By Peta Thornycroft
Speaking to thousands who gathered in Harare to celebrate the country’s 37th anniversary of independence on Tuesday, Mugabe, 93, spoke mainly about improving education standards.
Steady on his feet and sporting his new shaved head style, Mugabe told the crowd: “We continue to do everything possible to ensure that your education remains. At the beginning of 2017, we introduced an updated competence and skills driven curriculum that should provide every learner with an opportunity to develop their potential to ensure that the updated curriculum supports and sustains the transition from school to the world of work through serious study of a wide variety of subjects that include the sciences, technology and mathematics.”
President Robert Mugabe says Zimbabwe will concentrate on a new syllabus which he says will prepare school leavers for employment. Picture: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo
But in the deepening economic crisis and with a chronic shortage of cash, tens of thousands of children could not start school or continue their education in January because so many parents could not afford to pay fees.
Education minister Lazarus Dokora said last week that parents who could not find cash for fees could pay via livestock, or by working at schools.
He has introduced a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools which includes teaching some children how to farm, but many teachers say they do not have books, training or materials to change the syllabus.
Renowned Zimbabwe education expert Mary Ndlovu said that Mugabe was misinformed about the state of education in the country.
She said education had been in crisis for years and when the inclusive powersharing government came to office in 2009 there were almost no textbooks available in state schools but that was reversed by former education minister David Coltart.
“Those books are now five years old and many are finished, worn out and school books are often the only reading material for children in rural areas.”
Only 25-30% of Zimbabweans live in the expanding cities and towns.
She said there were no statistics to back up the government’s repeated claim that Zimbabwe had a literacy rate of more then 90%, the highest in Africa: “There is a huge drop out of between 20-25% from (government) schools after Grade Four (four years of education) and the UN says it takes about five years for children to retain literacy.”
She said even 10 years ago 20% to 30% of children could not read in their sixth year of education.
She said the “vast majority” of Zimbabwe’s government schools were desperately short of resources.