UP TO 300,000 children are being forced to drop out of school every year, a government minister said Saturday, admitting the numbers were “too ghastly to contemplate”.
Zimbabwe was again confirmed to have the highest literacy rate in Africa but figures revealed by Youth and Empowerment minister Francis Nhema at the weekend suggest a new crisis has hit the country’s education sector.
Speaking Saturday at the opening of the 22nd Session of the Children’s Parliament and commemorations of the Day of the African Child in Harare Nhema told President Robert Mugabe, who also attended the event, that “socio-economic circumstances” had increased the drop-out rate in schools.
“The reality we face at the end of each academic year is that not all of our children and young people will pass their Ordinary Level examination,” said the minister, according to the Sunday Mail.
“(This is) not only from failing examinations but also many are dropping out of school due to socio-economic circumstances.
“The total of those failing examinations added to those dropping out due to these circumstances is in the range of between 250,000 to 300,000.
“This number, Your Excellency, over a five year period, translates to between a million to a million-and-a-half. It is too ghastly to contemplate.”
A respected continental magazine this month confirmed that Zimbabwe still leads the continent with a literacy rate of 90.7 percent followed by Equatorial Guinea at 87 percent and South Africa with 86 percent.
Even critics credit Mugabe for Zimbabwe’s high literacy rate after he declared education a basic human right following independence in 1980 and invested heavily in expanding education access to the previously marginalised black majority.
But the decade-long political and economic crisis which peaked in 2008 saw the country suffer huge reverses in education and other social sectors.
Teachers fled to neighbouring countries to seek better pay while those who remained engaged in endless strikes. Children from poor families, unable to pay fees, were also forced to drop out of school.
According to UNICEF, school attendances plummeted from about 80 percent to around 20 percent.
Schools infrastructure went into disrepair due to neglect while children were left without books and other key learning materials.
The decline was only stemmed with the adoption of the US dollar in 2009 and the involvement of donors who set up the Educational Transition Fund (ETF) to help address the lack of books and other learning resources.