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Zimbabwe's Education System Crippled on First School Day

Very few teachers turned up to work on the first day of Zimbabwe's 2009 school year. They are being paid in Zimbabwe dollars and their salary will not buy a single loaf of bread. Education had been President Robert Mugabe's finest achievement, but now most children at government schools have no teachers.

Last year nearly four million children at government schools had only 23 consecutive days of education. It is going to be much worse in 2009 if the first day of the school year is anything to go by.

Most of Harare's schools were closed on the first day, which had been postponed for two weeks as 2008 examinations had not been marked. They have still not been marked.

At a high school in a high density southern Harare suburb, Zengeza 2, the headmaster arrived and left after a few hours. He said parents had been asked to pay about $10 US for the term, but only 10 out of 1,000 pupils' parents had paid.

At Chaminuka Primary School in St. Mary's, 25 kilometers south of Harare, a caretaker said not a single pupil had attended in the past six months, and he expected it would be no better this year.

A 12-year-old orphan girl, called Tatenda, has finished her fourth year at school and her education has now stopped because she does not have any money. She was begging for money with three friends in a Harare suburb.

"I live with my grandmother. There is no anything to go to school, there is no food, there is no clothes, there is no anything to give to me. I finished grade four, there is no money, Madam, please everyday I am coming here to beg for help. There is no going to school, no going to school, for me, no going to school," she said.

The headmaster of Dungwiza Primary School, south of Harare, said he did not bother to withdraw his salary from the bank last week as it is worth nothing. He said he was a graduate and was surviving by selling clothes on the streets.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions President Lovemore Matombo says parents were asked to pay fees to government schools in foreign currency and that once a government loses faith in its own currency it has also lost its sovereignty. He says there is literally no education going on in Zimbabwe, just as there is no health care either.

Progressive Teachers Union President Raymond Majongwe says few children went to schools on opening day across Zimbabwe.

He says there is serious confusion countrywide at schools where teachers last salary was 26 trillion Zimbabwe dollars, or less than one U.S. dollar. Most goods and services are now priced in U.S. dollars.

Majongwe says estimates are that only 60,000 teachers are left in Zimbabwe. He said they had voted with their feet and left the country.

He says the government has wasted scarce foreign currency importing expensive agricultural equipment for Zanu PF supporters, while children went uneducated.

A parent who had come to see whether his child's school had opened went away disappointed. He said the problem was teachers' poor salaries. "For schools to be open it needs teachers, so the children are coming to school, but the teachers are not here, so the government must act on this issue, addressing the teachers problems."

In the wealthier suburbs north of Harare there were also problems, but not as serious. At Highlands Primary School only four out of 25 teachers turned up for work on the first day of term.