UNICEF and partners join hands to give out of school children a second chance in Zimbabwe
By Richard Nyamanhindi
Gertrude Dumbu, aged 15, grasps a piece of chalk firmly in her hand and carefully traces out the letters of a word on the makeshift blackboard in front of the class. She is the first female in her family ever to be able to do this – the first to go back and stay in school, the first to learn how to read and write.
A goat strays near the thatched structure where Gertrude and her classmates sit, and nibble idly at a stool. Situated near the main road with the distractions of the village going past might not be the ideal environment for schooling, but it is better than not going to school at all.
Originally, like her elder sisters and brothers, Gertrude had been forced to leave primary school when she was in Grade 2 in order to help her grandmother following the death of her parents. In the farming and gold mining area of Kadoma in Mashonaland West Province, this is not uncommon.
Gertrude’s second chance at learning comes from the 'Second Chance Bridging School’ – a program supported technically by UNICEF under the Education Transition Fund. The program targets children aged 9-18 years who have dropped out of primary school. It works with FIT for Life, the German Agency Development (GIZ), the Zimbabwe Farmer’s Union and the community to find a local facilitator to teach, and agree on a time for classes that allows children to help out at home, as well as go to school.
The majority of the Out of School teachers – the majority of whom are former teachers or recent ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level graduates for the program are trained through a fast track two-week program that is coordinated by GIZ.
Outside; under a tree; in an unoccupied local church building – classes take place wherever they can. Children get taught intensively in vernacular for nine months, and can then re-join primary school or the vocational training centers around the country.
The program, which started in 2012 as a pilot, has helped a number of children to go back to primary school and start their own income generating projects through the Young Farmer’s Clubs, which are mainstreamed by the Zimbabwe Farmer’s Union.
A Community Management Committee, normally consisting of parents, a local government representative and the community leadership, oversees each class. They decide on the appropriate times the children attend school and visit a family if their child stops coming to class.
An out of school committee member at CC Moline resettlement out of school centre, Mr. Douglas Chikulo explained how the Second Chance program has not only given children hope but also to the parents and guardians who could not afford to send them back to school.
“Second chance education has increased the confidence of our children, the majority of whom were turning to illegal gold panning or moving to South Africa for greener pastures.”
"Even the blind and the dumb know that education is important. This place from Kadoma to Gokwe are all farms. No new schools were built here since the land resettlement of the late 1980s and the population has been steadily increasing. The nearest secondary school is 25 kilometres away, a situation that has meant most of our children cannot transition to secondary school.”
“With the establishment of the out of school project we see great hope for our community and children – at least they will be better placed to compete with other children from the other communities and improve the lives of their parents and relatives,” said Mr. Chikulo.
For many, the nature of life in Sanyati is changing. For Mr. Chikulo and most of his committee have not gone to school, but they realise what impact that has made in their lives, and what these changes might mean to their children and the community. He continued, "Our age group, who went school, they still look young compared to us because of the nature of our work."
Hopefully for children like Gertrude, it will not be the same.