During colonial days missionaries came and built mission schools all over the country to accommodate boys and girls who would otherwise have been excluded from the education system by the racially-segregative colonial education system. As the saying goes, everyone who is anybody in Zimbabwe was educated by missionaries.
But even missionary education did not come entirely free; though heavily subsidised by donations from parent churches in Europe and America, parents still had to chip in with something. At Independence in 1980 the new black government, driven by its revolutionary zeal, introduced free primary education.
Lauded for this the world-over — Zimbabwe at one stage achieved 98% literacy — no one ever raised the question of sustainability.
The country has now reached a stage where it is now patently clear that free education cannot be sustained. After decades of bad governance and skewed policies driven by populism the country’s coffers are empty. In the past decade less and less money has been channelled towards the social services sector particularly education and health.
The Minister of Education, David Coltart, was last week quoted saying a school-fees hike next year was inevitable; this has sent thousands of parents panicking.
There is every reason to panic; most of these parents are already struggling to keep their children in school. Most affected would naturally be children living in marginalised areas such as farms and communal areas where people depend only on subsistence agriculture.
The urban poor will also be affected. Thousands of children will drop out of school to join the vicious cycle of unemployment, prostitution and forced migration.
It is now time to look holistically at the education sector and come up with interventions that will stop its regression back to the colonial days. Underlining this process should be the clear message that parents will be called upon to play a more and more critical role in the education of their children.
Quote of the week
“We have been tagged partisan, yet far from it, we are a people’s police force,” Police Commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri said last week, while addressing a conference of senior officers at Darwendale.