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Who created unemployment?

By Fay Chung

THERE is no doubt that the biggest challenge Zimbabwe faces today is unemployment or lack of work.  Millions of young people are looking for work every day.  More than four million young people have left the country in order to find jobs in neighbouring countries or in Britain or the United States.

What causes unemployment?  One of the amazing accusations, which Zimbabwe has faced from casual international economists linked to the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), is that it is because Zimbabwe spent too much on social welfare, such as education, health and clean water supply.

These economists have not bothered to examine the details of Zimbabwe’s economic expenditure over the years, but have noticed that social welfare has been relatively successful, whereas the economy has struggled.

Only in the first two decades did the economy grow, and then only by 1-3%.  For the past 20 years since Zimbabwe accepted Esap as its main ideology, the economy has been stagnant.  This has been the case for most African countries, which have done the same as Zimbabwe.

Looking at how the government spent its money in the 1980s and 1990s, when large amounts were spent on education, then Minister of Economic Planning and Finance Bernard Chidzero, a very strict financial controller, ensured that the amount spent on education was about 20% of the state budget, which varied from 4-6% of the GDP at that time, close to international standards.

The enormous increase in primary education enrolment, from 35% to 100% of the age group during the period was due, not only to State investment into primary education, but by two other factors.

The first one is that the thousands of schools built during this period were built mainly by the parents and communities, with the Ministry of Education providing a third of the cost in terms of doors, windows and roofing, which communities could not afford.

The second factor, which enabled Zimbabwe to afford this expansion, was the teacher-pupil ratio of one to 40 primary pupils, commonly used for African Education.

In comparison, Europeans had one teacher for nine pupils.  Moreover African primary teachers were paid a quarter of what their European counterparts were paid.  One reason was that a third of African primary teachers only had Grade 7; a third had Junior Certificate; and a third were unqualified.

African primary teachers were paid less than US$100 per month, compared to the European salary of US$350 per month.  These factors made primary and even secondary education affordable for two decades.

However, it is nevertheless true that there are 140 000 teachers out of a civil service of 550 000, about a quarter of the total.  It may be true that there are too many civil servants, but not only teachers.

The salary bill of Education has reached over 90% of their total budget.  The number of civil servants has increased from less than 100 000 at Independence.  It is important to examine who these increased civil servants are, as the number of teachers has remained more or less stable.

Many were employed after Tony Blair threatened to attack Zimbabwe militarily in 2001, to fight the Zimbabwean Army, which was helping to take over White farms.   Therefore it is illogical to blame Education staff as the reason for this increase.

During the first 20 years of Independence, the government also paid construction grants to build private schools, and more than 80% of the new schools were and are private schools owned by communities and missionaries.

This amounted to ZW$6 million for secondary schools in 1987-88 for example, with each school constructing four classrooms a year.

Primary schools were funded by donors. More than 90% of communities were successful, because they were so dedicated to obtaining education for their children.

Government also paid an administration grant, which covered the cost of textbooks. ZW$38 million in 1987-88, which schools could order from the 40 local publishers whose prices were controlled so that they were affordable though profitable.

In addition the ministry established the Zimbabwe Integrated Teacher Education Course (Zintec), which enabled 4-8 months of initial college training followed by distance education, school and district training, ending in a four-month final residential course over four years.

Zintec trained 9 000 primary teachers.  Zintec courses were published, and every school could run these courses in-school to upgrade all their teachers.

The unit cost of African education was one twentieth the cost of European education before Independence.  After Independence, the unit cost of education was ZW$384,40, then equivalent to US$64,55 (1987-88 figures excluding school fees).  This is an exceptionally low unit cost worldwide.

Another reason why education has been criticised for creating unemployment is the curriculum.  Major changes were made to the curriculum in the early 1980s.

This was essential because African education had deliberately been maintained at a low quality level, whilst European education was targeted at equalling British educational standards.

The quality of education as a whole was raised.  However, not enough emphasis was placed on job training at secondary school level with students aged 12-18 years.  At “O” it was compulsory for all students to undertake two technical subjects, and most students selected Agriculture and Commerce.

However, the level of these subjects was targeted at the village economy.  Although this was much higher than the pre-Independence curriculum for Africans, it was not of an industrial level.

For example in the old construction curriculum students were taught brick laying, whereas in the new curriculum they developed and utilised skills to design and construct a stove, a block of classrooms and a simple house.

At tertiary level, ambitious plans were made to train more technicians and artisans.  These plans did not succeed as the number decreased over the next few decades.  One reason was the failure to find enough trainers.  Another serious failure was the hesitation by existing farmers and industrialists to employ apprentices who could easily replace them.

The number of apprentices shrank.  An example of this weakness is that the number of agricultural colleges and polytechnics has not increased:  there are 11 agricultural colleges catering for more than two million farmers; and 13 polytechnics covering 39 000 private companies.

In contrast, Zimbabwe had one university at Independence:  it now has 20, 13 of which are State universities.  This contrast indicates the importance of purely academic training in Zimbabwe as compared to practical technological training.

Finally we reach the important question of how employment is created.  What is the role of the political system, the economic system and the educational-cum-training system in employment creation?  All three have a critical role in employment creation.

This is because employment creation entails crucial political decisions and actions; crucial economic decisions and actions; and crucial educational-cum-training decisions and actions.  All three are critically and fundamentally important.  Not one of them can be held responsible on its own:  They need to be integrated and cooperative.

What is the role of the political system?  It needs to envision the future nature and establish the structures of the society.  It is not possible to rely on the Rhodesian system, excellent as it was in its own way, because it catered for less than 4% of the population, at a time when technology and professionalism were of the 1950s and 1960s levels.

Catering for 250 000 Europeans is rather different from catering for 14 million citizens.  The fact that commercial agriculture and industry were owned by Whites only before Independence, were part of the challenge.  One example is the establishment and maintenance of infrastructure, such as electricity, water, roads, railways, etc.  All have been neglected.

What is the role of the economic system?  At Independence the economy was controlled by Europeans.  Key changes needed to be made to the ownership system:  the initial land resettlement programme of the 1980s transferred ownership to over 68 000 African farmers.

This was followed by the fast track land resettlement programme, which ended in offer letters which do not provide ownership.  New industrial companies have not been supported by banks and by the government.  We have the same number of manufacturing industries as before Independence, and their technologies and professionalism may also be static.

Finally education-cum-training requires momentous transformation, linked to the political vision, structures, and economic  implementation.

Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and universities; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle; civil servant and UN civil servant and minister of Primary & Secondary education. This weekly column, New Horizon, is published in the Zimbabwe Independent and co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators in Zimbabwe. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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