Zimbabwe, 14 September: UNICEF and partners bring textbooks to students across the country
By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 14 September 2010 – As Zimbabwe’s schools open for the final term of the year, UNICEF and its partners, along with the Government of Zimbabwe, are distributing textbooks to over 5,575 primary schools throughout the country.
A year ago, the Government of Zimbabwe initiated the Education Transition Fund, or ETF programme, designed to mobilize resources and ensure equitable access to quality education. The fund was set up to respond to acute shortages of teaching and learning materials, including textbooks and basic supplies.
In the past, there has been an average of one textbook for every ten students in Zimbabwe. The country’s education system was once one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has been weakened by the economic decline of the past decade.
During the past five years, the chances of a child making a successful transition from primary school to secondary school dropped significantly. According to a 2008 study by the National Education Advisory Board, almost half of primary school-aged children do not go on to attend secondary school.
“We have prioritized education in our budgets,” said Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as he presided over the launch of the programme. “With the support from our donors, we are beginning to see tangible results in restoring the basic social services in Zimbabwe.”
“Within a few weeks, every child in primary school will have a set of core textbooks,” added UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama. “We believe that this will make Zimbabwe the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with a 1:1 ratio of textbooks to pupils in all core subjects.”
The programme represents a major push to help Zimbabwe meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals target related to education. The MDGs, a set of internationally recognized targets for reducing poverty worldwide, calls for ensuring universal primary education by the year 2015.
Truckloads of books
Under the ETF programme, over 13 million textbooks are being printed in four core subjects: mathematics, English, environmental science and a local language.
Distributing the books over the next three months is a massive logistical exercise requiring over 500 truckloads of materials, some travelling to the remotest parts of Zimbabwe. UNICEF has set up 22 distribution hubs across the country to receive the materials, which are then delivered locally to each and every school.
The next steps for the ETF are manifold. The fund will be focusing on expanding support to secondary schools, providing teacher’s guides and textbooks for marginalized indigenous languages including Venda, Shangani, Tonga and Nambiya, as well as the development of textbooks in Braille. It will also focus on revising classroom curriculum and implementing the Ministry of Education’s new Strategic Plan.
“Of course providing supplies and paying fees will help, but will not be sufficient to re-build the entire education sector,” said the Norwegian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, H. E. Gunnar Foreland. “The educational infrastructure – both physical and human – has deteriorated dramatically and will require sustained attention. Combined further investment through the next phase of ETF and through increased government allocations will be required.”
The ETF is made possible by the generous assistance of the European Commission, the Governments of Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.