History of Education in Zimbabwe

Colonial government to 1980
The British South Africa Company arrived in the 1890s to Rhodesia, the area now known as Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. The Company administration of Rhodesia created Christian missionary schools to serve local communities. Missionary schools provided an education for the indigenous population that focused on agricultural production and industrial development including carpentry and building. N.J. Atkinson claims that in order to control the local population, the Company limited education and censored knowledge in schools. Furthermore, he argues that the eurocentric education system was a structural institution that reinforced the superiority of white settlers even though they were the minority of the population. Missionary schools perpetuated social and economic repression of the indigenous population by reducing their chances of earning well-paying jobs or positions of power. Rugare Mapako claims education to Africans offered limited academic and foundational skills in order to promote labor exploitation and indentured servitude. Limited access to a quality education kept Africans subordinate to white colonists in order to advance British political and economic gains.

Europeans were also disproportionately funded more for education than the majority African population because the Rhodesian government controlled access to quality schools based on race and ethnicity. Segregation of schools based on funding was most extreme in the 1970s because Europeans only represented one percent of Zimbabwe's population, but were allocated 99 percent of government spending on education. Funding secondary school was also disproportionally offered to Europeans rather than Africans. In the 1970s, only 43.5 percent of African children attended school, while only 3.9 percent of these children enrolled in secondary school.

In 1979, a new Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government called for an education reform that created a three-tier school system. The Education Act of 1979 regulated access to each type of school through a zoning system based on residency. Before the act, Zimbabwe's education system was divided between African and European schools. After the shift in policy and leadership the education system split into government schools, community schools and private schools. Government schools were also split into three divisions called Group A, B and C. White students historically attended Group A schools that offered highly trained teachers and a quality education. These schools were located in white suburbs that denied housing opportunities for Africans, reinforcing segregation based on ethnicity and race. Group B schools required a low-fee payment and C schools did not require a fee beyond educational materials. Both were only available for African students. Group B and C schools had less resources, funding and qualified faculty compared to Group A schools.

National education reform in 1980
The Rhodesian Bush War from 1964 to 1979, a 15-year guerrilla war, catalyzed the shift in power from British colonial rule to de jure sovereignty in 1980. The ZANU party, Zimbabwe African National Union, won the national election in 1980 and took over the historic white minority government in Rhodesia. The ZANU party democratized education by promising free and compulsory primary and secondary education to all children in Zimbabwe. The party's claims were backed by the national constitution, which recognizes education as a basic human right. All primary school tuition fees were abolished after independence. Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka was elected the Minister of Education to support Zimbabwe through another education reform and to keep students in school. His leadership changed the climate of the education system because the Ministry of Education focused on fostering self-sufficient students that are productive, motivated and dedicated citizens. The government allocated 17.3 percent of the total national budget toward education. This was politically considered an "education miracle" as cited by scholar Clayton Mackenzie. Ultimately, Zimbabwe's education system reform was to ensure equal access to education by providing primary and secondary education to all children.

1980s and 1990s
Since independence, the government focused on providing equal and free education for all through the rapid expansion of education resources to keep up with the demand. Within one year, the education system nearly doubled the number of students it served from 885,801 students to 1,310,315 students in primary and secondary education. Exponential increases in the number of students attending school heightened the need for more infrastructure and teachers.

Teachers were in high demand immediately following Zimbabwe's independence. In the mid 1980s, thousands of refugee children from Mozambique migrated to Zimbabwe, increasing the number of children attending public schools and need for teachers. The Minister of Education brought in teachers from Australia, Britain and Canada for a short period of time to fill the teaching gaps. Schools expanded their human resources to serve as many children as possible with limited infrastructure by practicing "hot-seating," also known as double session schooling. "Hot-seating" is the practice of offering class in the morning to half of the students and in the afternoon to the other half. "Hot-seating" was still not enough to meet the demands of the population; therefore, the Ministry of Education expanded teacher education colleges rapidly by providing "on-the-spot" teacher training. In 1986, 8,000 additional teachers were trained to meet national demands.

Communities also rapidly built more infrastructure for education. For example, from 1979 to 1984, the number of primary schools in operation increased by 73.3 percent and the number of secondary schools increased by 537.8 percent. Despite the challenges following the magnitude of students to educate, Zimbabwe claimed to achieve universal primary education by the end of the 1980s. By the 1990s, primary schooling was nearly universal and over half the population had completed secondary education.

UNICEF claims that the country's education system was once the most developed on the continent, although the system continues to suffer from a contemporary decline in public funding linked to hyperinflation and economic mismanagement. A decrease in GDP by 40 percent from 2000 to 2008 marked a period of economic downturn in the first decade of the 21st century. Social expenditures on health and education also decreased by more than half.

By the end of 2008, most schools and hospitals were shut down due to thousands of teachers leaving the profession, an economic crisis, an increase in HIV and AIDS, and an outbreak of cholera in 2008 leading to a national epidemic. UNICEF asserted that 94 percent of rural schools, serving the majority of the population, closed in 2009. During this period of time UNICEF also claimed that attendance rates plummeted from over 80 percent to 20 percent. The economy regained momentum after 2009 once the Government of National Unity was formed. This is an inclusionary government developed to resolve national challenges. The Government of National Unity suspended the Zimbabwe currency to implement full dollarization, reducing hyperinflation and increasing social expenditures.

Zimbabwe's focus on expanding education opportunities for the past 25 years has led to national accomplishments including achieving the highest literacy rate in Africa at 91 percent from ages 15 to 24. As of 2014, 3,120,000 students were enrolled in primary and secondary education and 76 percent of these students were enrolled in primary education.