School Improvement Grant enhancing access to education for Zimbabwe children
“Most of my friends transferred because at this school we did not have desks and often we would sit on the hard concrete floor."
Sitting on her single seater desk and chair, amid the euphoric noise from her friends just returned from a long school break due to the COVID19 pandemic, 16-year-old Sostina Chikono can’t hide her joy.
She holds her Mathematics book and says: “I am glad we are back at school, and I have access to my books again.”
A lot has changed at her school, Chevanhu Secondary School in Masvingo district located just 250 km from the Beitbridge border.
In the recent past she used to sit on the floor or share the desk with four others, bumping elbows, forcing her to write illegibly without the latitude of social distancing, a critical COVID-19 preventive measure for safe learning.
“Most of my friends transferred because at this school we did not have desks and often we would sit on the hard concrete floor. We had only two 2-seater benches with one desk and the eight of us would be squashed.
“It was uncomfortable,” Sostina, a Form 3 learner said, adjusting her mask to cover her nose. “Also, we had no books. Only the teacher had a textbook, and it was hard to understand most of what she was saying because we had nothing to refer to even after school.”
Sostina’s family survives on money sent to her maternal grandmother by her parents who take casual jobs in nearby Masvingo town. The grandmother sells vegetables, but the province is in the lowveld where rainfall is low and erratic.
“Good rain seasons are rare. We do not make enough to be able to pay for my school fees from subsistence farming, but I am happy that my grandmother does not need to buy me books from the little money we have because our school has them,” she said.
The school, with an enrolment of 70 learners, reopened two weeks ago. Zimbabwean schools reopened for examination classes on 30 August and for all the other classes on 6 September following a decline in new Covid-19 infections in the country.
The new school term was supposed to begin on June 28 but this was put on hold for two months following a surge in new infections and deaths in what became the deadliest wave of the pandemic since it started last year.
School Improvement Grant (SIG) impacting schools positively
For Precious Maregere, Teacher in Charge at Chevanhu Primary School, the provision of SIG funding was the biggest stimulus for the creation of a safe learning environment for learners.
SIG provides funding to financially constrained P3 registered and satellite (primary and secondary) schools and schools for children with special needs. The funds are used to cover non-personnel and non-capital resource demands to enable schools to cover their most basic needs.
The grant was made possible thanks to the Education Development Fund, a multi-donor pooled funding mechanism supported through aid from the UK Government and the German Development Bank (KfW). The EDF enables donors to jointly support the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in its activities, with UNICEF managing the funds and providing technical support.
Precious is grateful.
“We managed to buy 10 one-seater desks, mops, brooms, sanitiser and water buckets,” she said.
“When SIG used to allow us to use funds for construction, we managed to build a classroom block, and the additional space created provided a more conducive environment for our learners.”
Precious said buying furniture had changed the fortunes of the school in a positive way.
“We had high a turnover of students as a result of transfers because of our bad reputation we had earned as a result of students learning while sitting on the floor. We were losing potentially good students. Also, the desks have allowed us to maintain social distancing,” Precious said.
In addition, the school also bought textbooks, a critical acquisition that positively impacted the school in response to the demands of the revised curriculum.
She said: “Our pass rate for years was always zero percent but since we bought these books, we hover around 17 to 20 percent which is a significant improvement. Thanks to UNICEF, we are changing our school one step at a time by building the confidence of our learners to keep on fighting to pass. We are giving them the books just for that.”
Chevanhu’s major source of income is SIG followed by BEAM and lastly levies. Levies have been difficult to collect due to prolonged closure as a result of COVID19 The school head indicated that parents were reluctant to pay levies arguing that schools could close any time before the school calendar term ended, as was the case in previous terms
Back to school preparedness
Ronald Manatsa, a 14-year-old Form 2 learner is clear about what he wants to be when he grows up. “I want to be a doctor,” he says with a lot of conviction. “This is why teachers gave me the responsibility to teach others how to sanitise, wash hands and maintain social distancing. We share the same messages that are on the posters you gave to our parents.”
Despite the school having to fetch water from a borehole 3 km away, buckets full of water with soap are dotted all over the premises.
Precious said: “A healthy learner is a productive citizen. Safe school environments are critical and, without the help we get from UNICEF, it would not have been possible.”