8 February 2013
ONE of the areas where President Robert Mugabe registered significant success, acknowledged even by his trenchant critics during his otherwise disastrous rule which ruined the country and impoverished the people, is education.
When Mugabe came to power in 1980 he inherited solid education infrastructure and a strong base, one of the best in Africa, and expanded on it to provide access for millions of the formerly marginalised and underprivileged majority.
Education in public institutions was made free allowing millions of previously disadvantaged children to go to school, and in the process huge inequities from the colonial era were diminished.
Education was also declared a basic human right in the new non-racial system which followed majority rule. Alongside other critical social services, education was subsidised and this helped Zimbabwe to achieve phenomenal results in a bid to eliminate illiteracy, ignorance and poverty.
As a result Zimbabwe achieved the highest literacy rate in Africa ahead of countries like Tunisia, giving its people a good start in life and laying a strong foundation for national development.
Evidently education is essential for everyone. It helps people earn a living, respect and recognition. It is thus an indispensable part of life. It is thus difficult to imagine life without enlightenment, a key element of civilisation of human society.
However, that remaining element and symbol of Mugabe’s achievement before his tsunami-style devastation of the nation in the decade preceding 2009 is now dramatically unravelling, risking wiping out whatever remains of his positive legacy. Whatever he achieved at the height of his rule pales in comparison to the alarming destruction his corrupt and incompetent regime inflicted on the country.
If ever there was more evidence needed to prove the disintegration of the education sector it was provided by Ordinary Level results released this week. Results released on Monday showed 81,6% of the 172 698 students who sat for the examinations last year failed to pass at least five subjects with grade C or better. Only 31 767 of that number made it, translating to a pathetic 18,4% pass rate, the trend since 2009.
While there are many reasons to explain this appalling trend, Education minister David Coltart on Tuesday captured the gist of it when he said the poor results were a reflection of the “extreme crisis in education experienced between approximately 2005 and 2009”.
The reality is that schoolchildren who failed exams are victims of a situation beyond their control. Granted, their personal input counts but students at all levels of the education system are still battling to recover from the consequences of the economic meltdown and political instability before 2009.
At the height of the crisis, schools were forced to close down as there were no teachers, no books and therefore no lessons, leaving thousands of children stranded.
Only those with money managed to hire private teachers or tutors, while the majority languished without educators. Most teachers left the profession and even country due to the economic crisis. Even though schools re-opened in 2009 the devastating impact and ramifications of the virtual collapse of the sector are still being felt up to today, leaving Mugabe’s legacy further in tatters.