NEWS that a million pupils risk dropping out of school this year if government does not source funding for the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) makes for depressing reading at a time the education sector — once the nation’s pride — is saddled with all manner of challenges.
Editor’s Memo with Faith Zaba
Donors have cut funding for the programme, which last year got US$73 million from government, Unicef and the Department for International Development.
Education is a fundamental human right and it is the government’s mandate to ensure every child gets primary and secondary school education. Viewed in this light, it is nothing short of tragic that government can allow such a huge number of children drop out of school.
Of course, government will harp on about sanctions despite largely failing to deal with socio-economic problems bedevilling the country. Problems in the education sector mirror government’s warped priorities and misallocation of scarce resources.
While Beam was allocated a paltry US$15 million, which can only support 83 000 secondary school pupils at a cost of US$60 each per term at government institutions, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa allocated US$206 million to the Office of the President and Cabinet.
This is more than the combined allocations to the ministries of Industry and Commerce, Agriculture, Mines and Energy — all key to the country’s economic recovery. The paltry Beam allocation means 167 000 targeted secondary school pupils and all 750 000 targeted primary school pupils will miss out unless the funding is urgently secured.
Going by the 2013 budget allocation during the unity government’s tenure, the Office of the President and Cabinet, which includes the offices of the Vice-Presidents, Ministers of State and spy Central Intelligence Organisation, can survive on a much smaller budget.
Finance minister then Tendai Biti allocated President Robert Mugabe’s office US$36,3 million, five times less than what Chinamasa allocated it when the budget has only modestly increased from US$3,6 billion to US$4,1 billion.
If Mugabe, a former teacher, is still as committed to the provision of education as he was at Independence in 1980, when he promised “education for all by 2000”, he should order Chinamasa to take about US$50 million required to provide education for the one million pupils from his office’s budget.
After Independence, Mugabe managed to create an education revolution, raising literacy rates in Zimbabwe to 98% by the late 1990s, earning the country’s education system an enviable reputation as the best in Africa. But these gains have been gravely eroded, leaving Mugabe little to show for 33 years of uninterrupted rule.
If government can source funds to buy luxury cars for ministers, top security sector bosses and civil servants, it cannot fail to raise money to pay school fees for orphans and children from the poorest families.
This is the same government that splashed out more than US$20 million in September last year on luxury cars including Mercedes-Benz sedans worth US$130 000 each, Toyota Land Cruiser VX200 costing an average US$138 000, Ford Rangers, Range Rovers and Toyota Hilux 4×4 double cabs for 26 cabinet ministers, 13 ministers of state and 24 deputies.
In October, it upgraded its fleet of vehicles for security bosses and top civil servants, most of whom played a crucial role in ensuring Zanu PF won the July 31 polls.
Government has also been buying equipment for the security sector, which includes anti-riot gear and equipment, trucks and armoured vehicles.
According to Unicef statistics for 2010, almost 50% of Zimbabwe’s children graduating from primary school are not proceeding to secondary school and 30% of primary school pupils drop out of school each year.
Chances are those figures are set to become more depressing owing to the impending dropouts.