Quality education, a right for all citizens

03 Nov, 2015 - 00:11 0 Views
Quality education, a right for all citizens

The Herald

Christopher Farai Charamba Correspondent
Article 75 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe focuses on the right to education. “Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to a basic State-funded education, including adult basic education; and further education, which the State, through reasonable legislative and other measures, must make progressively available and accessible.” In March The Herald reported that 13 000 primary and secondary school children had dropped out in 2013 owing to early marriages and being unable to pay school fees.

The Education Management System report which was quoted showed that the level of dropouts had increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2013. Last week the Chronicle reported that more than 47 000 Form Four and Form Six pupils dropped out of school or failed to register for public examinations nationwide. This issue was attributed mainly to poverty.

The issue of school dropouts is one with great ramifications, not only now but also in the future. Education is the greatest equaliser and by denying anyone the opportunity to be educated, particularly the poor, is akin to condemning them to a life of poverty. It is also a violation of their constitutional right to a basic State-funded education as well as further education which the State must make progressively available and accessible.

In a country that prides itself on having one of the highest literacy rates in Africa it is important that more focus is on the education sector not just for individuals to gain the ability to read and write, but also to better their circumstances.

In a struggling economy and an unforgiving job market that is already saturated as it already is, being uneducated leaves one with little to no options. What then is likely to happen is that these people will become a burden to the State, dependent on State welfare. This will not only create a larger gap between the rich and the poor but also result in increased taxes for a majority of the people.

The question becomes what can the government do to ensure that there are few dropouts? The State has a responsibility to guarantee individual rights and focusing on education. By doing so it is not only empowering individuals but lightening a future burden on itself. UNICEF Zimbabwe says “the Government allocates about 12 percent of its national budget to primary and secondary education, with most of it going to salaries.”

UNICEF adds that although primary school enrolment figures remain over 90 percent, quality of education is a major challenge, evidenced by the fact that almost 60 percent of pupils do not pass the exams that would enable them to go on to secondary school.

This in turn affects more than one million young people of secondary school age who are out of school and have few prospects of finding a job. The reasons for there being school dropouts are therefore multiple. Poverty is certainly the main problem but to counteract one’s poverty they need to be empowered to do so.

To be empowered one needs to be educated and/or skilled.

The national analysis done by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education showed that Masvingo, Mashonaland East, Matabeleland North and Midlands were the most affected by the dropouts. Masvingo and Mashonaland East recorded 7 006 and 6 447 dropouts respectively.

Most of the dropouts are children in the rural areas where already there is a lack of economic activity. A perpetual cycle of poverty results as the reason they dropout is a lack of funding, because their parents are likely not working or they reside in a generation gap household where they are raised by their grandparents.

The Government has put in measures to address the issue of funding, first by stating that no child should be sent home for failing to pay school fees. School fees on its own is not however, the major impediment as there are other costs such as school levies and books and other material needs.

Then there is the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), a programme that is aimed at funding the education of vulnerable children in society. In March, however, it was reported that over 165 000 children failed to access BEAM due to bureaucracy and inadequate funding.

This was despite the fact that an audit of BEAM by the Office of the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri showed that $2 million of the money allocated to BEAM between 2009 and 2012 had been left unused due to mismanagement of the programme.

While more funding needs to be made available to ensure that no child is left behind, there also needs to be proper management, transparency and accountability while doing so. The consequences of not doing so are more children dropping out of school.

The other issue affecting dropouts is the quality of education or lack thereof being provided. It is one thing going to school, but one needs to learn relevant material as well as develop the necessary skills for their environment.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education report says that “the quality of education, especially in rural areas, has been compromised by long distances to school (and) severe shortages of qualified teachers.” This burden is again on the Government to provide more schools to communities as well as train better educators.

Once again should these issues not be addressed as soon as possible then the future impact of declining standards of education is a society that will become progressively more dependant. Should Government find that it currently does not have the capacity to improve the quality of education and build more schools then engaging in public private partnerships should be an alternative.

There has been talk of mega deals with the Chinese, the Russians and recently with India. In the structuring of those deals it should be considered how these companies can provide assistance to schools in Zimbabwe.

India, for example, is a growing global technology powerhouse and as Zimbabwe is changing its curriculum to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. There is a lot that the country can learn and gain assistance from Indian counterparts.

It is imperative that in the coming years all efforts are made to correct the issue of dropouts and the quality of education in Zimbabwe. No child must be left behind, as the implications of doing so are certainly dire, right down to the moral fabric of the Zimbabwean society. The late South African President Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world.”

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