Join Us

Conditions for the educational system in Zimbabwe

Holistic Think Tank

What schools teach vs what schools ought to teach: a phenomenography of the school environment: the educational system in Zimbabwe.

Historical Conditions of Education in Zimbabwe

[i]During the colonial era, Zimbabwe’s education system was divided between African and European schools. In 1979, a new Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government called for an education reform that created a three-tier school system. The Education Act of 1979 regulated access to each type of school through a zoning system based on residency. After the shift in policy and leadership the education system split into government schools, community schools and private schools. Government schools were also split into three divisions called Group A, B and C. White students historically attended Group A schools that offered highly trained teachers and quality education. These schools were located in white suburbs that denied housing opportunities for Africans, reinforcing segregation based on ethnicity and race. Group B schools required a low-fee payment and C schools did not require a fee beyond educational materials. Both were only available for African students. Group B and C schools had less resources, funding and qualified faculty compared to Group A schools. When Zimbabwe attained its independence, it democratized education by promising free and compulsory primary and secondary education to all children in Zimbabwe.  All primary school tuition fees were abolished after independence. The government allocated 17.3 percent of the total national budget toward education. Within one year, the education system nearly doubled the number of students it served from 885,801 students to 1,310,315 students in primary and secondary education. Teachers were in high demand immediately following Zimbabwe’s independence. Communities also rapidly built more infrastructure for education. For example, from 1979 to 1984, the number of primary schools in operation increased by 73.3 percent and the number of secondary schools increased by 537.8 percent. Despite the challenges following the magnitude of students to educate, Zimbabwe claimed to achieve universal primary education by the end of the 1980s. By the 1990s, primary schooling was nearly universal and over half the population had completed secondary education.

[ii]More problems began to sprout when the government adopted and implemented what it called five-year development plans as embodied in Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP) in succession from 1991. These structural adjustment programmes resulted in critical underfunding of the education sector. In the early 2000s, when the government initiated the Land Reform Program; economic growth and the standards of education, declined. Thus, the resultant economic meltdown negatively affected the gains that had previously been achieved in the education system. The political stalemate of 2008 did not help either, as it created more political, economic, and social challenges, and in particular among teachers, which resulted in a very acute shortage of human resources at all levels of the education system. In the end, due to the current political, social and economic crisis engulfing Zimbabwe, the country does not have adequate funding for Free Primary Education however, tuition fees and education costs have accumulated over time, hence the majority of the citizens cannot afford to pay tuition for their children’ education.

The Education System of Zimbabwe

[iii]The current structure of the Zimbabwe primary education sector has two successive levels. Preschools are directed by the Early Childhood Development (ECD) system under the Ministry of Primary and Second Education. The structure has an Infant (ECD A -Grade 2) and Junior (Grade 3-7) levels. Transition into secondary school is after sitting for Grade 7 national examination. It is important to note that Zimbabwe has a policy of automatic promotion to the next level. Primary education encompasses nine years of schooling. It is divided into infant and Junior education. Generally, in primary schools, one teacher is assigned to teach all subjects. Infant education consists of 4 years of schooling. Learners enter into the first level of infant education (ECD A), at an official age of 3 or 4 years. After ECD A, they proceed to ECD B. ECD learners mostly develop through play. They are expected to develop skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening. At an official age of 6 years, learners are expected to enroll for Grade 1, where they are introduced to a subject-based curriculum. Infant level ends with Grade 2. Junior education consists of 5 years of schooling, from Grade 3 to 7. At Grade 7, learners sit for national examinations. However, the learners transitioning into secondary are not dependent on the outcome of the examinations. There is a 4 year lower secondary education course that concludes with students taking O’ level examinations and then, for a small proportion, 2 further years of education in upper secondary schools after which students may sit for ‘A’ level examinations. Some of the ‘O’ level graduates join training institutions such as polytechnics, technical colleges, teacher’s colleges, agricultural colleges and others, while the rest directly enter the job market. A’ level graduates either enter universities or other training institutions. The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) sets all national examinations.

Urban primary schools teach in English. Rural primary schools teach students in their local native language, typically in Shona or Ndebele, then transition to English by Grade 3. Student to teacher ratios are typically from 50 to 65 students per teacher. However this varies based on location, the country’s economic state and yearly budget for education. The curriculum in primary schools encompasses English and Shona Language, Content subjects, Mathematics, and Agriculture. Based on the Education Secretary’s Policy Circular No. 12 in 1987, “the minimum expected educational outcome for all students is functional literacy and numeracy by the end of primary school.” The education system is exam-oriented, with automatic promotion from one grade to the next in a seven-year elementary education cycle that concludes with a national school leaving examination. While primary and Junior Certificate exams are constructed and administered locally.

