HARARE – The Education Amendment Bill is currently before Parliament. The proposed law introduces some important changes to the Education Act which governs education policy in Zimbabwe. Given the far-reaching, bipartisan nature of the Bill, every citizen must be familiar with some of the key changes that the law seeks to introduce.
One major criticism is that the bill does not provide for the safety of students and teachers in circumstances where they may be subjected to political involvement. That said, there are progressive aspects of the bill, including the incorporation of some key constitutional principles into the statutory framework.
What is the purpose of the Education Amendment Bill?
The purpose of the Education Amendment Bill is to align the Education Act [Chapter 25:04] with the Constitution. The Education Act was enacted on the 8th of June 1987. The purpose of the Education Act is to set out the objectives of and fundamental rights pertaining to education in Zimbabwe. The Act also provides for the establishment, maintenance and regulation of government schools, government teachers’ colleges and other government educational facilities as well as the establishment and administration of non-government schools and teachers colleges. It further governs the registration and control of educational institution and the transfer of teachers to the Civil Service.
What does the Constitution say about the right to education?
Section 27 of the Constitution provides that the State must take all practical measures to promote free and compulsory basic education for children. The State is also directed to promote higher and tertiary education. In terms of the same section, the State must take measures to ensure that girls are afforded the same opportunities as boys to obtain education at all levels.
Section 75 of the Constitution provides that every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to basic State-funded education, including adult basic education, which the State, through reasonable legislative and other measures must make progressively available and accessible. The section goes on to establish very person’s right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions of reasonable standards, provided that they do not discriminate on any ground prohibited by the Constitution.
Section 4 of the Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of tribe, place of origin, national or ethnic origin, political opinions, colour, creed or gender. Clause 3 of the Bill adds further grounds on which it is impermissible to discriminate against a child on admission to school, namely, nationality, class, custom, culture, marital status pregnancy, social status and legitimacy.
It must be borne in mind that schools that are established by bona fide religious organizations are exempt from the provisions of section 4 as they apply to creed.
“Basic state-funded education”
Clause 4 of the Bill seeks to amend section 5 of the Act, which provides that is the objective in Zimbabwe that primary education for every child of school-going age shall be compulsory and to this end it shall be the duty of the parents of any such child to ensure that such child attends primary school.
The Bill repeals this entire section and replaces it with a provision which, adopting the language of the Constitution, states that every child shall be entitled to basic state-funded education.
The Bill defines “basic state funded education” to include education from early childhood education up to grade seven, adult education up to grade seven or any other category as may be declared as such by the Minister by notice in the Gazette from time to time subject to section 75 of the Constitution.
Mandatory land for school infrastructure
Clause 5 of the Bill adds a new sub-section to section 8 of the Act which makes it mandatory for every local authority in Zimbabwe to provide land for school infrastructure.
Payment of registration and annual fees by non-governmental schools
Clause 9 of the Bill seeks to introduce a new provision which requires every school that is not a government or “faith-based school” to pay a registration fee and an annual fee as may be prescribed by the Minister. The Bill does not define “faith-based school.”
Adult and non-formal education
Clause 10 of the Bill requires every school to “endeavour” to offer non-formal education including adult education.
National Education Advisory Board
Clause 11 of the Bill seeks to amend section 33 of the Act to require the National Education Advisory Board to meet at least once every quarter.
According to section 28 of the Act, the purpose of the Board is to advise the Minister and make recommendations on matters of education to which the Act pertains.
Languages to be taught in public schools
Clause 12 of the Bill seeks to repeal section 62 of the Act, which, among other things, only recognizes English, Shona and Ndebele. The Bill states that every school shall “endeavour” to teach every recognized language.
In terms of section 6 of the Constitution, Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa are the officially recognized languages of Zimbabwe.
Clause 12 of the Bill further states that every school shall “endeavour” to ensure that the language of instruction shall be the language of examination and ensure that the mother tongue is used as a medium of instruction in early childhood education. However, the use of these official languages is subject to the availability of State resources and subject to the availability of teachers, examiners, textbooks and other educational materials necessary for instruction in these languages.
Appointment of sexual and reproductive health personnel
Clause 13 of the Bill seeks to amend section 64 of Act to empower the Minister to make regulations that govern the appointment of sexual and reproductive health personnel in schools.
Use of emerging technologies in education
Clause 14 of the Bill seeks to amend section 69 of the Act to empower the Minister to make regulations that govern the use of emerging technologies in education.
Clause 14 of the Bill seeks to amend section 69 of the Act to empower the Minister to make regulations that govern the manner in which feeding schemes may be conducted at schools.
Pupil Discipline and Corporal Punishment
Clause 15 of the Bill seeks to amend section 68 of the Act to include a requirement that the responsible authority at every school shall draw up a disciplinary policy for the school. Clause 15 seeks to outlaw the resort to any treatment which does not respect the human dignity of a pupil, which amounts to physical or psychological torture or which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This clause further seeks to incorporate a clause that affords a pupil, with the support of his or her parents, the right to be heard before the pupil is suspended. Clause 15 seeks to firmly prohibit a teacher from beating a child.
Pupils with disabilities
Clause 15 of the Bill seeks to amend section 68 of the Act to incorporate a new section 68B which requires every school to provide infrastructure suitable for pupils with disabilities, subject to the availability of resources. The same clause seeks to empower the Secretary to monitor and enter schools to ascertain whether the rights of pupils with disabilities are being taken into account in teaching and learning. Every school will be required to submit a plan highlighting how the school shall advance the rights of pupils with disabilities.
Clause 15 of the Bill seeks to amend section 68 of the Act to incorporate a new section 68D, which prohibits the exclusion of a pupil on the basis of pregnancy.
Non-payment of school fees
Clause 15 of the Bill seeks to amend section 68 of the Act to incorporate a new section 68D that prohibits the exclusion of a pupil for non-payment of school fees.
Basic Education Fund
Clause 15 of the Bill seeks to amend section 68 of the Act to incorporate a new section 68C that creates a Basic Education Fund to fund educational infrastructure and support the payment of fees for pupils who genuinely cannot afford. The activities of the fund are to be funded by monies appropriated by Parliament or donations, grants or bequests approved by the Minister.
Fadzayi Mahere is the MDC’s secretary for sport and education