Zimbabwe education system in a state of emergency

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HARARE, 9 October 2008 - Following disturbing results from routine monitoring visits on the situation in Zimbabwe's schools in the last two weeks, UNICEF today, said it was seriously concerned by the deterioration of the education system, adding that all stakeholders needed to urgently address the current crisis to save the once vibrant sector from collapse.

Barely a week to national examinations for primary, ordinary and advanced level, the visits, revealed that an estimated 40% of the country's teachers were attending lessons, a third of pupils were reporting for classes and district education officers were ill equipped to run national exams.

Confirmed by a recent report from the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), the current education crisis has crippled schools across the country leaving most school operating way below capacity and the sector in an apparent state of emergency.

"Between a two-month teachers strike, limited learning materials, political violence and displacements, Zimbabwe's children have lost a whole year of schooling," said UNICEF Representative, Mr Roeland Monasch. "The depletion of teachers in schools, transport and food problems faced by the remaining teachers and lack of resources have left the sector tottering on the brink of collapse."

Zimbabwe's education system, once the best in Africa, now faces immense challenges. Public financing of the sector continues to dwindle in real terms, school fees is soaring beyond the reach of many, depletion of educators and low morale owing to salaries for the remaining teachers, have unraveled past successes in the sector.

The crisis has not spared tertiary education sector, which saw all major State Universities failing to open for the first semester of 2008/20009 academic year which was supposed to resume in August.

"Education remains the engine to drive Zimbabwe's long-term prospects. It is critical that the sector is not left to collapse, enduring solutions on salaries, food and working conditions should be reached soon, the monitoring visits should be beefed up, the situation in schools require urgent action," said Mr Monasch. "Zimbabwe's children are already suffering on multiple fronts, denying them an education to better their prospects is unacceptable."

According to UNICEF schools should offer children not only an education, but a safe haven from home pressures, amid Zimbabwe's current challenges. Currently the children are not receiving such support.

However, UNICEF welcomed salary top-ups for teachers and exam time tables announced yesterday, adding that they were prepared to assist and provide support the government to improve the current situation.

UNICEF already provides support to the Ministry of Education Sport and Culture. In the last two years UNICEF has invested an estimated US$12 million in the Education sector. Through the following activities:

- The construction and furnishing of classrooms in schools across the country

- Provision of text books to primary schools to meet 1:1 ratio

- Teacher training in Early Childhood Development and Life skills

- Provision of boreholes, toilets and hand washing facilities in rural schools

UNICEF also pays school fees for 150 000 orphaned and vulnerable children.

For further information, please contact:

UNICEF , Tsitsi Singizi , UNICEF Zimbabwe Communication Officer , Tel: +263-91 2 943 915