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Education stakeholders in Zimbabwe welcomed a law signed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa which made sweeping changes to critical aspects of school life.
One of the major amendments of the Education Act is to prohibit government schools from excluding girls who fall pregnant from coming to school.
Before the coming into force of the law, a girl faced expulsion from school for falling pregnant. However, the boy responsible for impregnating the girl, if so, did not face such consequences.
The law also prohibits the use of corporal punishment by teachers on students. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 100 countries globally have banned the practice.
The new law also says that no pupil shall be excluded from school for non-payment of school fees.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) CEO Sifiso Ndlovu welcomed the law particularly praising the amendments of inclusion of pregnant girls and ending corporal punishment, the latter which he described as “an old-fashioned tool of instilling discipline.”
“It (corporal punishment) has the effect of engendering a violent society. We also support any measure meant to safeguard the interests and rights of the girl child. One such provision is outlawing the exclusion of those that fall pregnant. This is what other societies have embraced and we fully support the provision,” Ndlovu said.
However, Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, cautioned that the idea of banning corporal punishment needed further consideration. Majongwe argued that students might deliberately engage in illicit behavior in the knowledge that there will be no repercussions for their actions.
“There should have been more consultation on these measures, especially on corporal punishment. Pupils and students may end up abusing drugs knowing they will not be punished.”
In terms of the Act, any disciplinary policy shall not allow any treatment which does not respect the human dignity of a pupil. School authorities are now mandated to draw up a disciplinary policy in accordance with standards set out in regulations prescribed by the minister.
The law also prohibits students from being excluded from school for non-payment of school fees. It also allows the minister to determine school fees taking into consideration the location and status of a given school.
These amendments will be vital to keeping many students in school given the fact that many Zimbabweans struggle financially as the country’s economy continues deteriorating.