Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Education: South Africa and Zimbabwe’s challenges

There are a number of significant benefits that education is able bring to different nations. In sub-Saharan Africa, apart from the general human development, increased knowledge assists in addressing societal ills better. An educated population is well equipped to address issues facing the region including the on-going industrial revolution and the general eradication of poverty and all its related challenges. Therefore, for Southern African countries, South Africa and Zimbabwe in particular, there needs to be a deliberate, concerted effort for the provision of decolonized free education for all, but there are hindrances in achieving this.


Primary education is regarded as the most important stage in the educational system for its benefits looking into the future and governments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should continue to strive to make it accessible to everyone not only increasing the budgets of the national departments of education but building capacity in the already existing structures that provide education in different countries.

In the last 50 years, enrolment in education has increased significantly at every level for all genders in the SADC region. Enrolment rates in primary education have increased at an average rate of 1.5%, with female enrolment at 1.6%. The region performs consistently better than sub-Saharan Africa although it trails other regions in the world with enrolment rates of 6.3%.

A large number of pupils are coming out of the school system without acquiring the essential principles of education that is the ability to read with understanding the content, the ability to write and a firm grasp on arithmetic’s. One of the other biggest challenges facing education in the SADC region is the questionable attitude of the teacher’s content knowledge and the competencies needed to impart skills needed by the learners in their schooling journey.


For South Africa, the issue of limited resources and how they are used is still a big question, because of the levels of accountability and transparency. This presents a hindrance in the learners acquiring knowledge and information. But there is also inadequate support for teachers themselves and the bureaucracy in the Department of Educations makes it difficult for teachers to raise their issues.

One of the other big factors facing the South Africa education system is the constant shift in the curriculum that makes it hard for both the teachers and the learners to have a firm grasp on the content that they are exposed to. This will obviously present a huge challenge for teachers who will constantly need to be work-shopped on the changes.

There’s also a missing culture of reading from South African learners a general lack of motivational push to learn from their community and families and would rather outsource this function to media and social media in particular.

Teacher late-coming, absenteeism and an inability to enact the basic functions of teaching are endemic in many South African schools. In most instances you would find teachers consumed with administrative work relating to the department of education or their union work rather than doing their core function of teaching and imparting knowledge.

Inequality rare its ugly head again in the classrooms because many learners, especially in the townships, come from families affected by poverty, hunger and parents with little or no education and this affects the learner’s ability to consume content. Although the department of education has widely introduced feeding schemes and have no-fee policy on indigent families.

Lastly, there seem to be a lost generation of learners who are not educated nor working because of the state of South Africa’s education system.


In Zimbabwe, despite the initiative during independence to rapidly expand education opportunities, the demand for education is still greater than the supply. Education is not completely free in Zimbabwe due to historical government expenditures focusing on infrastructure for education and recent years of global economic crisis. Programs like the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) have developed to prevent orphans and vulnerable children from dropping out of primary school due to the expenses.

BEAM pays for tuition and other basic fees, but only serves less than half of the target population. As of 2014, only 10 percent of pupils ages 15 to 24 have not completed primary education which can be attributed to the cost of education.

Education quality is hindered by a number of challenges including teacher shortage, infrastructural pressure and the economic crisis in the past decade. UNICEF claims that only a third of schools in Zimbabwe are considered to be in “good condition.” Schools also face capacity challenges, including double session schooling, or “hot seating,” and overcrowded classrooms.

“Hot seating” means that half of students attend school in the morning and the second half attends school in the afternoon. These methods enable more students to attend school, but quality declines because students are given less attention and time to learn.

Quality of education is also impacted by the lack of trained teachers in secondary schools. A majority of teaching colleges in Zimbabwe are for primary education training, leaving less opportunity to meet the demand of trained secondary school teachers. Many teachers joined the informal economy, or black sector, during the economic crisis. They participated in cross-border trading with Botswana and South Africa.

Teachers would use their off time during the year to hoard goods from other country and resell them in Zimbabwe to earn a livable living that their teaching salaries did not satisfy. In 2009, the national economy stabilized because of the actions taken by the newly established Government of National Unity (GNU). The GNU enacted the dollarization of the national economy which curved the effects of hyperinflation and the informal economy. The GNU also allocated every civil servant, including teachers, the equivalent of $100 US dollars.

Teachers were encouraged to reenter the profession and move back to Zimbabwe, but thousands never returned and found higher paying positions elsewhere. Today, the United Nations of Zimbabwe claims that thousands of teachers are unmotivated due to low salaries, limited resources, pressure, political harassment and the shortage of teachers. There is a widely held view that teachers believe their teacher training did not prepare them for the classroom or to teach special education.

Funding Zimbabwe’s education reform in 1980 aspired to provide free and universal education to all children through the Zimbabwe Education Act; however, tuition fees and education costs have accumulated over time. Many families pay for tuition, even if it is a small fee at public government schools. Families that do not pay for tuition due to education subsidies are still required to pay additional fees including building fees, transportation costs, exam fees, uniforms and stationary for their children.

While there are some improvements that are encouraging in SADC countries especially South Africa and Zimbabwe in this instance, more needs to be done not only to redress the legacies of the past regimes but to empower the youth, who are in the majority in Southern African countries.  Early childhood education and care should be free and different funding models should be devised. Facilitation of exchange programmes, expertise and sharing of information and good practices on education and training-related issues in the SADC region should be a norm as envisaged by the Protocol on Education and Training, established in 1997.

Coordinating and harmonizing early childhood education and care; gender and culture; education management, information systems, teacher education and development; Higher Education and Training; Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET); curriculum development including teaching and learning materials quality management; and cross-cutting activities related to HIV and AIDS and information communication technologies will be the key to solving the educational challenges in the region.

AFRIC Editorial Article.

To view full news and leave comments you must be logged in. Please join the community