By Azania Post Reporter
AS Zimbabwe currently faced with a myriad of problems in every sector of economy, education being the most sensitive sector in the country is said to have been suffering the most.
Zimbabwe’s education system was once reputed to be the best in Africa because its schools and universities expanded at a spectacular rate after independence in 1980.
Teachers were highly respected, creating some of the best-educated graduates on the continent, including thousands of doctors, lawyers, engineers and corporate executives.
The situation has badly eroded in recent years, sliding into a crisis that threatens the country’s future. Universities are overcrowded and poorly equipped an aspect that school dropout rates have soared.
Many teachers have quit the profession or emigrated and joined other profession on account of being unable to survive on their low salaries. Math teaching textbooks are shared by an average of six students per book at primary and secondary education level.
This is a great challenge for the newly consecrated interim President Emmerson Mnagagwa ‘s regime that took power last month. The new government came in power under the threat of military coup that triggered the departure of long-ruling autocrat Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe is now preparing for a crucial election in the first half of this year. The ruling party is almost certain to win the election, with the army’s assistance, but it must then tackle the social and economic problems that proliferated in. Mugabe’s final years in power.
Education was perhaps the greatest achievement of the Mugabe government’s early years. Primary-school fees were abolished and thousands of new schools were built.
Primary-school enrolment expanded to 2.1 million from 1.2 million in the decade of the 1980s. Secondary-school enrolment grew at an even faster rate, to 673,000 from 73,000 in the same decade. Zimbabweans became famous in southern Africa for their high level of education.
At Zimbabwe's most prestigious university, the water supply is so erratic that students must sometimes queue up at communal taps. Rooms are overcrowded, housing up to four times as many students as their capacity.
“It’s like a squatter camp,” says Antony Mukuwamombe, a 23-year-old accounting student in his fourth year at the University of Zimbabwe.
But by the late 1990s, the Mugabe government had fallen into economic and political crisis. Authoritarian rule and economic mismanagement inflicted heavy damage on the country. In primary schools, funding per student fell by a third in the 1990s, and school fees became common again.
Hyperinflation erupted from 2006 to 2008, forcing many teachers to abandon their jobs to seek other ways of survival. Many schools closed. An estimated 20,000 teachers left the country, and dropout rates rose dramatically.
Universities have been badly hit too. The government has cut funding to the postsecondary sector and reduced its grants and loans system for students.
Tuition now is about $1,000 (U.S.) per year in most faculties – a huge amount in a country where the GDP per capita is only about $1,000 annually. Thousands of students have dropped out of university because they can’t afford the cost.
“Education has been privatized, and only the rich can afford it,” says Makomborero Haruzivishe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Students Union. “The government is dismantling the pillars of education that made Zimbabwe famous.”
While housing on campus is crowded, the conditions are even worse in the off-campus hovels where most students end up residing. Four-bedroom houses are shared by up to 38 students, sleeping in shifts.
Early signs from Zimbabwe’s new government have been unimpressive. The new cabinet, appointed last month, is dominated by many of the same politicians who ruled under Mr. Mugabe, along with the addition of several senior military men in key cabinet posts. It has shown little interest in reforming the education sector.