On 24 January, the world celebrates the International Day of Education, dedicated this year to Learning for lasting peace. The day provides a momentum to review where we stand in Zimbabwe on ensuring access to quality education for every child in the country and to listen to what children say about their right to education.
We commend Zimbabwe for the high net enrollment ratio in primary school, with nine out of ten children of primary school age in school. However, only six children out of ten aged 3 to 5 are enrolled in pre-primary education, and an estimated half a million children of primary and lower secondary school age are out-of-school (MICS). These data remind us to continue to work together under the leadership of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to address the challenges that keep children out of school.
In 2024 – for the first time ever – the African Union will dedicate the year to education. This offers an opportunity for the Government of Zimbabwe to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education for all, which includes turning the high-level commitments made at the Transforming Education Summit (2022) focused on education financing, foundational learning and inclusive learning, into concrete actions.
A few weeks ago, Zimbabwe celebrated World Children’s Day in Beitbridge, where more than a thousand children highlighted the right to education for every child. In a survey conducted by UNICEF throughout Zimbabwe ahead of World Children’s Day, participating children mentioned education as their most important right. Most children said that in addition to being happy with their school, they are willing to be involved in the organisation of their school, turning their school into a Dream School!
Linked to the World Children’s Day celebration, Nobuhle Nokutenda Sibanda, a 17-years-old learner from Beitbridge, wrote the following message on education, which I am happy to share with you.
Education is the cornerstone of progress and development, and we must ensure that every child has equal access to quality education regardless of their abilities, backgrounds, and circumstances.
Inclusive education is not only a matter of policy, but a moral imperative enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. Article 24 states that all children, including those with disabilities, have the right to education that is free from discrimination and that meets their needs. This is further emphasised in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which specifically addresses the right to inclusive education. Article 11 of the Charter states that all children have the right to education, and it is the role of the Government to provide adequate resources and support to inclusive education.
When we talk about inclusive education, we refer to a system that embraces diversity, respects the rights of all children, and provides them with equal opportunities to learn and grow. Inclusive education recognises that every child has unique strengths, challenges and potential, and it strives to create an environment where all children can thrive.
One of the fundamental principles of inclusive education is non-discrimination. Every child has the right to education regardless of physical or intellectual abilities. It is our responsibility to remove barriers that hinder access to schools, such as inaccessible infrastructure, lack of specialised resources and negative attitudes towards disability. Doing so can create an inclusive society where every child feels valued, respected, and empowered to reach its full potential.
In Zimbabwe, we have made significant strides in advancing children’s rights to education. The Government has implemented various policies to promote inclusive education across the country, such as the Education Amendment Act, the Children’s Act, and the Disability Act.
In conclusion, inclusive education is not a luxury but a fundamental human right. Our collective responsibility is to ensure that every child of Zimbabwe, regardless of its ability or background, has equal access to education. By embracing inclusive education, we can build a society that celebrates diversity, fosters empathy, and empowers every child to realise its dreams. By remembering that disability does not mean inability, let us join hands and work together to create an inclusive educational system that will shape a brighter future for our children and our nation.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Zimbabwe.