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Cablegate: Education in Zimbabwe - a Quiet Implosion

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RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSB #0988/01 3051050
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 311050Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY HARARE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3645
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 2115
RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 2403
RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 2523
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RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 5007
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1672
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 HARARE 000988

AF/S FOR B. WALCH
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DRL FOR N. WILETT
ECA FOR T. FARRELL
ECA/A/S/A FOR D. YOUNG
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STATE PASS TO USAID FOR L.DOBBINS AND E.LOKEN

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL SCUL SMIG ELAB KPAO ZI
SUBJECT: Education in Zimbabwe - A Quiet Implosion

1. SUMMARY: In the wake of ongoing inter-party talks, much attention
has been paid to immediate crises such as the collapse of the health
care system and starvation facing the rural population. Equally
devastating, however, is the precipitous decline of all levels of
the country's education sector, diminishing the availability of
human capital necessary for post-transition rebuilding and
development. In 2008, Zimbabwe's education sector witnessed a
devastating and continued erosion of its teaching force, multiple
teacher and faculty strikes, suspension of national exams,
inflationary increases in school fees, and the postponement of the
current university semester. These factors led to an unprecedented
call by both teachers' unions for the cancellation of the academic
year. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Background: From Continental Leader to Desperation
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. Zimbabwe's educational system has been the backbone of the
nation, its source of international pride and most important
commodity. Boasting the highest literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa
until four years ago, over 96 percent, Zimbabwe inherited and built
on the carefully constructed Rhodesian apartheid educational system
which included white "Group A", missionary "Group B" and largely
vocational black "Group C" schools. Mugabe's inaugural
administration in the early 80s invested heavily in schools, rapidly
trained a teaching corps and paid teachers at a level where they
served as community leaders. Zimbabwe largely adopted British-style
education, adding African content post-independence, but retaining
University of Cambridge international examinations until five years
ago when it abruptly localized all examinations and called for a
"patriotic" re-examination of the curriculum. English has always
been the medium of instruction, resulting in a professional
population highly literate in English.

3. The Zimbabwean government (GOZ) dedicated over 25 percent of its
budget to education through the 1980s, the third highest in the
world at the time. This declined to 22 percent by 1991 and only 13
percent by 2006. In 1991, the GOZ spent USD 6 per student. Current
estimates show that figure has dropped to just USD 18 cents. Valuing
education, families traditionally spent a large percentage of their
assets and income to send their children to the best possible
schools.

4. Despite financial challenges, Zimbabwe continues to send a large
number of students to study in the U.S. relative to its population.
The high caliber of the country's human capital has been both its
blessing and its curse, fueling brain drain as Zimbabwean
professionals remain highly desirable globally. New Zealand has
actively recruited Zimbabwean doctors, the UK Zimbabwean nurses, and
Australia and South Africa Zimbabwean engineers, accountants,
bankers, and business managers at rates that surpass any other
African country.

------------------
The Teaching Force
------------------

5. Whereas Zimbabwe requires approximately 150,000 teachers to staff
its primary and secondary schools, current estimates are that the
Ministry of Education is employing only 75,000 teachers. According
to the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), a mere 40,000

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have suggested minimal teacher training qualifications. The majority
of Zimbabwe's teaching force has migrated to Botswana and South
Africa; as civil servants, they do not require visas to enter either
country. Some, especially math and science teachers, have received
work permits and jobs as teachers; others are working illegally or
as cross-border traders. HIV/AIDS has also contributed to the
devastation of Zimbabwe's teaching force.

6. Many teachers currently do not earn enough to pay for the cost of
public transportation to reach their schools at the beginning of
term if they are assigned to rural schools or for the daily commute
if they are based in cities. Both PTUZ and its rival, the Zimbabwe
Teachers' Union (ZIMTA), have repeatedly held strikes to demand
better pay. Many teachers have resorted to teaching part time and
either providing private tutorials, buying and selling goods or
starting other small, informal businesses to sustain themselves. The
PTUZ estimates that in 2008 the average Zimbabwean student at a
government school received 5-10 percent of the normal teaching hours
because of teacher strikes and migration. Many schools'
Parent-Teacher Associations have tried a variety of fundraising
schemes to supplement teacher salaries with donations of food,
money, fuel and other commodities, but government has outlawed such
contributions.

