By Robert Tapfumaneyi
CONVICTS studying in the country’s various prisons are failing to write their school examinations because the government does not have the money to pay exam fees, it has emerged.
Particularly affected are young offenders failing to sit their Grade 7 as well as Ordinary and Advanced Level secondary school exams.
This was revealed by a recent report on conditions in the country’s prisons titled, ‘Zimbabwe: Rights Behind Bars’.
Carried out by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, the report also urged the government to address various other failings including the shortage of learning materials, and qualified teaching staff.
The organisation said while prison school was voluntary for adult inmates, this was not the case with regard to young offenders.
“For the young offenders one has to attend the school whether they like it or not, but the biggest challenge is that most of them (inmates) have failed to write the final examinations because the government has no funds to pay the examination fees,” said Kenia Shonhai a project lawyer with Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
“At Whawha (prison) young offenders there have a nice school building, well-built classrooms,” Shonhai added.
“When we visited the prison, teachers were there, and children were going to school, but the major issue is of exam fees. The government does not have the funds to pay for their fees.
“Some are only able to write (their exams) if well-wishers donate or pay for their exams fees, particularly faith-based organizations.
“It is the same issue with adults studying tertiary course, most institutions did not have materials and qualified staff to teach the inmates.”
Commenting on the findings, Zimbabwe Prison Correctional Service (ZPCS) deputy commissioner Fadzayi Mupure conceded that prisoners do not forfeit their right to education by virtue of committal to custodial institutions.
“The education of illiterate prisoners and of young prisoners is compulsory and special attention should be paid to it by prison administration,” said Mupure.
“Where it is possible, and barring any other compelling considerations, the education of prisoners, including juveniles, must be provided by qualified teachers and integrated with the educational system of the country so that after their release they can continue their education without difficulty.”
Zimbabwe’s prisons perennially struggle with overcrowding and poor funding by the cash-strapped government.