#CSW58- MDG 2: Achieving Universal Primary Education

Africa, Emancipation, Women, Zimbabwe

Of all the millennium development goals (MDGs), achieving universal primary education is something that Zimbabwe has recorded tremendous progress in.  We boast of the highest literacy rate in Africa, recording an impressive 90.7%; the only country on the African continent with a literacy rate above 90%. I, as some Zimbabweans do too, consider these statistics with a pinch of salt, given that in my context-it is not how the world views us but how we view ourselves that matters the most. Even though we may be considered highly educated, I am disgruntled with the quality of education that our children are receiving. The education system is fraught with challenges, among these;

  • the inability of parents to pay fees because of the harsh economic climate resulting in school drop-outs and frequent absenteeism;
  • the inability of government to protect children who cannot pay fees from getting expelled from school. Even though policy says children should not be expelled, its implementation is weak;
  • the brain drain which has seen  many qualified teachers migrating to so called “greener pastures” because they can’t stand a life of grooming other people’s children to become significant members of society while their own become paupers given their meagre salaries;
  • the lack of motivation amongst our teachers because of their poor working conditions characterised by low salaries and no incentives, which causes them not to teach our children in normal time and forces parents to pay for “extra-lessons;” and
  • the challenges that the examination body; the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) faces in creating examination scripts, disseminating examination material, marking examinations and distributing results of examinations on time.

It is consoling however to hear that enrolment into primary school is still high despite the fact that primary education is not free anymore as it was soon after independence. Rural areas record higher rates of enrolment (84.1%) than the urban areas (73.4%). This could partly be explained by the fact that the majority of Zimbabwe’s population resides in the rural areas. The number of girls in primary school also remains high, although dropouts begin to increase from secondary level going upwards.

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

What have we done well?

  • The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) has been instrumental in enhancing girls’ and boys’ access to education, especially orphans and other vulnerable children. This programme has paid school fees and other levies for the under privileged members of society. However it is worrying that this programme is undergoing financial challenges, meaning that many of its beneficiaries have been left stranded and are likely to fail to continue going to school.

What have we not done?

  • Our budgetary allocation to education remains low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recommend that an education budget should be at a minimum 6% of the Gross National Product. Although we have done this to the book, our economy’s performance means that this amount is so little that it only pays for teachers’ measly salaries.
  • We have not been compiling statistics on the completion rate of primary level education by girls, to understand in particular why girls drop out of school. This would help us to understand the prevalence of some of the factors that cause girls to leave school such as child marriage,early marriage, sexual violence against girls, teenage pregnancy, domestic servitude and inability to pay fees and how much girls suffer because of it. It would also help us to know where we should focus our interventions.

What more can we do?

  • We used to have free primary education soon after independence, what happened to that? Now parents have to bear the costs of sending their children in a challenging economic environment. Let us bring it back if we want to ensure that we have an educated nation. Primary education is the most basic form of education and if we can’t give that to our citizens then what kind of population are we growing?
  • It is clear that some traditional and religious practices are preventing children from going to school or continuing with their education kunyanya mapostori. Mere policy encouraging them to send their children to school remains inadequate. We need stronger penal provisions to force such religious sects and traditionalists to conform and allow their children to have the most basic need in their lives; an education. If politicians are going to mix and mingle with mapostori when they campaign during elections, but fail beyond the campaigns to have meaningful dialogue with them about treating their women and children better,  then the politicians have failed us all and these children.
  • We allowed our schools, especially primary schools to be used as political bases where rallies and political meetings were held. In the 2008 election period, such activities were marked with devastating levels of violence which children either experienced or witnessed resulting in some dropouts. Teachers were also targeted, some beaten, others abducted and causing many teachers to desert their posts and migrate. Most of these were replaced by unqualified temporary teachers. Cumulatively, this has also affected the quality of our education and we need to address this and ensure the highest quality of education.

We love bragging, and we have reason to brag because we are better educated than all the other African countries but can our government fix all these problems already so we brag some more!

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 18: Sr Theresa Camillo

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

Women of cloth; that is what we used to call them. Often they were and still are misunderstood. People ask; why would a healthy woman choose to live a life of total celibacy in the name of serving God. Others think these women are living a lie, purporting to live a saintly life, married to Jesus yet they are not half as good as they seem to be.

