Addressing thousands who gathered at Barbourfields Stadium for the national independence celebrations in Bulawayo Monday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said there is no going back on free primary education.
“The Schools Financing Policy will see the equalisation of opportunities for a higher quality of education for all learners throughout the country,” said President Mnangagwa.
“A phased free primary education system will also be effected from 2023. Following almost two years of unprecedented COVID-19 disruptions, it is pleasing that the education sector has returned to normalcy. Plans are underway to ensure both the quantitative and qualitative improvement of our educational institutions.
He added: “Given that the level of development of a nation is dependent on the teaching and adoption of science, technology and innovation; resources will continue to be channelled towards expanding the availability of science-related infrastructure throughout all schools in the country. This will be complemented by the construction of government boarding schools in each district.”
However, teachers’ unions believe what is lacking on the part of the government is the political will to implement free primary education, which has been talked about for years.
“State-funded basic education is an obligation of the government of the day according to Section 75 of the Constitution,” Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president, Obert Masaraure told CITE.
The government is violating the constitution by failing to implement this provision. There is no need for phased free education, the state should fully assume its constitutional mandate.”
Masaraure said the likely biggest challenge to the implementation of the programme is the government’s austerity measures.
“Under the neo-liberalism agenda the austerity package forces the government to cut spending on public services including education,” he decried.
“This becomes a threat to fully funding basic education. The state has also dumped state planning and the productive sectors of our economy are now in private hands thus limiting revenue flow into the national purse. Corruption is also a threat to the availability of resources.”
He said the government needs an ideological shift, dump austerity measures and invest in social services for the success of free primary education.
“Resource leakages should be plugged to protect national wealth from vultures,” said Masaraure.
“State should be actively involved in planning the economy and participating in the productive sectors of the economy. It (free primary education) is a possibility and other developing countries in the global South are implementing it. Namibia is a good case study. Zimbabwe just needs leaders with the right policy attitude, leaders who understand the importance of investing in education and other social services.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe President (PTUZ) Dr. Takavafira Zhou, said the government’s sincerity over free primary education was questionable.
“There is no truth and seriousness to turn that into reality,” he said.
“We have heard that in 2018 and nothing materialised after that. We are now hearing it and it’s nothing other than political expediency considering that we have elections in 2023.”
He further said: “Leadership is not honest over it. There are no indicators that the current government that cannot pay teachers reasonable salaries can ensure that there is free education in Zimbabwe. There are no clear benchmarks for free education in Zimbabwe, more so with exorbitant hikes in school fees every term. High profile corruption has become routine rather than episodic, while the budget for education (12%) falls far short of African governments’ agreement at Dakar to allocate over 22% of the national budget to primary and secondary education.”
For Zhou, there is a need to employ professionals to plan for free primary education and for the powers-that-be to listen to professional advice.
“There is also a need to respect the Dakar framework by allocating more than 22% of the national budget to education,” he suggested.
“As such, there must be political will to invest in quality public education.”
He was however quick to say: “I don’t see it happening under a ZANU-PF. But should there be a change of government and separation of government and political party, let alone respect of professional advice as opposed to political expediency, its prospects may be high.”