Prioritising Education on the Political Agenda
The “shocking pass rates” or should we say failure rates in the 2012 Ordinary level results are just a symptom of deep-rooted problems that have been developing in Zimbabwe’s education sector over the years. Reforming the education sector should be a top priority for any government or party that seriously wants to take charge of the echelons of power. This can be done by placing education at the core of their campaign strategy. The RAU reports (“Every School has a Story to Tell: A Study into Teachers’ Experiences with Elections in Zimbabwe” and “Political violence and intimidation against Teachers in Zimbabwe” available on the RAU website documented the crisis from the perspective of politically motivated attacks on teachers and the impact this violence has had on not only the teachers, but also on the economy, especially the increase in unemployment amongst the youths. RAU also looked at the impact of exposure to violence on school children when teachers were attacked in front of pupils.
In its recommendations RAU spear-headed a campaign to have schools declared as zones of peace z and for all political activities taking place at schools to be banned. The rationale behind this is that in times of major political events in Zimbabwe such as elections, considerable amount of learning time is lost as politicians seize schools and school facilities to coordinate their campaign meetings. At the height of violence in 2008, 94% of all schools in rural areas were shut down as teachers fled violence and therefore there was no point in parents sending their children to school. In most cases, teachers and pupils were forced to attend rallies and these were done during school hours. To demonstrate that these assertions are not just historical reporting, it is alleged that as we speak some schools in Manicaland and Mashonaland East have been forced to give offices to militias or ‘war veterans so that they can coordinate their activities ahead of elections. This alone constitutes an attack on education and only a political directive can rectify that. The rationale of peace zones is derived from war situations where there is an agreement not to physically attack institutions of learning as well as medical facilities. Zimbabwe is not in a war situation, but the political situation during elections has in the past resembled ‘war’, where violence has been used as a political tool. By declaring schools as zones of peace, this allows children to continue attending school without hindrance; and protects teachers from attacks from political elements. Anything that has a negative bearing on education such as attacks on teachers is considered an attack on education. Any acts that affect the smooth running of schools/education should become punishable offences. In that light, the adoption of the new Constitution which explicitly guarantees education as a right compels government to legislate supporting laws that enable the right to be enjoyed by every child in Zimbabwe.
It is important for the Ministry of Education to carry out empirical studies on the impact of conflict on the education sector and measures to address these. Special attention should be given to solving the problems created for children due to the conflict, like mental stress, exposure to violence and displacement, by incorporating different programs of reconciliation, mutual goodwill and peace in education programs. The link between education, peace and development is evident from the period when Zimbabwe emerged from colonial government to majority rule. At that time, education played a pivotal role in building a human capital base that is still revered throughout the world. The same period was also marked by peace and development.
While there are many factors that have contributed to the crisis in education including the decrease in donor support for education, violence is a single factor that does not require funding to change the overall outlook. It requires political will, a community shared vision that education is at the centre of communities moving from abject poverty to emancipation and that every child must be protected and supported through provision of safe schools that allow the mind to positively grow.
By declaring schools as zones of peace, the state will be taking bold steps towards redressing issues to do with community security and violence in the communities, especially violence targeting women and young girls. The campaign will ensure that the future of Zimbabwe; the youths, are not engaged in violence largely caused by idle minds as a result of a failing education system.