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Textbooks for all in Zimbabwe

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Education

Before I write about my new work at the EU delegation office in Zimbabwe, I must add a sad postscript to my time in Kano, northern Nigeria. Just a week after departing in late July, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death of Richard Dalgarno, education programme team leader for the Education sector support programme (ESSPIN) in Nigeria.

For the past two years I had worked closely with Richard and often dropped by at the weekend to chat in his carefully tended garden and let off steam about the wuhala (chaos) all around. Richard’s motto and favourite t-shirt was ‘Learn by Doing’. He had been rolling out practical improvements for schools, teachers and children all over Kano, just as he had done in places as diverse as 'first nation' groups in Canada, as well as communities in Zambia and the Solomon Islands. He is, and will continue to be, greatly missed.

Education Transition Fund

Arriving in Harare was a bit like stepping into a manicured garden city suburb of south east England, after the dusty hustle and bustle of Kano. You would have no idea of the recent turmoil and conflict that has affected the country from the well tended gardens, traffic free roads and jacaranda trees blooming in a riot of violet, as spring arrives in the southern hemisphere.

My first time out on an official engagement turned out to be a major one; the textbook distribution launch of the Education Transition Fund (ETF). ETF is a multi-donor financed programme supporting the revival of the school system and is managed by UNICEF. Like Nigeria (I’ll try to stop saying that too often), Zimbabwe had much better quality schools in the not too distant past. But in the past decade, the economy went into freefall with hyper-inflation and in 2008 teachers stopped being paid - hardly anyone was buying school books!

New text books

A huge injection of books was needed and so over 13 million primary textbooks have been ordered. That is enough for four textbooks each (all of the core subjects) for all the three million primary school kids in Zimbabwe. The launch was held on the edge of town next to a huge warehouse the size of an aircraft hanger - the logistics hub. Mountains of steel book cabinets, stationery kits and books were being shrink-wrapped onto pallets, custom packed for every school. Having learnt a few tricks from Fedex, a GPS school survey had been completed, so that the delivery trucks could precisely deliver to each school and satellite campus to ensure they reached the intended recipients.

A whole host of senior officials and dignitaries gathered to celebrate this event which signifies a tangible step toward rebuilding Zimbabwe’s shattered education system. Smartly turned-out students sang and acted out a play illustrating the unpleasant consequences for anyone found selling the books...

Prime Minister Tsvangirai addresses the Launch

The Zimbabwean Minister of Education, Senator David Coltart thanked the international community for support in delivering on promises to improve social services; peaceful socio-economic development was now becoming a reality. However the last word fell to an appreciative Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai who commented that education was vital for the nation's long term recovery and to build human capital. He addressed the school children in the audience:

'Children, these books are for your use! We represent the past, but you represent the future!'  

Hopefully I have come to Zimbabwe at a turning point back on to the road to recovery, certainly what I observed today was very encouraging. However ‘education for all’ isn’t just ‘textbooks for all’ - there is still plenty more that needs to be done to restore what 20 years ago was considered one of the best education systems in Africa.

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  1. Comment by Kayode Sanni posted on

    Good stuff, Ian. You appear to have picked the right moment to commence your Zim experience. 3 million kids in school - is that a sizeable proportion of the school age population? Given the recent (and current?) hyperinflation, are parents paying for schooling? Enjoy your time!

  2. Comment by Sarah Greeff posted on

    This is excellent news, for the past 3 years we were supporting a small primary school in the Nyika area and watched as things just fell apart. I used to teach in one of the skills training centres when I was a VSO and one of my friends worked in Publishing in Harare for textbooks, this was the late 90's at the beginning of the doom and gloom years. I now live near Hwange and apart from the town we do not have any schools on our doorstep. I am however a qualified tUK teacher now working in the Safari industry! How can I find out which is my nearest school that received this donation of books... I would like to be involved and help if we can. We live in the bush and do not have access to newspapers so the internet is a vital link to the outside world, but sometimes it hard to find out whats happening on your doorstep!

  3. Comment by Hedwig posted on

    Well done Ian and your compatriots. Did school children in the remote areas of Muzarabani et al receive books as well or it was just those who are near the peripherals of Harare and other major cities. I would be interested to know. Hope more books and teaching materials will be donated to alleviate this huge lack of learning materials.

  4. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Sarah: pallets of stationery and steel cabinets per school should have been delivered in the Hwange area already and text books arriving in the Oct - Dec period, hopefully before the rains. UNICEF have a central logistics operation to track deliveries to eac hindividual school and they want the school teachers to SMS back a delivery confirmation - perhaps you can help!

    Hedwig: thanks for your encouragement: the materials are going nationwide - ALL primary schools and book distribution in the remoter areas is starting first before the rains start.

  5. Comment by Munya posted on

    This is extremely good news. Educate children, educate the future! The next stage is to build/revive a reading culture amongst children, and even the adults. Zimbabwean education should always be there at the top in Africa.

  6. Comment by Recho posted on

    We appreciate the work you are doing but the fact is not all children are going to school. What is being done for those many orphans living with their grandparents who can are struggling to bring them up? Others are children with a parent who is dying of AIDS.

  7. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Hi Recho,

    if you some more recent postings they describe BEAM - a government programme support by donors en masse since lae 2009 that is providing Zimbabwean orphans and other vulnerable children (over half a million) with school fees and levies. Other scoial protection programmes are also being developed.

    UNICEF reported to me just before Xmasa that primary textbook distribution is now more or less complete, nationwide, except for Kwekwe, Gokwe South and Chegutu districts (more stock is needed, to come later this year).

  8. Comment by Gail Spence posted on

    This is a great effort. I would suggest that perhaps instead of just promoting reading and distributing text books go further and develop a national strategy for each country that would include percentage targets of young students that are able to read to their is full coverage of students about to reach with a strategy framework on how government, donors, businesses, NGOs, the diaspora, and volunteers can contribute to every child being able to read by 3rd grade and a substainable strategy in place that all children will be able to read by age 3. I would suggest that constant reporting on progress, achievements, and set backs be shared publically to attract awareness and greater support. There should be friendly competition between communities, provinces as well as between countries in the region to see who can achieve their set targets first. Cuba educated a nation in a very short period of time by opening up literacy centers and mobilizing a massive number of volunteers help teach every single Cuban how to read. There is no reason with the technology, know how, expertise and lessons learned today we in the development field can be just as effective in achieving these kind of results with creative project design, public private partnerships with businesses, universities, the diaspora, ngos.

  9. Comment by Haladu posted on

    Please do not stop your "like Nigeria..." thing. It gives us a means of identifying with the Zim programs and serves to keep us a team.

    There is alot to learn from this initiative, especially now that the USAId global education strategy has somewhat changed. We are keen to learn how textbooks can reivigorate reading and leraning achievement.

    Keep sharing. We keep learning.



  10. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Fully agree with your suggestions for a big push on literacy in early grades, although all reading by age 3 would be ambitious to say the least! The ETF is currently supporting a national reading assessment of children in grade 3 for exactly this purpose, to benchmark progress and enable monitoring.

    Great to hear from you and I hope the USAID programmes, especially the Northern Education Initiative are going well!