AFRICANGLOBE – Despite suffering huge reverses in the education sector due to a decade long economic crisis, Zimbabwe still tops Africa’s literacy rankings, a respected continental publication has revealed.
According to the latest edition of The African Economist, Zimbabwe leads the continent with a literacy rate of 90.7 percent followed by Equatorial Guinea at 87 percent and South Africa with 86 percent.
The magazine defined literacy as the ability to read and write at the age of 15 and above.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of education especially in Africa. Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world,” the publication added.
Other countries in the top ten include Kenya and Namibia, both with about 85 percent followed by Sao Tome and Principe, Lesotho, Mauritius, Republic of Congo, and Libya who all have between 82 and 84%.
President Robert Mugabe is credited for Zimbabwe’s high literacy rate after he declared education a basic human right following independence in 1980.
The new goverment invested heavily in expanding education access to the previously marginalised African majority.
However, the debilitating economic crisis which hit the country between 2000 and 2009 due to European and American sanctions, reversed the progress.
Poorly paid teachers engaged in endless strikes with many fleeing to neighbouring countries in search of better pay while children from poor families, unable to pay fees, were forced to drop out of school.
According to UNICEF, school attendances plummeted from about 80 percent to around 20 percent while infrastructure maintenance and development was also neglected due to the lack of funding.
The decline was only reversed with the introduction of dollarization in 2009 as parents helped cover teachers’ salaries with the more stable US dollars.
UNICEF and other development partners also intervened through the Educational Transition Fund (ETF) which helped combat problems associated with lack of books and supplies as well as the shortage of resources in general.
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