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UNICEF Says Zimbabwean School Enrollment Stable, Teachers Disagree


UNICEF says that against great odds, Zimbabwean parents are keeping their children in school and attendance has not been affected by the government's forced removals of about 700,000 urban residents in May and June. The U.N. agency has called for donors to support this commitment to education.

The U.N. Children's Fund says that despite a declining economy, rising unemployment, an orphan crisis from AIDS and a campaign of demolitions of homes in urban areas, Zimbabweans continue to send their children to school.

A UNICEF report made earlier this month said that primary school enrollment rates have risen and remain stable among orphans and girls.

The report says the government's recent campaign to demolish homes in some urban areas has not affected school enrollment.

An official with the agency in Zimbabwe said education costs are a strain for families and called for international support for Zimbabwe's education system. A UNICEF official, however, did not say how much aid was needed.

Many teachers say, however, the government's demolition program has cut school enrollment. Ray Majongwe is the president of the Progressive Teachers Union.

"But it would also be very incorrect this last operation saw everyone still going to school. That is not a very correct assessment. We have evidence, we have statistics that we are still gathering, to prove that there are certain parents who were moved from certain areas to other areas and those kids have never attended school," he said.

Mr. Majongwe says Zimbabweans cherish education for their children as the most positive gain since independence from British rule 25 years ago. He says, however, that the economic and political crisis during the past few years has hurt the quality of education and many children leave school barely able to read.

"There are no books, if the books are there they are sharing them, there are no desks, if they are there they are broken; … students have to break early because there is no transport, because students have to come to school hungry because there [is] no food; the teacher comes to work late because there is no transport, teachers come to work and do not do his best because he is hungry, … add to all this and you end up with a collapsing education system," added Mr. Majongwe.

Mr. Majongwe predicts that school test results will be worse this year following the building demolitions, which U.N. officials say left at least 700,000 homeless. He says in 2003, after two violent national elections, there was a nearly 70 percent failure rate.

The government said the demolitions were necessary to drive out crime and that it would build houses for those left homeless.

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