....Several of Zimbabwe's cash-strapped public schools have requested pupils to bring furniture from home. The education system is struggling under the weight of the country's seven-year-long political crisis.
Zimbabwe's school system was one of the best on the African continent after the country gained independence in 1980. Previously the government provided furniture and other necessities.
Government provision has faltered and the authorities have imposed a ceiling on fees to prevent schools from raising money to cover the cost of chairs and desks.
Blackstone Primary School, a "whites-only" school before independence, is regarded as one of the top primary schools in the country. At first, it was one of the many schools that benefited from the strides the government made after independence in building new schools, libraries and providing learning materials.
But the school has lost its glitter after years of underfunding. Like all government schools, it lacks everything from textbooks to toilet paper. Infrastructure at schools is in a state of total dilapidation.
The Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe, one of two teachers' representative bodies in the country, said the fact that authorities require parents to provide chairs is testimony to the state of decay in most public schools. "It shows the extent of the chaos in the education sector," stated a representative.
Teachers have also been adversely affected. High levels of stress due to low wages are driving scores of them from the profession. Those that remain are spending their time selling sweets and other goods to supplement their meagre salaries instead of concentrating on their core business of teaching.
Zimbabwean teachers on average earn between Z$400 000 and Z$800 000 (between about R11 000 and R23 000). According to the government's Central Statistics Office, an average family of five people requires about Z$900 000 per month (or R25 000) for basic goods and services.
Farai Mpofu, a parent, believes it will be a "miracle" if Zimbabwe attains universal primary education by 2015, as per the United Nations's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
"Education in Zimbabwe is in a bad state. The standards have deteriorated alarmingly compared to 10 years ago. Because of the harsh economic environment, teachers are now selling sweets and knitting jerseys," said Mpofu.
"The education sector is losing highly qualified teachers to neighbouring countries. Kids at public schools are left with teachers who have no interest at all in the job because of low salaries," according to Mpofu.
Alice Muchine, a primary-school teacher, described the state of primary education as "near zero". "It is all zero here. We have no resources. We want textbooks to help the children during reading time. We have no charts of instruction, or chalk, or syllabuses. We have nothing.
"Most of the parents can no longer pay fees for the kids. The Beam scheme only pays for the fees and not for books for the kids," said Muchine. The Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) is need-based financial aid awarded by the government to orphans. It is limited to school fees and caters for 10 pupils per school....