When Robert Mugabe became the president of the independent nation of Zimbabwe in 1980, he pledged to make education his top priority and the new majority-led government introduced an education for all policy. By 2004, the literacy rate in Zimbabwe had jumped (from 77 percent in 1982) to 90 percent, a figure that placed the nation among the most literate on the continent.
Educational institutions in neighbouring countries sought graduates from Zimbabwe. Teaching was a respected profession. Teachers could afford to buy necessities and even luxuries; they were eligible for credit, and some teachers owned personal cars. They always retired with a good pension.
Today, it’s a very different story. Teachers fail to pay school fees for their own children or even to take themselves and their families to school and work.
The economic and political crisis has destroyed the nation’s education system and its infrastructure. Several universities and schools have closed down; teachers and students roam the streets for non-existent jobs, national exams for entry into colleges and universities have been scrapped because of political violence and teacher absence or strikes are common. As a result, schools have begun to deviate from policy and operate independently which will present a significant challenge to reconstructing the sector.
Idasa’s States in Transition Observatory (SITO) conducted an educational assessment in Harare and Bulawayo as well as Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Midlands and Matabeleland provinces. A total of 237 participants were interviewed, among them school authorities, teachers, students and university authorities. Fieldwork was also conducted with stakeholders such as the Zimbabwe Teacher’s Association (ZIMTA).
The assessment shows that the education system has been seriously compromised by the ongoing political and economic crisis. Educational institutions lack access to even the most basic resources such as pens and paper due to financial constraints. The infrastructure in most institutions is dilapidated; there is no water or adequate sanitation facilities. In remote areas, some lessons are conducted under trees. In addition, there is a human resource crisis as most institutions have frozen vacant posts.
Zimbabwe needs a holistic response and strategy to address the challenges facing the Education Ministries. The revival of the education sector therefore has to be part of a global recovery plan for Zimbabwe that seeks to address the broader systemic issues related to government financing and basic service delivery.
Download the full report to read more about the impact of the political crisis on the education system – see more here.