1 November 2023
Zimbabwe adopted the Education Amendment Act, 2020, to align its Education Act with the country’s Constitution, ensuring that every child has access to free basic education and incorporating provisions for child protection, in accordance with the progressive Constitution’s comprehensive Bill of Rights.
Three years after the act became law, there has been no visible transformation. The media continues to carry stories of rising numbers of dropouts, unavailability of sanitary wear and there have been no well documented success stories of management of cases. Citizens must acknowledge that there is a possibility that there is a level of implementation and success.
In the light of that, Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) is on a drive to implement the transformative and gender equitable social policies within the education sector through a 3-year monitoring, evaluation, and reporting exercise to the benefit of up to 300 000 leaners in rural schools.
As ARTUZ, we have been on a drive of monitoring the implementation of transformative, gender equitable progressive social policies in schools. This has been done through our community engagement programs with parents, students, teachers and community leaders.
ARTUZ has identified specific transformative and gender equitable social policies within the education sector that can contribute to the realization of inclusive access to education for all learners.
Free and compulsory education
Section 75 of the Zimbabwe constitution provides that every Zimbabwean has a “right to a basic state funded education and therefore “the state, through reasonable and legislative and other measures must make progressively available and accessible.”
The Education Act, (as amended in 2020) provides that “basic education means education from early childhood education up to the fourth form and any other category as may be declared as such by the Minister by notice in the Gazette from time to time.” It further defines basic state funded education as “education from early childhood education up to form four.” The Education Amendment Act, 2020 in Zimbabwe mandates the provision of free education from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to the fourth form, aligning with the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) and aiming to enhance access to quality, equitable, and inclusive education.
The law requires the state to supply teaching and learning materials, uniforms, and cover tuition and fees for all learners in public schools, reinforcing the compulsory nature of state-funded education and criminalizing parents who keep their children away from school, with potential penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment. The legislation has the potential to reduce inequalities and combat child marriages by making it illegal to remove girls from school without exemptions. Additionally, the amendment prohibits schools from excluding learners based on non-payment of school fees.
ARTUZ will monitor access to state-funded education in target schools and districts, and the availability of government funding for vulnerable children will be monitored accordingly. However, a significant obstacle to implementation remains the lack of a funding mechanism for basic education, as the budget allocation for government tuition grants in 2023 amounted to a mere ZWL$1.930 billion, equivalent to less than 10 cents per learner due to inflation.
Continuous education (re-entry) for pregnant learners
Globally, the issue of access to education for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers is recognized as a universal social and educational concern. The Constitution of Zimbabwe emphasizes the importance of providing equal educational opportunities for girls and boys at all levels. To promote this equality, the Education Act was amended to include section 68C, which states that no student should be excluded from school due to non-payment of fees or pregnancy.
This amendment represents a significant step taken by the Government of Zimbabwe to protect the right to education for pregnant students and adolescent mothers, removing a major barrier to accessing education and allowing girls to continue their schooling. However, the success of this progressive policy is hindered by negative attitudes and stereotypes
held by both learners and educators. Public discussions often perpetuate biased assumptions and stereotypes regarding teenage pregnancy and parenthood, with concerns raised about pregnant learners being a negative influence on others. Nevertheless, it is crucial for schools and the education system to prioritize the best interests of the learners and not be swayed by personal biases.
Despite differing views influenced by biases, the inclusion of pregnant learners in schools remains a progressive policy that contributes positively to inclusive access to education and aligns with the concept of reproductive justice, aiming to limit the impact of teenage pregnancy on children’s lives.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services
The 2020 amendment act introduces significant improvements in sexual and reproductive health services for learners in schools, addressing an important gap in the previous legislation. One notable provision is Section 4, which mandates the provision of sanitary wear and menstrual health facilities, including water and sanitation, in all schools.
This is a remarkable advancement, as the previous law did not explicitly address this fundamental right. Ensuring access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities is crucial for promoting the well-being and dignity of girls, women, and all menstruating individuals.
It is also aligned with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The inclusion of free sanitary pads for girls, as outlined in Section 4, recognizes the potential disruption that menstruation can cause to girls’ education. Adolescent girls often face financial challenges in accessing sanitary wear, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene during school hours, and dealing with potential stigma from male peers. Therefore, providing access to sanitary products at the school level, along with Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) for both boys and girls, is essential to address these challenges and ensure uninterrupted education for girls.
However, effective access to sanitary wear and facilities depends on adequate funding and transparent distribution mechanisms. Unfortunately, the service has been underfunded and plagued by corrupt practices. The allocated budget for sanitary wear in 2023 was insufficient, amounting to only $2.46 per learner, while low-cost sanitary wear typically costs around $1 for a pack of 8, falling significantly short of meeting a girl’s menstrual needs for a year. Furthermore,
irregularities in procurement and distribution have been reported, with billions of Zimbabwean dollars allocated for sanitary wear in rural schools remaining unaccounted for. Some learners received substandard materials, including inadequate panty liners that did not serve as proper menstrual hygiene products.
Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) also exhibits significant gaps, leaving both boys and girls vulnerable to abuse and harmful behaviors. Implementing a standardized CSE curriculum can empower young people to make informed decisions about their bodies, recognize inappropriate behavior, and understand the importance of reporting it. Historically, awareness programs have primarily targeted girls, resulting in boys being less likely to report sexual abuse.
Boys would greatly benefit from CSE programs in schools to eliminate shame and improve their understanding of sexual health. Equipping young people with knowledge about their bodies and the changes they will experience not only fosters confidence but also reduces the likelihood of shaming others.
Additionally, ARTUZ is going monitor the extent to which learners have access to sufficient CSE and other sexual and reproductive health services and information. Monitoring ensures that the provisions outlined in the amendment act are effectively implemented and that learners receive the necessary support and education to make informed choices and protect themselves from abuse and harm.
Corporal punishment as disciplinary action
The amendment act mandates that all schools must have a disciplinary policy that upholds the human dignity of learners. The act explicitly prohibits any form of discipline that involves physical or psychological torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. To align with the amendment act, disciplinary measures should be moderate, reasonable, and proportionate.
However, the implementation of this policy is hindered by the attitudes of some educators who still believe in the necessity of corporal punishment to control and discipline children. We are going to monitor schools to ensure they have established disciplinary policies and that teachers adhere to them. It is also important to ensure that these policies do not contain gender biases that result in harsher punishments for boys.
Learners with disabilities
The amendment act places the responsibility of providing accommodation for learners with disabilities on schools, in line with the goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all. However, the act does not clearly articulate how this inclusion will be funded and realized. It is crucial to ensure that schools have the necessary resources to provide assistive technologies, accessible learning materials, and facilities that enable learners with disabilities to fully participate in education. The act does provide for monitoring of inclusive facilities in schools, and the results of these monitoring exercises can be used as a basis for advocacy to secure increased funding and support for inclusive education.
The provision in the act that places the burden on individual schools, rather than the state, to provide infrastructure for learners with disabilities is problematic. Many schools already face financial constraints and have dilapidated infrastructure. This means that learners with disabilities may have to wait until resources become available before they can access the educational infrastructure and services they need.
Gender Equality within the school system
To address issues of gender norms in school there is need for school policies and interventions that address the “hidden curriculum in schools”. Gender equality in Zimbabwe is a constitutional provision in Zimbabwe and section 56 speaks to equality and non-discrimination. There is however a gap in policies with legal force that can facilitate the realization of these provisions holistically in education. The amendment is clear on the issue of non-discrimination in enrollment processes however this will not deal with the gendered issues leaners encounter in schools.
The education system still has elements of mirroring gender roles and norms. This could be in the extra curriculum activity or the general treatment of girls and boys that reinforces differences and stereotypes. Some of the content used to deliver the curriculum has been criticized for reinforcing stereotypes by referencing to the gender roles such as mother staying at home to watch the children and manage the house and father going out to work. Other references could be the images of professions that are gendered that can influence perceptions and reinforce gender divisions. Stereotypes and mirroring of gender roles do not only affect girls, but they also shortchange boys who are sole life skills training that could benefit them in their adult lives. The boys are also victims of stereotyping that keeps them from pursuing professions that gender norms classify as “pink collar.”
Home Grown School Feeding Program
Providing nutrition for learners is essential for improving educational outcomes and narrowing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more privileged peers. School feeding programs serve as a social safety net and contribute to the overall health of students. Enhanced nutrition supports concentration abilities and can also incentivize more children to attend school by ensuring they receive at least one meal per day.
Currently, the home-grown feeding program primarily targets primary schools. In 2023, the budget allocation for the program amounted to $4,332 million, with a target of 6,400 primary schools located in rural areas.
This translates to approximately $646 per school per year, which is inadequate to provide meals for learners throughout the year. There is a need to advocate for an increase in funding for the program and the inclusion of urban schools, as learners in these areas also face urban poverty and limited access to proper nutrition.
We are on a drive to monitor the accountability, availability, and effectiveness of the program in the designated districts is crucial.
Management of sexual abuse cases
The amendment to section 69 of the principal act introduces regulations for managing sexual abuse cases in schools, addressing the crucial issue of ensuring the safety of girls and seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence. These factors directly affect learners’ participation and can hinder their educational empowerment. Additionally, sexual abuse is associated with an increase in suicide cases, further highlighting its detrimental impact on the mental health of learners.
Sexual abuse often occurs due to the abuse of power by individuals in positions of authority over the victims.
The privileged position of the perpetrators often leads to the silencing of the victims. Holding perpetrators accountable in meaningful ways is crucial to empower survivors and deter future offenders. The management of sexual abuse cases should be transparent, with the outcomes serving as a deterrent for potential perpetrators.
Our mission is to monitor how the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) has responded to cases of sexual abuse in schools following the amendment and to document these cases effectively.