Zimbabwe: Is Education Sector on the Road to Recovery?
Harare — Zimbabwe's education system, once regarded as the finest on the continent, was a casualty of the country's economic meltdown in the 2000s, when it nearly collapsed - but lately there have been signs of recovery.
The education malaise was widely blamed on hyperinflation, which made teachers' salaries worthless and funding for school materials and maintenance impossible.
But with economic reforms of 2009 and the establishment of a donor funding mechanism, the school system is seeing modest, gradual improvement. Still, vast challenges - from poor infrastructure to teacher shortages - remain.
David Coltart, the education minister, told IRIN that the country's education crisis actually predates hyperinflation.
"Contrary to what many people think, the downward spiral began long before hyperinflation occurred. It started with the sector not getting as much as it got during the first 10 years of independence," he said. Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.
The education system's deterioration accelerated under the effects of hyperinflation. Then, in early 2009 the country ditched its local currency and adopted a multi-currency financial system using the US dollar, the Botswana pula and the South African rand, ending hyperinflation overnight.
By the time Coltart assumed his post in February 2009 - after the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, entered a government of national unity with President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party - the economy was beginning to turn around.
Coltart found the education system "chaotic", with schools closed, teachers on strike and infrastructure in a state of disrepair. One of the first steps towards overhauling it was the establishment of the Education Transition Fund (ETF), a mechanism to allow donors control over their funds.
"The way the fund works is the donor community provides funding, I chair the education transition fund meetings, and UNICEF [the UN Children's Fund] is the ultimate manager of the fund. So we reach consensus regarding how the money is to be spent, and the ministry decides what its priorities are," Coltart explained.
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