By Suzanne Beukes
Harare, Zimbabwe, 11 July 2012 – Using a machine resembling a typewriter, 15-year-old Kubulani Mbusa creates an embossed pattern on a white page. “This is my name,” he said proudly.
During his entire school career, Kumbulani has not had a textbook to follow in class and has to rely solely on his Perkins Brailler machine to complete his schoolwork.
VIDEO: UNICEF reports on the Education Transition Fund, which is is providing learning resources and improving school quality for the most vulnerable and marginalized children in Zimbabwe, including those with disabilities.
Rewriting Zimbabwe’s education system
In Zimbabwe, visually impaired children follow the same curriculum as sighted children, though often without the necessary resources.
But soon Kumbulani will be able to follow lessons in his own textbook and work at the same pace as other children. That’s because the Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture is working with UNICEF and donor partners through the Education Transition Fund (ETF) to make sure that children in Zimbabwe – especially the most marginalized and vulnerable – have the proper learning resources.
The ETF has supported Sister Catherine Jackson and her eight-person team at the Dorothy Duncan Braille Library in Harare to produce, print and distribute books for visually impaired students. They have already produced 3,200 core Braille textbooks for primary schools and are now printing secondary school books as well.
Sister Catherine started the Braille library over 20 years ago. She lost sight in her eye many years ago and is determined to ensure visually impaired children are able to reach their full potential. Hers is the only facility in Zimbabwe that prints Braille books. The small team works long hours to ensure the books will be ready on time.
Despite encountering serious challenges, including broken printers and paper shortages, Sister Catherine and her team are undeterred. “It’s a very difficult job. But we do it because we want the children to have the books,” she said.
The Education Transition Fund came about in 2009 to address the dire needs of the country’s education system, which has suffered teacher shortages, a pupil-to-textbook ratio of 10-to-1, and high drop-out rates.
Minister of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture David Coltart said, “The ETF has had a profound impact on the education sector. It has boosted confidence and has got textbook-pupil-ratios down to 1:1. We’ve also seen the provision of exercise books and other provisions and so that’s enhanced the whole environment.”
Overall, some 22 million textbooks were printed, procured and distributed to 8,015 primary and secondary schools, along with other supplies including those for early childhood development centres.
In addition to the textbooks, the Fund also invested in the training of School Development Committees to improve management of schools on a community level, and has provided technical assistance to strengthen the Ministry’s ability to monitor educational services.
These investments, in conjunction with initiatives such as the basic education assistance module, which helps vulnerable children attend school, have helped revitalize the education sector and boosted the performance of learners.
At Dombo Primary School in Chivi District, the results are starting to show. Principle Anyway Zenda said, “The performance has now improved because of the availability of these textbooks. The pass rates has improved from grade 1 to grade 7.”
Partners are now implementing a long-term plan focusing on broader investments in schools to further improve education quality. UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Peter Salama explained, “Due to the success of phase one of ETF, all of our partners – the Ministry of Education, donors, UN and civil society partners – have said we can’t stop there. [We need to] move further than that now and into phase two, looking at a more sophisticated and complex intervention.”
“It will be more challenging,” said Jorge Pereiro Pinon, Head of Social Sectors of the delegation of the European Union to Zimbabwe. “But it’s on a very good basis, so we are sure it will work as good as the first phase.”
The hope is that these investments will mean that all Zimbabwean children will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. As for Kumbulani, he is working hard to one day fulfil his dream of becoming in a lawyer.