Zimbabwe Education and The Next Generation
The following was originally published in Education News, penned by Zimbabwe Minister of Education David Coltart:
Despite massive challenges including political interference and lack of human resource capacity, Zimbabwe has seen change in one of its most fundamentally-critical sectors, change that has come about as a direct result of international support. More must be done, but for the sake of our audiences acknowledging where assistance can go from root to fruit, it is imperative we keep them appraised as to the precedents set by the Education Transition Fund.
Zimbabwe’s Education Transition Fund (ETF) has dramatically altered for the better the futures of children throughout the nation, children once disillusioned from having no teachers at school, from sharing a textbook amongst thirty of their fellow students, from a lack of administrative oversight and from crumpling infrastructure. The Fund, now in its second phase, has been an innovative boost, founded as a multi-donor mechanism in 2009 by the Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture in partnership with UNICEF and the international donor community. Its aim was and continues to be to bridge the sponsorship gap in the education sector during a transition period to notable recovery from what was an absolute state of emergency.
During hyperinflation, the declining economic situation of families in Zimbabwe had a direct affect on the ability of parents to send their children to school. This, in addition to a massive exodus of teachers and a resultant decline in teaching standards, resulted in an increase in the number of children dropping out. The drop-out rates were at one point cataclysmic. Where they went and what was learned tragically fell by the wayside. This plight resonated globally and action was taken to reverse the trajectory of the sector to foster potential talent and provide it with the tools to flourish here at home, re-starting a cyclical process inherent to sustainable growth. Direct partnerships in support of the ETF have accomplished this and through an increase in donor and partner support today, we have the ability to see before us tomorrow evenhanded access to quality education through the implementation of the fund’s second stage.
This begs the question, “what has the ETF, like so many ‘aid to Africa’ initiatives, truly accomplished?” Notably, that would be the largest book program in Zimbabwean history, wherein 3 million students received textbooks, allowing the student to textbook ratio to hit the 1:1 mark. Indeed with full knowledge that a sizeable proportion of levies paid by parents was put towards the learning materials themselves, the ETF in practice pivoted funding towards incentives to teachers to enable them to survive and remain in the classroom. It is critically important that in this, the second stage, government takes the reigns of full responsibility for payment of teachers’ salaries.
Indeed our second phase looks to spotlight access and quality education for all Zimbabwean children. Stronger support from the west to the fund, like that which we have seen from our friends in the United Kingdom as of late, passes through no alternative filters, despite popular belief, and can have a direct impact.
It is in this light disheartening then that editorials like these tend to name and shame the efforts of those skeptical of the progress being made or simply uninterested in supporting a once-bountiful trading partner. One cannot help but be appalled by the lack of support and general wariness emanating from the United States and Canada, especially when their governments are acutely aware of how efforts to grow domestically can be stifled from stalemates within a united government and only through external support can a nation pull itself up from its proverbial bootstraps.
Swedish Ambassador Anders Liden recently spoke about the collective effort behind the Education Transition Fund. He noted that the initiative is ‘a clear demonstration of different groups working together to contribute to the attainment of quality education that Zimbabwe’s children much deserve’. And he’s right. The future of the Zimbabwean nation and indeed the whole of Southern Africa is at stake. We applaud the work done and with cautious optimism but unbridled anticipation, look forward to our political and non-political partners taking that next step forward and tangibly working to ensure that Zimbabwe sees a new dawn rooted in a new vibrant generation of well educated young Zimbabweans.