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News note

Zimbabwe education crisis worsens

Nearly all of rural schools closed

HARARE, 10 February 2009 – As the world focuses on the inauguration of Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister and the commencement of a government of national unity, UNICEF today released data revealing that 94 per cent of schools in rural Zimbabwe remain closed and called for a prioritisation of the education sector by the new government.

“The education situation is a national disaster. It is imperative that the unity government focuses on this. Children in rural areas already live on the margins, many are orphaned, a huge number depend on food aid, they struggle on numerous fronts.” said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe. “Now these children are being denied the only basic right that can better their prospects. It is unacceptable.”

The figures emerging from routine assessment visits across Zimbabwe revealed that 66 of 70 schools were abandoned. In the only fully operational school found during visits, a third of pupils were reporting for classes.  Many of the abandoned schools have been vandalized.

The education crisis which started last year saw a marked depletion of teachers in schools, plummeting school attendance rate from over 80 per cent to 20 per cent and postponement of national schools’ exams. This year schools were opened two weeks late, exam results have not been released and learning only resumed in some urban areas for the few who could afford to subsidize teachers’ salaries and pay exorbitant tuition fees in US dollars.

“It is the responsibility of government to ensure that every child receives an education. The burden of salaries, learning material and school maintenance should not fall on parents,” said Mr. Monasch.

“This is just not sustainable, most parents cannot carry this burden and many children will fall between the cracks, and rural schools bear testimony to this”.

Now on the brink of collapse, Zimbabwe's education system was once the best in Africa.

However, past successes have been reversed by a raft of problems hinging on the lack of financing, which has led to a marked declined in the pay envelope of teachers and school improvement grants.

While UNICEF already provides support to the Ministry of Education Sport and Culture - an investment of US$17 million over the last two years - for classroom construction, school fees assistance to over 100 000 children, textbooks, learning materials, boreholes, toilets in rural schools, the children’s agency recognises teachers remain vital for learning and support to bring back the teachers in the classroom is requisite.

“Strong, swift and decisive national leadership is critical at this juncture but so is international support to the sector” said Mr Monasch. This is an opportunity for all stakeholders to show their commitment to Zimbabwe and its children.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For information and interviews, please contact:
Tsitsi Singizi UNICEF Zimbabwe Tel: +263 91 2 943 915 tsingizi@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF, Tel: 212 326 7452 pmccormick@unicef.org




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