Legal grounds for schools in Zimbabwe

There are state laws/policies that impacted heavily on education concern equal access to education, including the free access to education enshrined in the Education Act of 1987.The newly formed Zimbabwe government created free and compulsory primary and secondary education that valued education as a fundamental right. This saw enrollment of primary schools children increase  to 93,91 percent. The Education Act of 1996 saw Zimbabwe establishing a local examination board Zimbabwe School Examination Council (ZIMSEC).It outlines specific education stages which are completed with an external examination which paves way for further continuation in education. Grade 7 exams result in enrolling for Form 1 secondary school.  Zimbabwe’s amended education act seeks to protect and fulfill the right to education for all children. Zimbabwe adopted the Education Amendment Act 2020 to align its education act with the country’s constitution. The act addresses issues pertinent to education that include prohibition of expelling pregnant girls from school (though there are few at primary level).

Non-discriminatory laws are stated in the Education Act of 1996. The act seeks to protect students with disabilities from discrimination. In May 2019, Human Rights Watch advocated for a new law that provides that children are not subject to any form of physical or psychological torture or cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment at school. It further states that every school provides suitable infrastructure for students with disabilities and ensures disability rights are protected and accounted for in every school in the country.

The education amendment act of 2019 made strides for the inclusion of minority languages in the curriculum. The act states that the mother tongue is to be used as a medium of instruction at early childhood. Thus the school curriculum should reflect the culture of people of every language used or taught. Hence, some languages are now examined by ZIMSEC to cater for minority ethnic groups.

Financial condition of the education sector in Zimbabwe

[iv]According to the Education sector financing and the political economy context, there has been underfunding of education since the late 1980s, with a system that is now very dependent on parental and community support. Parents contribute approximately 96 percent of the non-salary costs to education at the school level with resultant issues in terms of equity. The probability of dropping out is twice as high in schools that are in the most disadvantaged areas of the country compared to those attended by children from the highest quintile. There is also the large dropout of 22.4 per cent at the transitional level from primary to junior secondary. These challenges in turn have exacerbated inequity of access and quality of education provision, particularly affecting some parts of the country and the poorer populations. However, government remains committed to providing inclusive and quality education for all.

Section 75 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that, every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to a basic State-funded education and further education, which the state, through reasonable legislative and other measures must make progressively available and accessible. Through the enactment of the Education Amendment Act in March 2020, Zimbabwe has made significant strides in putting in place a legislative framework that guarantee free, publicly funded, inclusive and equitable basic education. The Act introduced Free Basic Education, which going forward, will be key in the determination of the level of public investment into the education sector.

 While the Government of Zimbabwe remains committed to funding education through domestic resources (currently some 17% of the total budget), the limited size of the overall fiscus means that most of the funds are used to cover teachers’ wages. In 2017, 94.6% of the central government allocation to education was used on teacher salaries with only $45 million available for non-wage spending. As noted, schools remain largely reliant on parent contributions for non-staff costs. This has led to inequalities of provision across Zimbabwe with more disadvantages poorer rural areas suffering from a lack of adequate infrastructure and minimal access to teaching and learning materials. [v]The 2018 budget shows a significant and positive shift, with an increased allocation to education allowing for decreased proportional spend on wages (90%) and increasing non-wage spend to $69.6m; showing Government commitment to address these concerns within a constrained fiscal environment. As in previous years it is the expenditure side which may remain weak with salary overruns eating into the non-salary budget. This makes the efficient and effective use of any additional funding critical and underlines the need for an effective school level financing policy that can help manage the current environment while being able to support the situation as things improve. Through the 2020 and 2021 budgets, the government has initiated progressive realisation of the provisions of free state funded basic education, targeting schools in communities with high poverty levels particularly rural areas.

Teacher Trends

[vi]Over the first decade of independence, the reforms in the education system focused on expanding the education system by building schools in marginalised areas and disadvantaged urban centres, accelerating the training of teachers, providing teaching and learning materials to schools. Increase in enrolments gave rise to the need for buildings. This was managed by introducing double shifts per day, but with two different sets of teachers, ensuring a more efficient use of existing classrooms without disturbing the existing teacher-pupil ratio. The need and supply of teachers was met by rapidly increasing the number of untrained teachers at primary level. Although this step provided a well-motivated teaching corps, it led to the supply of low-quality teachers and resultant poor quality of teaching. The supply of teachers was increased by introducing the Zimbabwe Integrated Teacher Education Course (ZINTEC), a low-cost teacher-training scheme, whereby, only two terms of the four-year course were spent in college and the remainder in teaching in schools.  The government involved local communities to help support schools through providing labour and other resources. The emphasis was not so much on quality and cost effectiveness of the education system, but on accessibility to education.  In 1988, the government formed a separate Ministry of Higher Education3 to be responsible for tertiary education, which included teacher training colleges, universities and vocational colleges. More and more trained teachers were supplied into the education system and this helped reduce the proportion of untrained teachers. By 1990, about 51.48 per cent of primary school teachers were trained and by 1997 the proportion of trained primary school teachers had jumped to 77.2 per cent. 

