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Govt dithers on free education

Local News
Mthuli Ncube

GOVERNMENT has started to sing a different tune on earlier promises to provide free basic education beginning next year, with Finance minister Mthuli Ncube saying the programme would need more time to implement.

In 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed into law the Education Amendment Act which compels the State to provide free basic education in line with provisions of section 27 of the Constitution.

Section 27 reads: “The State must take all practical measures to promote (a) free compulsory basic education for children…”

In Parliament on Thursday, Ncube said free education would take time to implement, pointing out that government was not in a position to implement the programme in January.

“To fully transition to total free education, we have to undertake a thorough evaluation of requirements, identifying gaps to debate and implementation of activities that broaden coverage for education to every child. So, this is a process, we will get there because we have started but we are already doing a lot in terms of education access,” Ncube said.

“I have said earlier that provision of free education is a process, hence the budget increased allocation to the sector by 2,1% from the previous years.”

In his vote for the Primary and Secondary Education ministry, Ncube allocated $631,3 billion (US$976 million) towards providing quality infant, junior and secondary education.

The bulk of the allocation will, however, go towards teachers’ salaries and other learning costs.

“Let me take this opportunity to advise the august House that already government is the main funder of basic education and that is from paying of teachers, construction of schools, provision of teaching and learning materials, supporting public examinations access, payment of fees for some schools and learners such as the Basic Education And Assistance (Beam) programme.  Government is already doing a lot in terms of making sure that there is better education access, indeed education is free.”

Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi, during a Finance Bill budget debate said the budget was insufficient to facilitate free education.

“As I look into the issue of education, I considered the funding that was availed to education by the minister but I noticed that next year there is going to be free education, as was announced, but when I look at the $1,9 billion that was allocated towards Beam, I see that as being very little and insufficient for us to roll out the free education policy,” Togarepi said.

 “In my opinion, the minister’s statement was supposed to be focused or considering the free education policy to start next year January, but his statement allocated very insufficient funds towards the programme.”

Teachers unions also said the budget set aside for free education was too little.

Mberengwa East legislator Marko Raidza (Zanu PF) said: “If we consider the budget that was presented, it did not satisfy the needs of this (Beam) programme despite the allocated funds, considering programme-based budgeting. We realise that most of the funding will be taken up by civil servants wages in the education sector and very little is left for the implementation of the programme.”

Analysts have  rubbished Mnangagwa’s free education pledge saying it was a political gimmick aimed at hoodwinking citizens into voting for him and the ruling Zanu PF party in the 2023 elections.

For years, government has been promising free basic education but has failed to implement the policy.

A recent global study by World Remit 2022 ranked the country’s education as one of the most expensive, and six times more than the total average income of an average family, resulting in thousands of school dropouts.

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