheme simply can’t cope, and compounding the crisis is that donors have pulled out.”
The withdrawal of donors has consequently forced the government to fund the programme through public funds channeled through the national fiscus, but budgetary limitations have crippled its effective implementation.
From as far back as 2006, the number of children in need of educational support through Beam was on the ascent, exceeding the number that could be catered for by the programme. Studies have shown that there is no evidence of linkages between government’s implementation of Beam and various interventions supporting children to attend school spearheaded by non-governmental organisations.
Rafamoyo argued that Zimbabwe was endowed with precious minerals some of whose proceeds could be chanelled to funding education. “We are endowed with a lot of natural resources like diamonds. We can say for every carat sold a certain percentage goes to education,” he said.
“At the moment, over 90% of the budget allocation to education goes to salaries so we need to find other initiatives,” he said.
Coltart recommended that government re-aligns its budget allocations through cutting expenditure by reducing Cabinet size and reducing military spending and re-examining Beam’s administration to make it more transparent and effective.