One million drop out of school

Daily News – by Mugove Tafirenyika

15 January 2014

HARARE - Almost a million Zimbabwean orphans and disadvantaged children who depend on State assistance to pay school fees may be unable to enrol as the new term opened this week after government failed to raise funds.

Under the Basic Education Assistance Model (Beam), the government needs US$73 million to pay school fees of orphans and disadvantaged children, but Ngoni Masoka, the permanent secretary in the Public Service ministry, told a parliamentary portfolio committee on Public Service Labour and Social Welfare, that only US$15 million was budgeted for Beam this fiscal year, a figure he said was grossly insufficient.

He warned that hundreds of thousands of children will drop out of school.

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has led to job losses, making it impossible for growing numbers of parents to pay tuition fees. Unemployment now stands at 80 percent, and is rising as businesses continue to fold.

For those still employed in the formal sector, low wages have worsened a situation that is already desperate.

The announcement that there were no funds for Beam came after hard-pressed guardians of Beam beneficiaries had made representations to government to expand the programme to include the purchasing of exercise books.

The US$73 million is needed to assist in the education of one million children. But only US$15 million has been raised.

Masoka said the situation had been compounded by the withdrawal of donors such as Unicef and the United Kingdom Aid (UKaid)’s Department for International Development (DfID) among others.

No comment was available from the British Embassy and Unicef yesterday, as officials had left when we sought comment late yesterday.

Official sources said the donors who used to pay for pupils under Beam had anticipated that there would be no need for aid as primary education was supposed to be free under the new Zimbabwe Constitution adopted last year in May.

“Allocated budget by Treasury of US$15 million will only assist 83 000 secondary school children against the targeted 250 000,” Masoka said.

“The implication is that 167 000 (secondary school) children will not be able to access government assistance for secondary education.

“For primary school, the target is 750 000 children at a total cost of US$8 per child per term which amounts to US$28 million per year.

“US$15 million is expected from donors; however, no commitment has been formally communicated to the ministry.

“If donors are to come on board, 625 000 children will be assisted and the other 125 000 will still be in need of funding.”

Masoka said the latest Beam evaluation revealed that ideally, the programme should reach one million children.

“Thus for 2014, the programme intended to target one million children broken down as follows: 750 000 primary school children and 250 000 secondary schoolchildren,” he said.

Appearing before the same parliamentary committee, the ministry’s director of Social Services Sydney Mhishi reported that government had also failed to provide adequate funding for 5 700 “Children in Difficult Circumstances (CDC)” as well as street children.

“Out of the US$1 364 453 and US$80 000 the ministry had proposed for CDCs and street children, Treasury allocated US$500 000 and US$20 000, representing 37 and 25 percent respectively,” Mhishi said.

“Under this scenario, the possibility of some institutions closing down is great.

“This leaves government with the burden of where to place the affected children taking into account the daily subsistence needs and school requirements of institutionalised and foster care children.”

Lawmakers sympathised with the ministry officials, placing the blame squarely on Patrick Chinamasa, the Finance minister, for failing to adequately mobilise resources to help children needing social safety nets.