...."When Zimbabwe attained its independence 28 years ago, the new government inherited an education infrastructure that had been ravaged by war and it was almost like starting afresh, but children managed to attend classes, teachers taught, and examinations were written. Virtually all that has stopped," he said.
Zimbabwe's economic slide began in earnest in 2000 and the country is now battling an official annual inflation rate of 231 million percent and unemployment of more than 80 percent, with the prospect that more than 5 million people - nearly half the population - will need food assistance in the first quarter of 2009, according to the UN.
Education policies adopted by the government after 1980 boosted the sector, giving Zimbabwe a literacy rate of more than 96 percent - one of the continent's highest. "In retrospect, nothing that has been happening over the years comes near the crisis that we face this year," Majongwe said.
Soon after independence from Britain, President Robert Mugabe's government adopted a variety of strategies to boost education, which received one of the biggest allocations in the budget. The number of schools increased, improving accessibility even in hard-to-reach areas; working conditions for teachers were improved and specialist teachers were sent to other countries for training.
Now the education system, once so highly regarded, has disintegrated, with an estimated 45,000 teachers leaving the profession since 2004.
"There was no learning that took place this year, which opened with teachers embarking on industrial action because of poor salaries. The situation was made worse by the fact that the majority of teachers did not turn up, having elected to look for greener pastures in other countries," Majongwe said.
The first term in 2008, which usually runs from January to April, ended in March because general elections were held that month. Widespread post-election violence prevented schools from opening, and the ruling ZANU-PF party's youth militias targeted teachers; school buildings were often used as bases for Mugabe supporters.
Children spent most of the second term without learning, Majongwe said, because of politically motivated violence, a shortage of teachers and strike action. No meaningful learning is currently taking place, as pupils have to pay teachers to give them private lessons; those who cannot afford to pay are left out.
"Normally, at this time of the year, schools would be busy with examinations ... but it would be grossly unfair to conduct them, given that there was hardly any learning. Examinations should just be cancelled this year," Majongwe said.
He said a PTUZ survey found there were only 23 days of normal learning this year, and projected a pass rate of about 3 percent if examinations were held. "That would affect our rating internationally, because no country takes seriously the products of a country with such a pass rate."...