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Children’s education improving in Zimbabwe

After a long period of deterioration, education standards in Zimbabwe appear to be improving.

In 2009, only 39% of pupils who sat the final year primary school exams passed, but over the last two years the pass rate has risen to 45%. This is still low compared to the rates of former years (in 2007, the pass rate was 70%), but Zimbabwe’s education minister is hopeful it will continue to rise.

Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the minister explained that a deterioration in Zimbabwe’s schools actually began well before the country’s economic crisis in 2008. Even before hyperinflation almost brought the school system to a standstill, there had been a reduction in spending in the sector from the 1990s.

Now, as the economy appears to have turned a corner and with greater stability in the political situation, prospects for the education sector are looking brighter. An Education Transition Fund has been set up. This mechanism allows international donors such as the UN’s child agency UNICEF and a number of foreign governments to have better control over the funds being spent in education.

UNICEF also helps administer the fund, which provided around 12 million dollars in 2012 to Zimbabwe’s education sector. This figure is likely to rise to 25 million dollars in 2013.

Money has been used to provide equipment and books, since in some schools as many as 15 pupils have been sharing one textbook and in rural schools it was often only the teacher who had the necessary textbooks. In the future, there are plans to distribute non-academic books to encourage children to read.

But there’s still a lot of work to do. According to the education minister, many of Zimbabwe’s 8,000 schools are in a poor state of repair and there are not enough classrooms. Overcrowding means that many schools have to split children into morning and afternoon classes. There is also a general shortage of equipment, even of basic things like desks and blackboards.

Around 30,000 more teachers are also needed. During the years of hyperinflation, teaching professionals deserted their jobs in droves as salaries dropped to the equivalent of a dollar or less each month. Though some have now returned, many remain in other countries where they moved to find better salaries and employment conditions.

With the situation remaining fragile, but stable, the minister is keen to see literacy rates rise and more pupils passing the final year (grade 7) of primary school. He expresses the hope that in time, Zimbabwe will get back to the levels of education achieved a decade ago.

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