The current teacher establishment in Zimbabwe is at 16 298 for ECD, 75 960 for Primary Schools and 47 839 for secondary school. In 2016, the teacher establishments for ECD, primary and secondary school were 14 006, 72 410 and 45 326, respectively. During the period 2016-2020, the number of teachers increased annually, save for 2017 that had a drop in the number of primary school teachers, and 2020 that witnessed a noticeable drop in the number of both ECD and secondary school teachers. 67.69 percent of 16 298 ECD teachers in the country are trained. In 2016, the proportion of trained teachers was 50.50 percent, and continuously increases annually. Out of 75 960 primary school teachers in the country, 97.77 percent are trained. In 2016, the proportion of the trained primary school teachers was 97.22 percent. 2018 had the least proportion (97.14 percent) of the trained teachers, while 2020 had the highest (97.77 percent).

Statistical aspects of the educational system

The 2020 Primary and Secondary Statistical Report projected the school-going population (3-18 years) in

Zimbabwe to be 6 553 690, of which males and females constitute 49.8 percent and 50.2 percent, respectively. The number of schools is expected to meet the demand of the growing population. Currently, there are 6 761 schools with ECD, 6 798 primary schools and 2 980 secondary schools. Urban and rural primary schools constitute 20.58 percent and 79.42 percent, respectively, while urban and rural secondary schools constitute, respectively 22.58 percent and 77.42 percent. The majority (78.41 percent) of primary schools are run by government, with just 21.59 percent are under the non-government entities. Government run secondary schools constitute 73.46 percent, in contrast to nongovernment schools which make up 26.54 percent.

The total number of learners enrolled in non-formal education (NFE) at both primary and secondary levels of education is 96 819 (41 471 males, 55 348 females). The total number of learners enrolled in non-formal education (NFE) at primary level of education is 61 439 (25 800 males, 35 639 females). The total number of learners enrolled in non-formal education (NFE) at secondary level of education is 35 380 (15 671 males, 19 709 females). The total number of NFE learners in registered primary schools is 56 841 (23 664 males, 33 177 females). A total of 4 581 (2 126 males, 2 455 females) were enrolled in satellite primary schools. The total number of learners enrolled in unregistered schools is 17 (10 males, 7 females). Out of the 5 228 schools offering NFE programmes at primary and secondary levels, 3 734 are primary schools and 1 494 are secondary schools.

The Social conditions of the Zimbabwean educational system

[vii]According to the Zimbabwe FINAL Education Sector Analysis of November 2020, these are some o the social conditions the Zimbabwe educational system is operating in:

  • In December 2019 the inflation rate was 521 percent, which increased to 676.4 percent in March 2020 
  • The current financial situation of teachers related to the devaluation of the currency has lead to teacher absenteeism and more private tuition. The Education Budget was reduced in USD terms between 2019 to 2020 from USD 1.132 billion to USD 532.2 million
  • The budget costs for salaries dropped from 92.6 percent of the education budget in 2019 to 43.6 percent in 2020
  • The school aged population is 40.7 percent of the population and is projected to increase from 5,657,412 in 2019 to 7,260,398 in 2025
  • Diseases that affect the school aged population and school attendance include cholera, typhoid, HIV/AIDS, malaria and Covid-19
  • Humanitarian challenges relate to weather and climate change
  • Major threat is the persistent fragile macro-economy, teacher capacity and motivation, and the secondary impacts of Covid-19
  • The teacher pupil ratio stands at 1:65/70, this means that classrooms are overcrowded thus less attention is given to pupils and also health issues that are associated with overcrowding in particular the spread of COVID 19.
  • Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge to the system with an imminent likelihood of an increased number of school dropouts in 2020 due to the indefinite school closures. Dropouts may result from early marriages and child pregnancies and more adversely affect girls than boys and Children with Disabilities (CWDs).
  • Teacher shortages in rural areas. Although majority of training colleges are for Primary education, teacher shortages are more rampant in rural areas due to unfavorable working conditions and low compensation. Dilapidated teacher’s cottages and inadequate teaching materials which include textbooks affect the quality of education delivered to learners.
  • Schools should push for inclusionary facilities for Students with disabilities in order to provide quality education to students with physical and mental disabilities.
  • Since 2008, the National Advisory Board states that 20% of students did not have textbooks for core subjects and the student to textbook ratio was 10:1. Provision of textbooks should be prioritised to improve learning.

Prepared By: Vimbai Chironga, Batanai Masaiti and Mercy Mhlaba



About the author
Share the Research

Similar Research