Every year, the world – well, the UN – celebrates #MalalaDay. It’s a day named after Malala Yousafzai the Pakistani advocate for girls’ education and youngest Nobel Peace prize laureate. She broke into the public consciousness in 2012 when the Taliban targeted her, in her community Swat Valley for her advocacy work. Since then, her birthday July 12 has become synonymous with the global push for education equity.
How’s the World Doing? Global Commitment to Universal [primary education]
The second Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is to achieve universal primary education. This has not yet happened, but there has been significant progress made to that end. The most marked improvement globally was recorded in sub-Saharan Africa (yay us!) with a 20% point increase in the net enrolment rate in primary education. There is still, however, a lot of work to be done: of the 57 million children of school- going age who aren’t in school globally – 33 million live in our region with more than half of them being girls.
Education remains important in the post 2015 agenda, particularly as access to education is linked to many other issues, including child marriage. Research has shown that girls who are educated are far less likely to get married before the age of 18, and are then able to contribute to the economy of the country, helping to improve living conditions. A big development globally in this area, was the Incheon Declaration that came out of this year’s World Education Forum. In this declaration, world leaders committed to free education for all for both primary and secondary education by 2030. The word ‘free’ makes all the difference given that the Millennium Development Goal report (2015) indicated that household wealth “remains an important determinant of a child’s likelihood of attending school.” Further, in developing regions, children in the poorest households were four times more likely to be out of school than those in the richest households. We have a long way to go, as poverty continues to be a barrier to access to education.
Access to Education in Zimbabwe: A Matter of Money
Statistically, according to research from 2010, in Zimbabwe, the odds of the richest child getting an education is “just slightly better than those of the poorest children.” However, money continues to be an issue affecting access to education.
Recently we’ve all had to confront the fact that the poor in our society are really struggling to keep their children in school and that too many of us are out of touch with the daily realities of life in Zimbabwe. Not too long ago, the outgoing Minister of Education Lazarus Dokora announced that secondary education exam fees were to go up to $15 per subject from $13, and that grade seven exam fees would now be charged at $3 for the first time. This may not seem much of increment, but a fully-fledged protest (see Her Zimbabwe’s video coverage of the protest here) over the matter by educators, parents and students alike this past May highlighting the fact that this was a cost that they could not meet shows otherwise. The protestors explained that they were already struggling to eek out enough to pay school fees and ancillary costs without a further cost being added.
Many have argued that the moves to increase exam fees are contrary to the constitutional right to education as embodied (several times) in our constitution. This however, isn’t quite true. Whilst the constitution does mark out a commitment to free basic education for all (section 75(1)) especially children (sections 19(2)(d), 27(1)(a), and 81(1)(f)), the state is only obliged to take all practical measures to promote universal education, and to take such steps as to make it a reality as is possible with the resources the state has at its disposal. That means that the right to (free) education exists only when the state is able to afford it, and if it can show that it does not currently have the necessary resources at its disposal then it is off the hook. That is pretty much what has happened: the government stated that the price hike/ introduction of exam fees is to help it meet the costs of running the exams in the first place. It has also pointed out that the exams continue to be heavily subsidised.
We Need to Prioritise Access to Education
[insert generic comment on the state of Zimbabwe’s economy]. Yes, we’re all feeling the squeeze but some of us are being squeezed harder than others. It is clear that our budget needs to be fiddled with in order to put a bit [a lot] more money towards education. Yes, that is much easier said than done given that there are many things that need fixing and updating. However, we must remember that education touches upon the overall development of our country and the overall well-being of our people. It really does matter. So we need more money. We need to either make some, or start praying for miracle money.
Main image from timeslive.co.za