Stanely Mushava : Features Correspondent
Funding for the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) seems relegated to the bottom of the list, with schools owed $27 million in remittances since last year. Zimbabwe’s constitution provides for basic education as a fundamental right. BEAM is a state-driven initiative to facilitate equal access to basic education.It covers fees for children who are orphaned, living with disability, in foster care under poor parents, on the streets, with chronically ill guardians or in child-headed households.
However, the programme, administered by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare as a safety net, is impeded by late disbursement, and diversion of funds to non-core areas and limited options for students under the programme.
According to Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s 2015 report, the social welfare ministry last year used $500 000 meant for BEAM to buy food hampers for its officials.
“The risk is that BEAM may fail to meet its objectives if its resources are utilised for expenditure other than advancing the education of the disadvantaged,” the report reads.
While disputing the figure, the ministry admitted that it diverted BEAM funds because it had not received adequate funds from treasury to cover its own costs.
The deplorable mix-up of priorities may explain the late disbursement of funds which has seen schools owed $27 million, according to the Auditor-General’s report.
The figure is conservative, compared to Primary and Education Minister Lazarus Dokora’s claim that his ministry is owed $64 million over the past five school terms.
“We are owed $64 million by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. We have an inter-ministerial team which takes care of the fund. We present a list of deserving students while social welfare disburses the money,” Minister Dokora told Herald Review.
“There is a disconnect between students who are eligible for funding and students who are being actually funded. It is not a quarrel but just a statement of fact. We are not being given money that corresponds to applicants for BEAM in every case,” he said.
Minister Dokora said there is a compromise whereby the social welfare ministry must at least pay examination fees while it continues to knock on the door of Treasury.
Students under the BEAM are not exempt from the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec)’s examination costs.
While the payments are met, the arrangement is limiting for students under the scheme in that they can only register for six subjects whereas other students mostly register eight or more subjects.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare chairperson Cde Goodluck Kwaramba last week criticised the arrangement for confining capable students.
Presenting the first report on the administration of BEAM in the National Assembly, Cde Kwaramba suggested that this arrangement limits the options for students who can tackle more subjects.
Minister Dokora, however, argued that available subjects are amenable to the capacities of the students and there are alternatives in place to allow students to register more subjects.
“According to the old curriculum, that was judged as broadly representative. If you have your Maths, English, a Science subject and three other subjects, that would not be limiting because a full subject is considered to be five subjects. So a BEAM student would be still within the range of what is required,” Minister Dokora said.
“If a student is exceptionally gifted or has aspirations corresponding with a wider range of subjects then they should apply at the local school. At the school level, there is a BEAM committee because these students cannot be otherwise known by fortuitous means,” he said.
Minister Dokora said while there have been cases of nomination of ineligible students for BEAM at the expense of deserving students, they were isolated and not entirely representative of the administration of the module.
In the early years of BEAM beginning 2001, there were cases of stigma, where students under the scheme were identified from their peers as “BEAM pupils”.
Minister Dokora said the ministry was bent on destigmatisation of children so that they can enjoy their constitutionally-provided right to education in a secure and non-discriminatory environment.
“Previously, you had students being referred to as the BEAM kids. They are not BEAM kids. They are just like any other kids,” Minister Dokora said.
In addition to BEAM, non-governmental initiatives such as Higher Life Foundation, Plan International and Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) are also helping disadvantaged children to have a fair chance at life.
Minister Dokora said there are also community-based initiatives to ensure that no child drops out of school because of lack of funding.
“In some schools parents say ‘We cannot get a single cent from this child and this child cannot be on the BEAM.’ So they make a judicious decision where parents are hired to work at something at the school,” the minister said.
“These initiatives are taking the sting out of education so that it is a wholesome experience for everyone, especially when you accompany all this with the policy that you do not exclude children from school for reasons beyond their capacity and once you let them in you equalise their opportunities.
“It is a fair and humane way of handling educational capacities in a time when the economy has its challenges. Even when the economy begins to sail out of its moorings you will still see a protective umbrella around children,” he said.
However, if BEAM is to effectively serve this function, students must at least be able to take all subject within their ability, considering that financial means does not equate to academic capability.
This principle is violated by limiting of options for children under the scheme. Such ability can only be fairly judged after, rather than before, children take examinations. Ruling students out of taking on certain subjects goes against the essence of examinations.
Some schools only admit the most competitive students for A-Level and this usually translates to students with the best grades in the highest number of subjects.
The majority of students under BEAM automatically crash out of the most favourable opportunities because they would have only taken five or six subjects.
The disadvantage is further aggravated by the insistence by some schools for students under the scheme not to take up particular subjects.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare chairperson reported that BEAM beneficiaries at Zengeza 3 High School were not allowed to select subjects of their choice when registering for Ordinary Level examinations in 2015.
“The students informed the committee that they were instructed to leave out Geography, Commerce and practical subjects. This has the potential of disadvantaging students who perform well in these subjects,” committee chair Cde Kwaramba said.
“In addition to that, beneficiaries at the same school are barred from fully participating in practical subjects such as Food and Nutrition where they are only allowed to do the theoretical part of the subject and not the practical aspect, which is food preparation,” he said.
The committee recommended that funding for BEAM be extended to complete school uniforms, stationery and basic needs such as food.
“Students at Muguta Secondary School informed the committee that they were sometimes punished or turned away from school for improper dressing,” Cde Kwaramba lamented.
More than five million children have benefited from BEAM since its inception in 2001. The scheme aims to prevent irreversible welfare losses for poor households by providing their children with a fair chance at education.
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