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Zim reverses education gains

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By Agencies

HUNDREDS of schools have sprung up in Zimbabwe's former white farmlands but many of the black children they are meant to educate are not turning up at classes.

At Laforte school in Chegutu, 140km west of Harare, three quarters of the 116 children have not paid the fees imposed by the government to cover education costs.

Their parents - peasant farmers who have taken over former white-owned commercial farms - cannot pay the fee of Z$5 000 (about R6) per term.

"We don't have any textbooks, not even one," said a teacher who refused to give her name for fear of losing her job. "I have to go back to town, borrow books from friends so that I can plan for my lessons".

"It's very demoralising having to teach under such condition. Pupils cannot even afford to bring a piece of scrap paper on which to write," said another teacher.

The school opened a year and a half ago and has been dubbed a satellite school by authorities because it does not yet qualify to be registered as a normal learning institute.

Temporarily set up in a block of formerly farm workers' houses, only one of the classes at Laforte school has benches and desks. The local farmers contributed funds to buy the furniture.

The rest of the pupils sit on a cold cement concrete floor, some after having walked for up to five kilometres from home to get to class.

Some who show up for class but have not paid the fees are turned away.

"We have had to send them away to get the school fees because as we speak we do not even have a single chalk to write with on the board," said one teacher.

"Sometimes we are forced to improvise and use charcoal to write on the board, but it is difficult to erase," he said.

Most of the children do not have shoes nor jerseys.

The school serves children from four former large commercial farms that have now been sub-divided for scores of blacks farmers.

It is one of the estimated 700 schools that have sprung up in Zimbabwe's newly resettled farming areas since the country launched its controversial land reforms in 2000 that saw thousands of white-owned farms seized and given to blacks.

These children used to attend schools in either rural areas or urban areas, depending on where their parents were settled before being allocated land in the former commercial farms.

By the mid-nineties, 15 years into independence and black majority rule, Zimbabwe was close to realising its goal of education for all.

Then primary education was free and compulsory at government schools.

But now the gains have been reversed, according to figures released by the UN Children's Fund (Unicef).

Primary school enrolment had improved from 82% in 1984 to 90% in 2000, but in the past three years it has slumped back to 65%.

"The introduction of fees and levies in the 1990s and the current humanitarian crisis countered the positive effects of... free education," said Unicef communications officer in Zimbabwe Shanta Bloemen.

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