By Lisa Vives
Zimbabwe is experimenting with a bold attempt to make parents prioritize education and bring down drop-out rates.
Harare has amended its laws to make the first 12 years of schooling compulsory. Children are now required by law to stay in school for an extra five years to 16 years of age.
It is also now an offence to expel children on the grounds of pregnancy or non-payment of fees.
If parents fail to send children to school, they now face up two years in jail, or a $260 fine if they can afford it.
Last year at least 60% of the children in primary school were sent home for failing to pay fees, according to the state’s Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac).
As the economy sputters, parents have less to spend on education because they are struggling to buy food. National research shows drop out in some areas are as high as 20%.
The high drop-out rate has also been blamed on pregnancy, early marriages, the distance from school and a lack of interest.
Zimbabwe’s first leader Robert Mugabe, a former teacher who died last year, was praised for the education policies he adopted after independence in 1980.
The school system he established gave black Zimbabwean greater access to education as hundreds of state schools were opened, leading to Zimbabweans enjoying among the highest literacy rates in Africa.
However, free education ended in the 1990s and in the following decade the education system began to crumble.
Some parents, however, believe the government is shirking its responsibilities amidst broken promises to provide free basic education and a chronic shortage of state schools.