Thursday, March 13, 2008

Educational Financial Aid Schemes Vital

By Kufara Gwenzi

The Herald (Harare)

Published on March 29, 2007

BRIGHT children, and some not so bright, who drop out of school due to the inability of their parents or guardians to meet the costs of their education, are a common feature in many Zimbabwean families.

This writer did his primary schooling in the countryside where one of his class mates, who always came out tops throughout the primary school years, failed to further his education due to his parents' failure to pay for his school fees, despite scoring four units at grade seven. The boy had neither a relative nor benefactor to assist him realise his potential.

Two other classmates at secondary school had to receive educational financial assistance (EFA) from the Catholic Church for their A-Levels, while a number of people he knows today received similar church educational financial assistance for their university education. This kind of poverty is prevalent in rural, farming and mining areas and urban townships.

In light of the foregoing, Zimbabwe must -- through public and private initiatives -- create student financial assistance programmes that focus on all levels of education -- elementary, secondary, high school and university. At independence, the Government ensured that "education went through unprecedented expansion at primary, secondary and tertiary levels; and made primary education free and, thus, removed the financial constraints which kept the majority of children out of school prior to independence".

The private sector has not been incentivised enough through very generous tax rebates to provide supportive sustainable financing. Such a noble endeavour has largely been strained due to limited financing, although one wonders why the Government would pay salaries for private schools.

The solution lies in the creation of adequately funded and nationally spread EFAs. An EFA Scheme refers to funding intended to help students pay tuition or other costs, such as boarding, textbooks for education at a school, college or university.

It is a systemic process to mobilise resources to remove barriers to fair opportunities in life. Such a programme can be publicly or privately funded. A look at what the nation has for national student financial assistance, reveals only the basic education assistance module, BEAM.

If we are to break the cycle of poverty that afflicts many Zimbabwean families, we have to create fair chances for someone to be socially mobile, upwards.

Equal opportunity is a descriptive term for an approach targeted at providing a conducive social environment in which people are not excluded from education, employment or health care.

A scholarship is sometimes used as a synonym for an educational financial aid award.

There are two types of educational financial aid based on the criteria through which the financial aid is awarded: merit-based or need-based.

Merit-based scholarships are typically awarded for outstanding effort and subsequent academic achievements. Some merit scholarships can also be awarded for special talents, leadership potential and other personal characteristics. Merit scholarships are sometimes awarded without regard to the financial needs of the applicant. Athletic scholarships are a form of merit aid that takes athletic talent into account.

Need-based educational financial aid is awarded on the basis of the financial needs of the student. An individual from a disadvantaged background is defined as one who comes from an environment that inhibits him/her from obtaining the knowledge, skill, and abilities required to enrol in and graduate from school/college. It can also be someone from a family with low-income levels.

Need-based EFAs come on "compassionate" grounds. If well implemented, it deviates from being a welfare entity to something that ensures the student of a smooth educational journey.

Some EFAs practise a "merit-within-need" approach that combines merit and need-based systems.

The study-now-pay-later system is where a Government educational programme is designed to promote democratisation of access to educational opportunities at the tertiary level to poor but deserving students through financial assistance in the form of an educational loan.
It is a scheme providing loan or credit to poor but deserving students who are enrolled in priority courses in selected higher education institutions. This system has been disastrous due to lack of adequate funding and very poor debt collection.

In 1995, President Robert Mugabe launched the Presidential Scholarship Programme so that beneficiaries attend Fort Hare University, in South Africa.

President Mugabe came up with the scholarship programme to give needy children access to university education. The programme covers Fort Hare and other South Africa universities and 390 students were assisted this year.

In 2005, Econet Wireless inaugurated the Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Fund (JNSF) for 50 'A' Level and 50 university students. The first batch of 107 students were awarded the scholarship in 2006. For one to qualify, he/she must have at least seven A's at O-Level. Female students with 10 points and above, and male students with 12 points and above at A-Level can apply for the university scholarships.

The places available on current EFA programmes in Zimbabwe are a drop in the ocean of poverty. After getting to know how many students have passed their O and A-Levels, how many of these desperately need educational financial assistance? Who is available to assist? How can such assistance be accessed?

It is suggested that a National EFA Database be run through the ministries of Education, Sport and Culture and Higher and Tertiary Education for secondary school and tertiary education assistance, respectively.

Any public (run by central government ministry/department or a local authority) and private (corporate or scholarship foundation/trust) will be then be registered with the national EFA database so that at the beginning of each academic year, adequate publicity is made through the media.

The US Department of Education provided more than US$78 billion for the year 2005-06 to nearly 10 million post-secondary students and their families, about 60 percent of all student aid, to help millions of students and families pay for post-secondary education.

The majority of the people from poor backgrounds born and bred in the rural, farming and mining areas and urban townships should have fair opportunities to receive decent education, professional training and later accumulate personal wealth. We should NOT be an example of a society without social mobility like other societies that do not have room for this.

Post-secondary education should be valued highly because educational attainment is one of the primary indicators and cardinal measurements of socio-economic class and status. According to the social attainment theory, educational attainment is closely related to two other main indicators of socio-economic class: occupational level and the corresponding income.

Social mobility is the degree to which, in a given society, an individual's social status can change in the course of his life or the degree to which that individual's offspring and subsequent generations move up the class system. The ability of an individual born without a silver spoon in his/her mouth to become wealthy exemplifies a situation when those who are born into poor, working class or peasant families achieve high socio-economic office in adult life.

Social mobility encourages entrepreneurship and innovation leading to a fairer and prosperous society.

It is unfortunate that we do not have someone to measure social mobility in Zimbabwe. From a cursory observation, many of our citizens suffer from a serious lack of opportunities of access to education.

The solution is NOT to keep the school fees down by refusing to sanction increases like what the Ministry of Education is doing. That only compromises the quality of education.

The problem, as was reported by the Financial Gazette in 2003, lies in "under-funding from the State budget; high inflation (that) continues to eat into grants provided by the State to schools, and low morale within the teaching profession has led to staff exodus from the teaching profession."

A 2005 research by Sutton Trust, an education charity, showed children born to poor families in Britain are less likely to fulfil their potential than in other developed countries.

Researchers at the London School of Economics found that Britain appeared to have one of the worst records for social mobility in the developed world.

The report focused on how education affected the chances of British children compared with those in other countries.

It put Britain and the U.S. at the bottom of a social mobility league table of eight European and North American countries, with Norway at the top followed by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Canada.

Well-known examples of upward social mobility include:

  • Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton, who were born into working class families yet became presidents of the USA;
  • Andrew Carnegie -- the son of a tradesman who arrived in the US as a poor Scottish immigrant and later became a steel tycoon after building Carnegie Steel Company, one of the most powerful and influential corporations in USA history;
  • Gideon Gono, who educated himself from secondary school until university and rose from being an office orderly to become a managing director of a commerical bank and the Zimbabwe's central bank Governor; and:
  • Pierre Bérégovoy who started working at the age of 16 as a metal worker and, in the end, became prime minister of France in 1992.

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