UNICEF salvages Zimbabwe’s Education sector

The United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF) is succeeding in helping in the revival of Zimbabwe’s education system that had been in free fall during the last decade.

On Wednesday UNICEF announced the completion of the first phase of the Education Transition Fund in which it had dispatched textbooks for more than 2,300 secondary schools. It revealed that combined with the primary school textbook distribution completed in 2011, the total number of textbooks procured was around 23 million and the initiative was set to make Zimbabwe the only country in Africa with an estimated ratio of pupils to textbooks of 1:1.

According to UNICEF, the Education Transition Fund (ETF) is a multi-donor pooled fund guided by a steering committee, chaired by the Ministry of Education Sports, Arts and Culture (MOESAC). The ETF was established in late 2009 as a response to the decline in the quality of education and the lack of availability of textbooks and other teaching materials. The ratio of pupils to textbooks was estimated at around 10:1 in 2009 with a full 20% of primary schools having no books at all.

“ETF funds are fully managed by UNICEF and, contrary to the Herald article published yesterday (Tuesday) reporting on a parliamentary portfolio committee debate, all procurement has been conducted according to UN rules and regulations rather than government tender procedures. These rules dictate that bids are adjudicated on the basis of both quality and value for money.

A Contracts Review Committee must approve all such procurement processes; such committees were comprised only of UN senior staff; these committees did not include any government minister or indeed any other government official and are subjected to the strictest conflict of interest, transparency, confidentiality and audit requirements.

The original target of ETF phase I was to improve the ratio of pupils to textbooks in primary school from 10: 1 to around 2:1. Due to the economies of scale, the successful procurement exercises using established UN procedures, as well as the willingness of the Zimbabwean publishing houses to act in the best interests of children, the ETF programmes was able to purchase textbooks at less than $1 USD per book.

These savings not only allowed a 1:1 ratio of primary school books to be achieved but also enabled the programme to be extended to secondary schools within the same budget envelope; in total, 16.5 million more textbooks were therefore procured benefitting 2 million more Zimbabwean children. The total estimated combined savings to international donors, and ultimately to Zimbabwean children, has been more than 50 million USD across both the primary and secondary school procurement exercises,” read the UNICEF statement.

UNICEF procured textbooks in Environmental Science, English, Shona, Ndebele, History and Geography. The three main Zimbabwean publishing houses, ZPH, Longmans and College Press were awarded contracts under this programme for either primary or secondary schools, on a quality and value for money basis. As they hold copyright under Zimbabwean law, each publishing house selected their preferred printers.

The UNICEF statement went further to say that in addition to core textbooks, ETF phase I has also supported procurement of Braille books for children with visual impairments, minority language books, steel cabinets and stationery as well as a capacity development programme for School Development Committees. Phase II of the programme, which will commence in 2012, will focus on quality of education, school governance and access to education, the statement added.

Post published in: Africa News

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