For this, the reasons will be many. The national salary scales for civil servants would be the most prevalent, while other reasons may put the blame on irresponsible parenthood and an increasing lack of family/social values. The key matter however is that the education system in Zimbabwe is still on the verge of total collapse. And the government is being dishonest about handling this serious national problem.
The responsible ministers in the inclusive government will probably avoid blame and point to the downturn of the national economy in the last 10 years as a primary cause for the chaotic nature of our education system. They will —as they have done in some instances — argue that indeed the situation is better than what was obtaining by 2007 with students being turned away from schools. This may be true enough but that was only symptomatic of the real cause of the problem which was and still remains the lack of a coherent and a welfarist government national education policy.
Policy documents that the ministries of Education, Higher and Tertiary Education or even the Ministry of Science and Technology have do not point to the fundamental importance of government ensuring education for all. Instead, the template that they have returned to is one that was arrived at under the auspices of various ministers of Finance as well as Education between the years 1990 and 2006. These templates essentially pointed to state disinvestment from education in favour of privatised education.
The current responsible ministries have decided that a return to the past is their panacea to our education problem. Their keenness on outsourcing the education of the country’s children to School Development Associations or semi-private college/university boards, which are in and of themselves a form of both commercialisation as well as privatisation of our education system, is astonishing.
Had it been that this was permitted where mainly the affluent of society sought to set up private school associations and committees, it would be well and good. The difference is that it has begun to affect all sectors of society to the extent that it is increasingly strangling access to education for Zimbabwe’s next generation, especially for those that come from marginalised or poorer components of our society. And the ministries responsible no longer question either the political legitimacy or public acceptance of the process of this hidden privatisation of the right to education that is implied in progressive international treaties that are domestically ratified by our parliament.
There are now so many incidents and stories of children dropping out of early secondary level education due to the intransigence of SDAs and Ministry of Education officials. Many job application curriculum vitaes end at either only a grade seven or form two formal educational qualification. Where they advance further it is at great expense to the parent/taxpayer with minimal, if any, state input. Where the government has reverted to the Basic Education Assistance Model (Beam), the resources placed there have been sparse even for the orphaned as had been originally intended.
In state-owned higher education institutions such as the polytechnic, teacher training colleges and universities, the focus on the pocket of the parent is now glaringly apparent. The administrations of these ostensibly government-owned institutions have decided to literary milk the academic ambitions of many young minds with impunity. It borders on emotional blackmail to charge an average of US$600 in academic fees for college students, many of whom come from the lower income bracket of our society.
Some may argue that indeed the SDA and the pocket of the parent must always be seen to be playing a greater role in the education of children. This would be fine were Zimbabwe a stable society. What is being missed by many in government, civil society and SDAs is that a country without a firm education system that is grounded in the principle of access for all, will remain patently unequal and exploited. It will also border on not having a clear plan for generations to come.
The point is not to have the state declaring every student its own. It is instead imperative that the state provide for education across all levels, especially in the midst of the breakdown of the education system. Those parents that can afford to pay the exorbitant fees of the SDAs or the truly private schools may retain their option of doing so. Those that cannot should not be left to chance because if they are, they will take the easier route which is to take their children out of school and send them to the mining fields of Chiadzwa or elsewhere.
The relevant ministries that deal with our education system, in tandem with parliament, need to declare that all education, at least up to the initial tertiary level, is free. They need to reassess the methodology of teaching and resource availability at all state-owned educational institutions and desist from over politicising a matter that will affect our country’s next generation. It’s not only about past mistakes; it is about the future of the country.