CHEGUTU, Zimbabwe (August 29, 2012) — Owen from Bryn School in Chegutu District towers above most of his fellow Grade 5 classmates. At 16 years old, Owen should be in his second year of secondary education but due to circumstances beyond his control, he finds himself in Grade 5.
“My parents were not very strict about me going to school and I was never at one school for a very long time,” explains Owen.
Owen’s parents have moved from one farm to the next during the planting season, providing their labor to farmers as a way to earn a living. But this process has cost Owen his education. From the time he was eight years old in 2004, at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, Owen was in and out of school and had begun working on some of the farms in order to supplement the family income.
“For as long I can remember this has been our way of life,” Owen says with a sense of resignation. “We move around from one farm to the other looking for employment. My parents, brothers and I needed to do this to survive. It was no use being in school in the day and going hungry at night.”
Owen is back in school at the insistence of some teachers who believe he has potential to excel academically, but he remains one of the many children in Zimbabwe who are reminders of more than a decade of economic and political instability which severely impacted access to quality basic education in Zimbabwe.
Following the formation of the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe in 2009 and the collective efforts of UNICEF and numerous local and international partners coming together under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, Sports, Art and Culture, the education sector is on the road to recovery. Children like Owen, who have missed so many years of school, have another opportunity to guarantee their future through a sound education.
Over the years, UNICEF has played a central role in both the short-term recovery of the education sector and laying a strong foundation for its long-term development. Programs such as the Education Transition Fund (ETF), the Child Friendly Schools Initiative (CFSI) and the Basic Education Assistance Module have played a critical role in assisting Zimbabwe’s education system get back on its feet.
Through the first phase of the ETF launched in 2010, Zimbabwe has managed to achieve a pupil to textbook ratio of 1:1 in the four core primary school textbooks and six core secondary school textbooks, down from around 1:10 in previous years. In addition, it has responded to the needs of primary school learners who are visually impaired by procuring 3,200 braille books. The second phase of the Education Transition Fund will focus on equity and access to quality education for all children through initiatives that include policy and plan development, school improvement and curriculum development.
The CFSI has also supported the recovery of the sector. Through this program a total of 270 schools in severely disadvantaged districts and communities are receiving support in order to create physically and psychologically conducive learning environments. Interventions through this program include construction of classroom blocks, boreholes, Blair toilets and hand washing facilities at the 270 selected schools.
“The political and economic challenges faced by Zimbabwe weakened the basic systems and structures for the provision of education and other basic services. The impact was felt at a national scale,” said UNICEF Zimbabwe Representative Peter Salama.
“The rapid stabilization of the sector has been possible because all education partners have come together to support national scale programs. The ETF, in particular, provides a new model of development for a transitional context.”
The Minister of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture, Senator David Coltart also acknowledged the positive changes in the education sector.
“Many schools are moving beyond the grim days, as the Government of Zimbabwe works together with our communities, the International Donor Community, the United Nations, and UNICEF in particular towards providing equitable quality education in Zimbabwe,” he said.
With all these growing opportunities this could not have been a better time for Owen and many other children in Zimbabwe to return to school.