When I was young, I was also of this mindset. I expected nuns to be perfect in their ways. My ideal nun was a gentle person, calm in temperament, never the one to get angry even when wronged, never one to shout even when exasperated and never one to punish mischievous children (and if punished we perceived it as cruelty). But now I realise that expectation was very unfair and unwarranted. After all nuns are human beings just like me and surely they are entitled to a little anger from time to time. Looking back at my expectations I realise they were outlandish, childish and very selfish.

Regina Mundi High School: Picture credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa Camillo (Click here to see her image dressed in grey) is a catholic nun in the (SJI) Sisters of the Child Jesus Sect. She was the headmistress of Regina Mundi High school in Gweru, Midlands province of Zimbabwe where I spent 6 years of my secondary and high school. She recorded amazing pass rates for many years in her all girls’ high school. We did better than all the boys’ schools in the region such as Shungu and Fletcher academically yet she also nurtured in us the sportswomen, the basket-ballers, the hockey players, the soccer players (like I was), the great debaters, public speakers, musicians and dancers that we became.

Our motto mens sana in corpore sano‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ was her preoccupation and she always wanted us to be fit in both mind and body. She taught us to eat all our meals hence meals were compulsory (and then we hated it). She also demanded that we walk briskly and purposefully from one point to the other, something I have made into a habit in my adulthood, after all loitering is a sign of complacence and laziness.

The main school block with the headmistress's office the first window to the right: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa was a loving woman, maybe even more loving than some of the mothers people left behind in their homes. She was a also a very liberal woman, accommodating of our very many misdemeanors, little temper tantrums and mood swings.  We spent 9 out of the 12 months of the year at school and she was the grounding force when we were developing from adolescence into adulthood at that boarding school. Imagine being mother to 700 teenage girls all aged between 12 and 19 years. Surely you would be pulling your hairs out each day until you had none left. But she did it. Each year she let out 100 students and took in another 100.

The fruits of the kind of women she nurtured are self evident. One only needs to look at the women who emerged out of the girls she received many years ago. She raised doctors, models, television presenters, beauty therapists, chartered accountants, human rights activists, occupational health practitioners, dentists, biomedical laboratory researchers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, pharmacists, medical surgical nurses, movie directors, lawyers, writers, lecturers, among other and some of them are wonderful mothers and wives too. Indeed she can boast of rearing numerous generations of capable women who are doing wonderful things for the development of Zimbabwean society.

The continuation of generations of women that are still being raised by that school is also the fruit of her work. In 2008 at 14 years of age, Makhosazana Moyo groomed at Regina Mundi was picked as the overall winner of the 2008 cover to cover short story writing competition. In the 2014 class of the US students achievers, three of the girls profiled for their amazing achievements, Senzeni Mpofu studying at Yale university, Rudo Esther Mudzi studying at Mt Holyoke university and Rumbidzai Vushe studying at Smith college were all from Regina Mundi. Thabiso Machingura in 2011 won awards in the American Black History Month write ups for her short story.

The Convent in which the nuns lived: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student from Regina Mundi

When we were still students guided by her, we began a youth HIV/AIDS awareness group called ‘Worth the Wait’ which advocated abstinence among young girls to refrain from sex. Today that club has been transformed into the ‘Youth Against Aids club.’ and it gives these young girls life lessons on how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

As ‘Worth the Wait’ members we made this vow:

I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my future husband and my future children to stay sexually from this day forward until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship.

I made this vow in 1999 and I have done my damnedest to keep it, at a cost of course. I have been dumped unceremoniously in relationships for holding on to this commitment which many will argue is very old-fashioned but I will always be grateful to Sr Theresa for that value she inculcated in me. I have lost friends who I went to school with, to AIDS and I believe I am still here because of this vow which she taught me.

To date I carry two things that she always emphasised:

1. Greet visitors with a smile

2. Throw away all your litter in a bin

She has never been celebrated but I feel she deserves that history should remember her with pride, admiration and reverence for all she has done to uplift and empower the girl-child in Zimbabwe and beyond.