7. The system was also strained in 2008 when the GOZ paid a large
number of teachers to stop teaching and serve as election monitors
during the March elections. After ZANU-PF lost the March
presidential election, ZANU-PF militias terrorized rural teachers,
whom they blamed in part for the election result. Several
headmasters in rural areas were murdered and numerous teachers were
attacked, abducted and arrested. Consequently, many teachers
declined to continue teaching. Many young people no longer aspire
to become teachers, given their reduced economic and social status.


8. In a rare show of cooperation, the two rival national teachers'
unions - ZIMTA and PTUZ - held a joint press conference on October 7
to commemorate World Teacher's Day at which they called for the
cancellation of the 2008 academic year. They stated that repeated
teacher strikes, caused by unsustainably low salaries for teachers,
as well as skyrocketing school fees and deteriorating infrastructure
at government and mission schools, meant that the vast majority of
Zimbabwean students did not receive a full year of learning and were
not ready to progress to the next year. They proposed that all
students repeat grades in 2009. The two unions pressed for immediate
attention to the education crisis, for livable wages to retain the
teachers who have not yet fled, and for increased expenditure in the
sector.

--------------------------
Infrastructure and Quality
--------------------------

9. One of the greatest triumphs of the first decade of independence
was the development of an unprecedented number of primary and
secondary schools throughout the country. However, without resources
to develop, let alone maintain this investment, schools have
deteriorated at an alarming rate. Many schools currently lack safe
and reliable water, electricity or libraries. In rural and
high-density schools, average class size has doubled in the past few
years from 25-30 to 50-60. As many as five students may share a
single copy of a textbook in a high-density school and in some rural

HARARE 00000988 003 OF 005


schools, only the teacher has a copy of the text. Whereas
government schools traditionally provided students with notebooks
and texts, it is now the responsibility of students and their
families to provide all stationery and supplies.

10. The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) operates
national exams at three grades - Grade 7 exams, which are used for
placement into secondary schools; Ordinary "O" Level exams after
four years of secondary school education, used for entrance into
teaching, nursing and polytechnic colleges, and Advanced "A" Level
exams after an additional two years of high school, for entrance
into universities. National exams are normally offered twice a year
in June and October/November with results available two months
later. ZIMSEC has yet to release any results for exams written in
June 2008, and has yet to schedule any O or A level exams for
October or November. Grade 7 exams, which should have been written
over two weeks in early October, are now being written in one week
starting October 27.

11. Minister of Education Chigwedere has repeatedly stated that all
exams are on schedule, and the GOZ has set up a special crisis post
to ensure exams do occur. However, despite these GOZ assurances,
school officials have yet to receive exam information. ZIMSEC has
stated that the June results are not available because they do not
have the resources to mark the exams, nor to record and distribute
the results. In the past two years, there have been significant
levels of exam result irregularity, ranging from schools receiving
results for subjects their students have not written, to others not
receiving results for exams they did write, and others receiving
questionable results wildly inconsistent with their school
performance. In the past three years, pass rates for O and A level
exams, most notably for mathematics and English, have plummeted to
the lowest levels since exams were localized. PTUZ reports that O
level exam pass rates were over 70 percent in the mid-1990s; last
year only 11 percent passed. Without national exams, Zimbabwean
students cannot move to the next level of education. The morale of
students who expected to write national exams in 2008 is low, with
many contemplating dropping out of school.

12. Zimbabwe officially mandates seven years of primary school.
Primary schooling was free at government schools until 1991 when the
World Bank's Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP)
recommended that the GOZ begin charging school fees. Previously 95
percent of all children ages 6-16 attended school in Zimbabwe.
Current estimates are that 20 percent of primary-aged children are
not in school, and indicators point to a sharp decline in school
attendance at all levels.

