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Zimbabwe and Donors Launch US$85 Million Program to Help Schools

A new study from Plan International says two-thirds of girls in Zimbabwe's rural areas have dropped out of secondary school due to what it called 'overwhelming' social and financial pressures

The Zimbabwean government and Western donors including the United Nations on Thursday unveiled an $85 million education fund to bolster secondary schools by giving every student a textbook and seeking to lower a high rural dropout rate.

United Nations Children’s Fund representative Peter Salama said one of the fund's aims is to provide every student in the country’s 2,300 secondary schools with a textbook.

Another is to encourage the return to school of some 200,000 children who have dropped out in poor and vulnerable communities.

Meanwhile, an international development group says about two-thirds of girls in rural areas have dropped out of secondary school due to “overwhelming” social and financial pressures. Plan International Zimbabwe said 67 percent of rural girls are affected.

Girls in communities such as Chipinge, Chiredzi, Mutoko, Zhombe and Tsholotsho said school fees, distance of schools, parental duties and gender led them to drop out.

The Plan report said community attitudes towards gender roles are influencing attitudes of girls as to continuing education. Sexual harassment and abuse by school teachers and parents was also listed as a major contributor to dropout rates.

Some critics of the survey challenge the figures which they say do not reflect progress in social education. But advocates said rural dropout rates are high and are pressing the government and Parliament to take action to address this phenomenon.

Plan International spokesman Gladman Njanji told VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo there is room to dispute the figures – but there remains a large number of girls who are missing out on education. Njanji said organizations are moving forward to engage all social education stakeholders to effective address the problem.

Zimbabwe Early Childhood Development and Education Foundation Director Morris Chivandire said dropping out should not be politicized or debated, but instead solutions should be found. He said young girls are missing out on education as a key focal point of life and are left to repeat the cycle or reliance on a male counterpart.