Video shows Zimbabwean schools falling apart and corrupted by politics

 A video recently posted on the Internet shows schools in rural Zimbabwe as being run-down, overcrowded and manipulated for political purposes. Our Observers say this illustrates the education system’s steady decline.



A video recently posted on the Internet shows schools in rural Zimbabwe as being run-down, overcrowded and manipulated for political purposes. Our Observers say this illustrates the education system’s steady decline.


The video, which is made up of secretly-filmed footage and anonymous interviews, was distributed by a human rights organisation that cannot be named for security reasons but which has provided reliable information in the past. Our Observers in Zimbabwe confirm that the scenes shown reflect the reality of the situation in many parts of the country.


The video begins with a scene showing a group of children being taught outside, sitting on the ground, while a teacher explains that there are not enough classrooms – and that even in the classrooms, there are no chairs or desks. The teacher also explains that there are only eight toilets for over 700 students. A second video shows a school holding a politicised play for Independence Day, where children hail President Robert Mugabe and pretend to kill dissidents. A third video features an interview with a parent, who says both students and teachers are regularly ordered to attend political meetings for the ruling Zanu PF party, which cuts into class time.



Zimbabwe’s education system has deteriorated over the past two decades, as government funding of the sector has declined. Schools are often overcrowded and lacking in basic necessities. The country’s education minister, David Coltart, has criticised the government for not doing enough to fix education: "We are spending so much on defence and only a pitiful amount on education,” he said last week. “If we don't address these issues, then the education of an entire generation will be lost." Defence was allocated 35 million US dollars (about 27 million euros) for the first half of the year, while education received only 5 million (about 3.8 million euros), according to the minister.


Schools’ funding woes are compounded by political woes. Transparency International has put out a report claiming that education is one of the sectors worst hit by corruption in Zimbabwe, with funds being diverted from rural schools to urban schools and the ruling Zanu-PF party enjoying a monopoly on staff recruitment. It also cites cases of teachers being used to campaign for political parties.

“In the school where I worked, some students would attend classes in the morning and others in the afternoon, so that we wouldn’t have to teach children outdoors”

Jonathan (not his real name) is a university student.


I recently served as a temporary teacher during one of my school breaks, at a primary school in central Zimbabwe. This rural school had only four classrooms, and needed at least twice as many. We had a system called ‘hot-sitting’ where some students would attend school in the morning and others in the afternoon, to avoid a situation where we would have to teach children outdoors. Despite this, absenteeism was very high because students often have to walk very long distances to get to school, in some cases up to 20 kilometres.


Like in many schools, students and teachers were often forced to attend political meetings. The main motive seemed to be to shore up attendance at these events. I wouldn’t have a problem with school children attending political meetings of their own will, during their own time, but not being forced. And the hate speech that often characterises these meetings, to me, is intolerable.

“Public school fees in rural areas are now way beyond the reach of the average villager”

Peter (not his real name) is a human rights lawyer who regularly works on issues related to the educational system.


While I believe the percentage of dropouts cited in the video seems exaggerated [Editor’s Note: The video cites a UNICEF report that claims school enrolment plummeted from 80 percent to 20 percent of the nation’s children in 2009], I wholly agree that the standards for education have indeed gone down the drain throughout the country, in both rural and urban areas. The main factor leading to this decline are parents’ financial constraints; it is very difficult for them to finance their children’s education in a strapped-for-cash economy that produces nearly nothing, which just a few decades ago used to be a vibrant agro-based economy. School fees have gone up as the government has cut spending on schools over the years. Public school fees in rural areas now range between 15 and 50 US dollars (about 11,50 to 38 euros) per term, which is way beyond the reach of the average villager.


In towns and cities, fees range between 150 to 200 US dollars (115 euros to 154 euros) per term. With the majority of young parents unemployed, this is too expensive for many, but because education is highly valued by Zimbabweans, parents struggle and spend all their money on their children’s education - even though many of them will eventually have to stop paying when their children reach high school, and tuition rises even further. There are also private schools, but of course they are even more expensive, and only serve a tiny elite.


“In one village, half of a school has been turned into a militia training centre”


The politicisation of the education sector has also compromised the quality of education churned out from our once-esteemed schools and colleges. For example, in one village I've been to, half of a school has been turned into a militia training centre – teachers and students are expected to cohabit with militia instructors and their students. These militias are state-sponsored; their curriculum aims, in theory, to inculcate young people with patriotism. However, in practice, they are brain-washed militias who diffuse propaganda for the ruling Zanu-PF party and denounce those who sympathise with the opposition. Children should not have to be exposed to this.


The fact that teachers are underpaid also cannot be over emphasised, as it is clear our education sector flourished when teachers were the envy of many workers because of their handsome salaries. However, over the years, chiefly due to inflation, all public sector employees’ salaries, including teachers, have stagnated, and are now extremely low. Teachers are fed up and frequently go on strike, and this too hurts students’ quality of education.