Today, 48 years since the so-called Soweto Uprising, the continent take time to raise awareness of the challenges faced by African children, under the theme: ‘Education for All Children in Africa. The Time is Now.’

The highest prison walls in the universe are not made of bricks or stone but of ignorance – Anon

On the 16th June 1976, South African high-school students protested for better education but were met with lethal force. What began as a peaceful demonstration became a day of mourning as authorities opened fire on children.

That day is now memorialised by the African Union as the International Day of the African Child. Today, 48 years since the so-called Soweto Uprising, we take time to raise awareness of the challenges faced by African children.

This year’s theme remembers the children who protested on the 16th June 1976, and it is as true now as it was then. Education is not just a right, it is the foundation for a brighter future for all. It empowers children to reach their full potential, break the cycle of poverty and contribute meaningfully to society.

The theme reminds governments around the Continent to hasten the processes and policies bringing about universal realisation of the right to education. The time for action is now.

Educating Africa’s children

It is estimated that Africa has 650 million children now, and the number is expected to rise to 1 billion by 2050. This means that about 43,6 per cent of all people now living on the African continent are children.

According to the African Union up to 60 per cent of children between the ages of 15-17 are out of school as a result of wars and conflict, child marriages, teenage pregnancies, culture and other causes.

Africa’s population is the youngest on the planet, so lagging behind in children’s education will have devastating effects on the future of the continent.

In Zimbabwe the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education reported that in 2021 there were 6 694 618 children of school-going age in the country, but the actual school enrolment for that year was 3 986 891. This means that over 2,7 million children were out of school – and one can only wonder what the number is in 2024.

UNICEF does report that Zimbabwe performs well in net enrolment at the primary school level, with 9 out of 10 children enrolled. Enrolment rates drop however at secondary level and there are disparities between rural and urban areas.

The Right to Education in Zimbabwe

Children have the right to education given by sections 19(2)(d), 75 and 81(1)(f) of the Constitution. The three sections give children a right to both formal and informal education, covering culture, general knowledge and necessary life skills.

Education plays a pivotal role in the upbringing of children as individuals and in the overall development of the nation.

For the right to education to be realised, the “4 As” of education must be present – education must be:

· Accessible, i.e. accessible to all children including children with disabilities both mental and physical, pregnant learners and children in remote areas.

· Adaptable, i.e. it must evolve with the times. Curricula should address the changing needs of society, keep up with technology and address specific concerns of industries.

· Available, i.e. there should be a sufficient number of schools, teachers that are adequately paid and resources that meet the needs of the school-going population.

· Acceptable, i.e. . it must be relevant to the current times, culturally sensitive and of good quality.

Are we are doing enough to make sure that we retain our title of being the most educated African nation? Does our education meet the “4-As” test, and if it does not, what are we doing to make sure it does?

Action Points

If we are to realise the right to education in Zimbabwe, the following needs to be done (the list is not exhaustive):

· The funds allocated to education must be fully disbursed. According to a ZIMCODD report in 2024, the Government appropriated 17,7 per cent of the annual budget to education, representing an increase from 14,2 per cent in 2023.

However, ZIMCODD noted with concern that this does not necessarily translate into spending on education as the government has a history of not releasing budgeted funds for education.

· The Ministry of Primary and Secondary education should work on expanding access to early childhood education, which is crucial for cognitive development.

· The relevant Ministries and departments should build and renovate schools, especially in peri-urban areas which tend to have a high population of children.

· The government and all stakeholders should implement policies to address disparities in access to education between rural and urban learners.

· Every citizen should raise awareness of the importance of education for children.