13. Whereas government school fees are arguably negligible, when
coupled with individual school levies and the cost of school
uniforms, stationary and books, they quickly become prohibitive for
many Zimbabweans. As poverty deepens, many teenage girls cannot
afford sanitary ware and many rural schools lack sanitary
facilities, leading to monthly absenteeism and eventual drop out of
girls in high schools. As students see that higher education and
the resultant professional jobs do not necessarily translate into
higher pay, many are trading high school for informal sector
self-employment or cross-border trading.

14. Additionally, an estimated 1.6 million Zimbabwean children have
been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, leaving them either in the care of
grandparents or other relatives, on their own, or in the streets. As

HARARE 00000988 004 OF 005


a result, the number of child laborers has increased exponentially
as these children must help support their families and have no means
to attend school.

----------------------------------
University Closures and Challenges
----------------------------------

15. No state universities have opened for the first semester of
their academic year, supposed to begin in late August. Neither
faculty nor staff are coming to work, although not technically on
strike. They say current salaries are not sufficient to pay for
public transportation. At present, a senior lecturer at the
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) earns the equivalent of USD 5 per month.
Although the UZ, the country's flagship university, has begun a
small number of Master's programs this semester, the university has
stated it will not open for undergraduates absent a steady supply of
water, a living wage salary package for both faculty and staff and
assurances of tuition increases to sustain the university. (NOTE: UZ
now claims to be opening November 3, but previous opening dates have
not been met. END NOTE.)

16. Students who completed their degree programs in May have yet to
receive final grades, transcripts or diplomas. Those starting
university, as well as continuing students, have registered only to
be told that "lectures have been indefinitely postponed until a
further date to be advised." Although UZ has closed before because
of demonstrations and strikes, 2008 marks the first year since
independence that the UZ School of Medicine has not begun on time.

17. Local universities have suffered from severe brain drain in
2008, losing a majority of qualified lecturers to universities in
neighboring countries. Most departments are currently staffed by one
or a handful of senior faculty members, who survive through outside
consultancy or weekend teaching, and a bevy of recent graduates from
their own undergraduate and master's programs. At the School of
Medicine, students do not receive adequate hands-on training, and
those that graduate are ill-prepared for the rigors of medical
practice. According to the head of one department, pass rates for
medical exams have plummeted in recent years, and medical students
interact with patients at Parirenyatwa Hospital without sufficient
training and oversight.

----------------
Student Activism
----------------

18. Large scale repression of student activists continued in 2008.
Leaders in the student movement, especially those in the Zimbabwe
National Association of Student Unions (ZINASU) faced arrest, brutal
attacks, and torture. In early October, over 200 students marched
to Parliament to present a petition demanding redress to the
education crisis, leading to the arrest of three students and
hospitalization of over 20, including one student leader's
miscarriage. UZ's decision to close student residences for 2008 and
not offer any on-campus accommodation to students was largely viewed
as a means of preventing increased student activism around the
elections. Student Solidarity Trust (SST) documented over 359 cases
of arrest, torture, abduction, and assault of university students
between March and August 2008.

---------------------------

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The Role of Private Schools
---------------------------

19. Education in Zimbabwe is becoming increasingly stratified by
wealth, and not based on merit. The exception to the general
decline is the private primary and secondary schools belonging to
the Association of Trust Schools (ATS) as well as the country's two
private church-run universities. Private schools, now charging up
to USD 1,500 a term for day scholars and USD 3,000 for boarders, use
their resources to retain teachers, maintain their infrastructure
and offer the high standard of education for which Zimbabwean
schools used to be known. However, these schools only service about
2 percent of the nation's youth, including some students whose
parents have fled for the diaspora. Methodist-run Africa University
and Seventh Day Adventist Solusi University have managed to stay
open throughout 2008 on their normal calendars with nearly full
complements of teaching staff and expanded student bodies.

-------
COMMENT
-------

20. Zimbabwe is in danger of losing an entire generation's
education, setting back its recovery for decades. The effects of
this lost generation could include continued unemployment, unmet
expectations and devastating violent crime. If and when Zimbabwe
enters a period of political transition and economic recovery,
rebuilding the education system will be key to restoring its once
laudable human capacity. Zimbabweans and the international community
alike must devise strategic and innovative means of salvaging what
is left of Zimbabwe's educational system and build upon it. END
COMMENT.

MCGEE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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