Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA) – Zimbabwe has its fair share of political and economic woes, but the standard of education at schools in the country has been remarkably consistent despite the upheavals. The country has also reported progressively increasing literacy rates – in 1982, only 77.8 percent of the adult population was considered literate, but it stands at 87 percent, according to a 2017 literacy report, the writer says.
By Chad Williams
According to the United Nations, Zimbabwe is one of the most literate countries on the African Continent. In fact, the Institute for Statistics estimated that 83.6 percent of Zimbabweans aged 15 and older were literate in 2011. This estimation was based on Zimbabwe’s 2011 Demographic and Health Survey results .
The country has also reported progressively increasing literacy rates. In 1982, only 77.8 percent of the adult population in the southern Africa country was considered literate. With an 87 percent literacy rate today, Zimbabwe has achieved an average annual literacy growth of 3.79 percent, according to a 2017 literacy report.
But teachers are paid dismally, compared to what neighbouring entry level teachers in South Africa earn. In 2013, the government spent just R18 a child each month, while school buildings are deteriorating, the country’s schooling system continues to produce scientists, mathematicians and linguists accepted into universities in South Africa and all over the world.
According to the South African Journal of Education, Zimbabwean teachers constitute the largest group of migrant teachers in South Africa (Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET), 2013).
The main reason South Africa welcomes migrant teachers is to ease the country’s own teacher shortage, says the journal.
SA and Zimbabwe sign bilateral agreements on education
Last week, South Africa’s Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and Zimbabwe’s minister of primary and secondary education Dr Evelyn Ndlovu signed bilateral agreements between South Africa and Zimbabwe on areas related to basic education/primary and secondary education.
Motshekga, who hosted Ndlovu for two days, said the purpose of the visit was to sign bilateral agreements, the implementation of which will include the sharing of best practice and experiences through technical exchanges between the two countries.
State of basic education in Zimbabwe
According to the education sector financing and the political economy context, there has been underfunding of education since the late 1980s, with a system that is now very dependent on parental and community support.
Parents contribute about 96 percent of the non-salary costs to education at the school level with resultant issues in terms of equity, says Holistic Think Tank, which is a non-profit organisation to promote a new way of thinking about education and provide schools with concrete systematic solutions.
Education in South Africa
In July 2021, Unicef published a report on education in South Africa, which estimated that learners were anywhere from 75 percent to a full school year behind and about 500,000 learners had dropped out of school at that point.
In 2017, Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote an opinion piece in an online publication on what Zimbabwe can teach South Africa when it comes to education, this is an excerpt of that piece.
“To this day, top universities send their marketing personnel to Zimbabwe to recruit talented students. Zimbabwean teachers in South Africa make a significant contribution to science and mathematics achievement in township and rural schools. Their students not only graduate from our universities; they often excel with distinction.
“For one, the new government needs to rebuild the culture of our schools. This is much more difficult than simply providing more infrastructure or additional teacher training. Our problem lies much, much deeper, and that is in the disposition of school teachers and principals to their duties as educators.”
Jansen added that to improve education, it will require an effective campaign that inspires and motivates all teachers to take up their tasks with passion and commitment. But it will also require putting an end to the reign of the majority teachers’ union over poor schools – the constant disruptions and the interference with educator appointments, he said.
“This new strategy should implement penalties for chronic absenteeism (five teachers every day in many of our schools), but it also requires making the conditions for teaching much more attractive,” Jansen said.
Zimbabwean teachers seek greener pastures in Rwanda
Meanwhile, it’s back to school for nearly 500 Zimbabwean teachers as they begin virtual exams before they are selected to work as teachers in Rwanda.
The assessment exercise started on Wednesday in Harare, Bulawayo, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central and Midlands before a considerable number of Zimbabwean teachers were selected to work in the central African nation.
Earlier this year, the Zimbabwean government and unions were locked in a dispute over salaries. Zimbabwean teachers earn shockingly low salaries and this must change if the country seeks to lure and keep academics in the country. South African authorities and Zimbabwean authorities need to pay educators better.
Chad Williams is a multimedia journalist for IOL