Article IRIN, Jan 2013, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Zimbabwe’s education system, once regarded as the best on the African continent, was a casualty of the country’s economic meltdown in the 2000s, when it nearly collapsed. But lately there have been signs of recovery. But still, there are no up-to-date data available.

The education malaise was widely blamed on hyperinflation, which made teacher’s salary worthless and funding for school materials and maintenance impossible. But the downward spiral began long before the hyperinflation occurred. It started with the sector not getting as much as it got during the first 10 years of independence. 

Just before the economic reforms in 2009 and the establishment of a donor funding mechanism, the education system was chaotic with schools closed, teachers on strike and infrastructure in a state of disrepair. In some schools as many as 15 pupils shared a textbook, while in some rural schools only the teacher had a spoiled textbook. Before the crisis, pupils learned to read ad write in the first year of school, now they don’t gain those skills until the forth year. Donor funding has since helped to address the textbook shortage, the pupil to book ratio is one to one. 

At the height of the crisis in 2008, only about 20% of the children went to school, 94% of the rural schools remained closed. The pass rate for the final year of primary school dropped to 52%, the previous year it had been 70%. In 2009, only 39% of those who sat for the final-year exams passed. It has since improved, with 2010 seeing a pass rate of 42% and 2011 a rate of 45%. But experts expect the pass rate to remain low for several years and then gradually improve. 

Lack of infrastructure continues to undermine the education system. The overcrowding has led to a practice known as « hot seating », in which some children attend morning classes and others afternoon classes. 

The education budget for 2012-2013 was 750 Million USD. More than half of it went to primary and high school teachers‘ salaries, which average about 300 USD a month. During the hyperinflation years, many teachers just walked off the job, as their salaries fell to the equivalent of 1 USD or less a month. The ministry has declared amnesty for these teachers and many have returned. But many others moved to other countries in search of imployment and better salaries and it has proved difficult to lure them back. It is estimated that 20‘000 teachers left the country between 2007 and 2009. There are currently about 106‘000 teachers, about 30‘000 more are required. However, even if the teacher target is achieved, there will not be enough classrooms available for them to teach in.