Basic education in public schools will be offered free of charge starting next year, while the Government has set in motion plans to equip primary school learners with Information Communication Technology gadgets to facilitate remote learning, President Mnangagwa has said.
In his weekly article carried elsewhere in this edition, the President said he was concerned by the number of learners dropping out of school owing to financial challenges worsened by Covid-19 and sanctions.
The Government, he said, was considering different models to finance the roll out of free universal primary education next year.
Technology, said the President, had become the biggest single medium of education in today’s world.
As such, Government has begun accelerating a transition from an education system dependent on face-to-face learning to one where technology mediates the process.
Free primary education will be introduced progressively starting next year.
“The disruptions which sanctions have wreaked on our economy and our livelihoods, especially at household level, mean that many families are unable to cope, let alone finance the whole shift to a technology-intensive education which is the order of the day.
“The gadgets, which have become key platforms for the learner, are hard to come by; data is expensive; electricity is either unavailable or unaffordable.”
He said few families could afford to install solar systems at their homes.
“Yet learners have to enrol daily into virtual classes which require a totally new living and learning milieu.”
“It is thus not surprising that we are experiencing many dropouts from our educational system.
“Government is very concerned about this negative development, which requires urgent solutions.
“Against the foregoing and starting next year, Government will push for a phased access to universal free education wholly funded by the State.
“We must make primary education free and universal next year, in 2023. This entails more than Government just taking over payment of school fees for all pupils in primary school.”
Government will also shoulder the full costs of transiting to a new dispensation where technology mediates learning.
“Each primary school-going child has to have access to a tablet at Government expense.
“Equally, primary schools will have to have access to electricity and electronic signals for online teaching.”
Government, he added, cannot afford to postpone this huge public intervention.
President Mnangagwa said he will task the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services to refine its ICT policy to ensure data for essential services such as education is available at affordable tariffs.
“The same holds for our energy policy, which must ensure electricity services and manageable tariffs for all our schools, starting with primary schools where education will be free, starting next year.
“Both conventional and green power should be harnessed towards this goal. Our rural electrification programme must be intensified to bring power to the classroom where learning takes place.
“I will develop a particular interest in checking the pace at which rural schools in historically depressed areas are assisted to make this vital transition.
“This will be a key marker for the success of our programme.”
He urged the private sector to complement Government efforts to deliver affordable internet to schools.
On funding of free universal education, the President said Government was weighing the utility of four distinct models.
“We have several options. We could fund this programme directly through budget allocations to concerned ministries,” he said.
“We could also approach funding through resources devolved to our provinces.
“Equally, we could target communities and learners through Constituency Development Funds.
“Lastly, we could develop a hybrid model from all three avenues.
“Whichever route we take, it must be efficient and deliver on results we want to see in the shortest possible time.”
Educationist Dr Caiphas Nziramasanga, who led the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training (CIET) in 1998 which recommended free universal education, welcomed the initiative.
“My first reaction is that I am very excited by this move.
“That is what we recommended in the CIET commission of inquiry into education, and that already means that Government is doing the right thing.
“It is excellent in that it is going to help a lot of children that cannot afford fees.
“I hope this will come to fruition,” he said.
“It will make parents able to participate in other needs of the schools like infrastructure development for those who can and in places like rural areas, it will remove the burden on the parents and their children will be able to go to school.”
In 2020, President Mnangagwa signed into law the Education Amendment Act, which enjoins the State to provide free basic education in line with the provisions of Section 27 of the Constitution.
Section 27 reads: “The State must take all practical measures to promote: (a) free compulsory basic education for children; and (b) higher and tertiary education.”
According to the last national Education Statistics Report (2018-2020) commissioned by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, an average 3,3 percent of learners in secondary schools dropped out of schools before completing their education in 2020.
For primary schools, the dropout rate stood at 0,6 percent during the same year.
Last year, Government used $2 billion to provide educational assistance to 1 163 738 vulnerable children through the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM).
This year, about 1,5 million learners are receiving support through a package that covers tuition fees, uniforms and stationery under BEAM.