Govt must boost education sector

HARARE - Schools' opening today almost coincides with a story we published in yesterday’s issue about children dropping out of learning institutions due to malnutrition and financial challenges, among other problems.

It made a sad reading.

It’s hard to imagine a child failing to attend class due to malnutrition — lack of a balanced diet.

In our story, we mentioned that at least seven percent of children stayed away from school in the month of May due to illnesses linked to malnutrition, which was revealed by Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac)’s 2017 Rural Livelihoods Assessment Report.

It seems the report highlighted a tip of an iceberg concerning the gravity of the malnutrition and tuition challenges faced by school children, as it was conducted in just one month and in rural schools only.

The situation could be dire, with even urban school children facing the same challenges.

To their credit, ZimVac implored government to boost the school feeding programme.

‘‘The proportion of children not attending school due to illness is a cause for concern. We recommend the prioritisation of resource-allocation towards the strengthening of school feeding and school health programmes,” the Committee said in the report.

According to the survey, the rural households living on poor diets constituted 16 percent while about 45 percent were consuming unacceptable diets.

The ZimVac report also went on to highlight that a significant number of pupils were failing to attend class due financial constraints.

It stated that 42 percent of children were dropping out due to failure to pay tuition.

“The proportion of children not in school due to financial constrains remains significant. There is need for the government to increase Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) funds so that vulnerable children can be supported,” it said.

“We therefore recommend some income generating projects for rural households to be initiated.”

“Generally, the proportion of children who were turned away from school during the first term of 2017 was high in all provinces,” ZimVac said, adding that “the high proportion of children who were turned away from school due to non-payment of school fees is worrisome”.

Interestingly and crucially, in the report, ZimVac said the whole situation “...calls for stricter monitoring of the implementation of government policy for universal primary education and its complimentary policy which states that no children should be denied access to schooling for failure to pay school fees”.

That is absolutely true.

Government and relevant authorities really need to look into the issues raised in the ZimVac report.

We totally agree with ZimVac’s recommendation that there must be “stricter monitoring of the implementation of government policy”, especially on the issue of school fees payment.

While primary education has been declared a right in Zimbabwe, it is not the case.

Every school term, year-in year-out, schools send away scores of children over non-payment of school fees.

On the other hand, government insists no child must be sent away, calls which have been ignored by schools authorities.

According to the ZimVac report, nationally, at least 63 percent of children experienced being turned away for non-payment of school fees.

While we don’t condone irresponsible parents and guardians, who do not prioritise their children’s education, government must create a hedge for the poor and vulnerable.

As recommended by ZimVac, it must invest more in the Basic Education Assistance Module.

Education has been commodified. It has become a product for the rich. It is increasingly getting inaccessible for the poor.

At this rate, the high literacy rate we so much boast about could become a thing of the past.

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