Steep food bills keep children away from schools

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The spiraling food prices and a steep increase in school fees has led many parents to withdraw their children form schools in the landlocked southern African country of Zimbabwe.

Over past one and half year period, an estimated 7000 children have dropped out from schools.

According to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, more than 13,000 primary and secondary school students, have abandoned their schools since 2017, due to fresh wave of hyperinflation that has eroded the value of the local currency and increase in the prices of all goods.

Talking to Anadolu Agency, Edmund Hove, father of a 16-year old girl Thandi Hove, explains pain at being forced to pull out his only daughter from school, in the middle of her term. Residents of capital Harare, Thandi’s parents were hit by a steep rise in school fee. But then came exorbitant food prices that ultimately led them to pull her out of school.

A starry-eyed teenage girl, Thandari, who had dreamed to achieve big in life is clueless now about her future. “I don’t know what I will do out of school now. May be I will get married. I do not know, what is in store,” she told Anadolu Agency.

“School fees for my daughter shot up from 120 Zimbabwean dollars [$0.37] to 430 Zimbabwean dollars [$1.34] in June this year. We first thought to device means to raise it. But then rising food prices awaited us. I had to feed family,” said an emotional Edmund Hove.

His wife Melody was quick to pin the blame on food prices. Her daughter was preparing to write her O-level or 10th class examination at the end of this year. She said the schools had raised their fees in the middle of term, leaving parents with no choice.

“We soon realized that after paying fee, we will not be able to feed ourselves. We had to drop her out. We had no choice,” said the mother, who has three other children, from her previous marriage. They have also dropped out from schools.

Like Hoves, number of parents across the country are being forced to choose between imparting education to their children and sleeping with a full stomach.

Owen Dhilwayo, a Harare-based development expert apprehends than an entire generation was being denied education for want of resources.

“If the economy continues to force children to dropout, soon there will be fewer people to supervise offices and participate in the meaningful development of the country,” he told Anadolu Agency.

In its mid-term monetary policy review, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister piled up further by announcing rise in the bills of a litany of government services.

“With the economy in doldrums, it means parents will further stop prioritizing their children’s education for want of food. What they would think of is food rather spending on children’s education,” said Dhliwayo.

Over past five years, Zimbabwe has suffered an erratic rainfall, causing extensive food deficit.

Activists said that increasing food prices leading the trend to withdraw children from schools have mostly affected girls.

“What lies next for a girl after dropping out of school is certainly an unplanned marriage or becoming a mother,” Melisa Hungwe, a women rights activist said.

Jenni Williams, founding member of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a non-governmental organization, has claimed that over 80 percent of the school dropouts are girls. But the country’s Education Ministry has reported that 52% of secondary school dropouts are females. That includes 40% female dropouts in primary schools.

The Basic Education Assistance Module, a government department intended to stop children from dropping out, is in tatters for want of funds.