Create jobs by establishing schools in Zimbabwe

Amon Murwira

Recently Higher Education, Science and Technology minister Amon Murwira, advised unemployed and qualified Zimbabweans to establish primary and secondary schools as a job creation approach.

There is a shortage of more than 3000 schools.

This excellent suggestion is based on the Zimbabwean 1980s-1990s experience when tens of thousands of schools were established.

From having only a few hundred primary schools and less than a dozen secondary schools for Africans in the 1960s, Zimbabwean schools expanded to provide universal primary education (UPE), and secondary schooling for large numbers of Africans.

Only 4% of Africans were allowed to attain secondary education before Independence:  this has expanded to 49% of Africans today.

 The honourable minister’s advice was based on sound theory and practice.

But it is essential to investigate why and how this policy succeeded so well for twenty years, and why it failed for the next 20 years.

The 20-year success story was based on the close partnership between (1) government; (2) parents and communities; (3) rural and urban local governments; and (4) donors.

Each of these four partners had a critically important role; without which it would have been impossible to make such a stupendous achievement within only a few years.

Government’s key role

Government is an important key to success.  It would not have been possible without it. What was the government's role?

1.1 Government comprised a civil service guided and controlled by a newly appointed minister. The inherited education and culture civil service was very small, comprising the separate European and the African education systems. 

The two were immediately amalgamated to form one Education ministry, with the retention of a couple of hundred civil servants, divided into a small head office, provincial and district offices.  A dozen or so liberation education officers were added, a handful at head office, and a few at provincial and district offices.

There were thousands of African teachers with various levels of qualifications, only a few hundred of whom were qualified at international levels of qualification.

This was the first time that Africans could be appointed at middle and senior levels: this was done very carefully based entirely on qualifications and experience:  this small new leadership, combined with the equally small leadership from the liberation struggle, became the first Education leaders in the country. We were really excited by this immediate, qualified and experienced Africanisation.

1.2 Whereas the settler government had relied entirely on the British curriculum for European education, African primary curriculum was devised by a small number of European primary teachers who could decide on what was needed by Africans in Rhodesia. 

However, the secondary curriculum was basically the Cambridge University curriculum later changed to ensure that Europeans followed the London University curriculum. 

However, Africans remained with Cambridge, but the junior certificate devised by the ministry of African Education was instituted as a way of removing the number of Africans who could qualify for “O” levels to 4% of those who passed the Grade 7 exams.

1.3 The independence government agreed it would fund education and training. This funding can be divided into (a) administration and management; (b) funding of infrastructure; (c) funding of teachers.  

(a) Overall administration and management was provided by the new amalgamated ministry, with a small Planning Dept, 7 new planners, and seven new building officers, in charge of planning the school expansion. 

This tiny bureaucracy laid down the rules for school expansion, which entailed that 88% of new schools would be owned and run by responsible authorities, which comprised parents, communities, local government and missionaries. 

Only 12% were to remain government schools, mainly the schools that were there before independence in urban areas, but with a new government secondary school in each district.

(b) Funding of infrastructure.  The ministry decided that Responsible Authorities (RAs) would be provided with grants for school construction.

They had to establish a financial clerk and open a bank account, the first time most Africans opened bank accounts.

 Following the rules set out by the ministry such as names and numbers of potential students and locations, the planning and building officers took over the planning and establishment work in each of the  seven provinces, hard but necessary work.  The RAs reacted well and formed their committees.

 Government funding was based on the then market prices of windows, doors, glass, roofing, and cement, which came to about US$8 900 per class room, estimated at about a third of what it would cost to do a modern classroom instead of the mud and grass schools of the past.

 This amount was deposited into their bank accounts.  Meanwhile, the RAs signed contracts with the ministry to say they would construct the schools according to provided plans and instructions.

The planning and building officers were able to assist in obtaining sites and appoint qualified builders.

These were local builders experienced in construction, but now upgraded by the ministry. RAs had to provide funding and labour for the brick making and construction.  Amazingly, as many as 90% of those who applied for schools were able to do so, utilising their own members as well as churches to assist.

(c) Funding of teacher salaries and books

The ministry was able to provide salaries as African primary teachers were paid less than a quarter of what their European counterparts were paid, due to the past system of under-qualification and low salaries.  The ministry provided a grant of about US$4 to US$6 per child for books, which were published and printed in Zimbabwe to be affordable, usually about US$3  to US$14 per book.

(1)   Responsible authorities’ crucial role.  The new ministry decided that the RAs would play a crucial role as parents and communities. 

This is held to be of critical importance in education internationally and was followed.  RAs could decide on the level of affordable fees based on their income, and then approved by the ministry.  Primary education was “free” but RAs could charge a small additional fee for extras, such as sports and library.

(2) Rural urban authorities and missionaries. These became important RAs who had previously had such responsibilities and were already well experienced.  They were asked to support new schools and RAs, which many did.

(3) Donor.  Donors played an important role, complementing the work done by the other three important principals.  About US$5 billion was provided a year, covering mainly infrastructure for education, medicine and low cost housing.


Yes, the advice is wise and correct. All four partners must play their part.

Donors have been reluctant to provide donor funds for the last two decades, but fortunately the first three principal participants have continued to do their part partially or fully.

Government has failed to continue with infrastructure, instead devoting more and more on salaries.

This is obviously seriously unbalanced.

 If the government were to adopt a more balanced approach   it could indeed increase both employment and GDP.

The next article will examine these aspects.

Donor funds are available to RAs although not through the government today.  The diaspora could assist where donors used to do.

  • *Chung was a secondary school teacher in the township; lecturer in polytechnics and universities; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle; civil servant and UN civil servant and minister of primary and secondary education.
  • These weekly  articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society  and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy in Zimbabwe. Email- [email protected]. Mobile No. +263 772 382 852

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