Free education pilot project starts in 16 rural districts
Nqobile Tshili-Bulawayo Bureau
THE Government has started rolling out a pilot project on State-funded education in 16 rural districts across the country as part of efforts to ensure that every learner access quality education.
Two rural districts in each of the country’s eight provinces have been identified to implement the free education programme that is yet to reach Bulawayo and Harare metropolitan provinces.
The programme is being implemented in primary schools only.
In Matabeleland South province, the programme is being implemented at schools in Mangwe and Beitbridge districts while in Matabeleland North, the programme is being rolled out at schools in Lupane and Binga districts.
Government has said the pilot programme will enable it to understand the gaps and opportunities that need to be attended before rolling it out at full scale.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube said the free education programme is in line with President Mnangagwa’s vision of not leaving anyone behind as in the development of the country.
“We have taken the first step towards free education which was announced by the President. We began by rolling out the programme in some selected districts so that we can test the approach and processes and model so that we don’t make mistakes going forward. Once we are clear and satisfied with the results, we will roll it out across the whole country. We are steadily moving forward to make sure no child is left behind and no place is left behind,” said Prof Ncube.
He said while the programme is now covering all rural learners in selected districts, Government has always made strides to ensure vulnerable learners have access to education.
Government pays schools fees to nearly two million pupils through the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM).
It also subsidises examination fees for every candidate and pays all the fees for Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) candidates on BEAM.
“Bits of it (free education) had already started years back some of it is about packaging for example the BEAM programme. So, we are just expanding that to cover more children and people with different levels of income. We are on our way to covering the whole country,” said Prof Ncube.
Senator Chief Siansali from Binga said there was now free education in his district.
He said the programme is facing teething problems that need to be fine-tuned for it to benefit all.
“Yes, Government has started implementing the free education policy in schools in Binga. But in my engagements with school authorities, they have highlighted that there is a need to fine-tune the programme. Funds are disbursed very late which affects the smooth running of the schools. So during the time when funding has not been disbursed schools fail to operate and parents end up paying whatever that they have so that schools are not brought to a halt,” said Chief Siansali.
“Money comes but comes very late and sometimes it would be very little because the rate that they would have used it would have been overtaken by inflation.”
He said Government should make advance payments to schools before a term starts for the programme to be well oiled up.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited Mangwe district, which is one of the selected areas for the launch of the pilot programme.
The news crew visited Izimnyama Primary School which is one of the institutions implementing the programme.
The crew also managed to talk to community members who said they knew about the programme while others professed ignorance of it.
Mr Ephraim Ngwenya from Zimnyama said he was aware of the programme and it will come handy especially for those struggling to pay fees for their children.
“I have heard about the programme but I no longer have children of school-going age. We know how our communities are like and we are happy that this programme has been extended to our community. It will benefit those who are financially handicapped,” said Mr Ngwenya.
Another villager Mr Abraham Ncube said he had not learnt of the programme but they are looking forward to its implementation.
“We have not been told about the programme. But I think it will be a good policy as we have seen children dropping out of school because their parents can’t afford to pay fees. A lot of people do not have money to pay fees at the moment,” said Mr Ncube.
His sentiments were similar to those that were shared by Ms Beatrice Maphosa who said she have not been informed about the policy despite having children learning at a nearby school.
However, another villager said the school was implementing the policy but parents and guardians were requested to pay development levy.
“We were informed of the free education policy. But the community said there is a need to pay a development levy and this is what we are paying at the moment,” said the parent who declined to be named.