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Education System Collapsing Under Weight Of Zimbabwe Economic Crisis

Zimbabwe's first school term of 2008 began this week amid shortages of two critical elements: teachers and money. Fewer than half the required teachers showed up in many schools while parents strained to come up with scarce cash to pay soaring school fees and meet other expenses such as uniforms and food supplies.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe has called a slowdown by its members to enforce demands for a large salary increase having turned down an offer by the government to boost compensation including allowances by 1,000%.

The union says the government must take action to stem the exodus of teachers to South Africa and other neighboring countries in search of economic survival.

At least 25,000 teachers are estimated to have emigrated last year - South Africa has actively recruited Zimbabwean teachers to meet its own educational needs.

School fees have gone up by an average 600%. Parents must come up with hundreds of millions of Zimbabwean dollars to meet fees and other school expenses. Children are required to bring food stocks when they return to private boarding schools.

With one teacher for 60 students and eight pupils sharing one textbook, Zimbabwe is rapidly losing its reputation for having the best education system in Southern Africa.

Experts predict a higher school drop-out and failure rate as the country’s education system continues to reflect the stress of a collapsing general economy.

For a closer look at the crisis, reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with parent and teacher Abigail Tagwirei, who is also vice president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, and opposition member Fidelis Mhashu, chairman of the parliamentary committee on education.

Tagwirei said the mood in schools is troubling as high transport costs, chronic water and power cuts, food shortages and other woes undermine educational efforts.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...