Quality Education and Social Inclusion through South-South and Triangular Cooperation in Zimbabwe
Quality Education and Social Inclusion through South-South and Triangular Cooperation in Zimbabwe
Making free basic education a reality in Zimbabwe – Key lessons from the South


The Parliament of Zimbabwe approved the Education Amendment Bill in August 2019, which was subsequently signed into law by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe on 6 March 2020. The Act now contains a wide range of reforms to the education sector, mostly with provisions aligning to the new Constitution, and to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Some of the key changes introduced are the provision of free basic education for all children, from early childhood development (ECD) to primary and secondary level, and free sanitary wear for all schoolgirls from grade five to six.  Despite having implemented similar programmes in the 1980s, considering the current environment and how events have evolved since then, nationally and globally, the Government of Zimbabwe faced yet another hurdle in how to implement and finance the free basic education and sanitary wear programmes. Rolling out the programmes requires careful planning and setting up a sustainable financing framework to ensure maximum and long-lasting benefits to children. It was thus necessary for Zimbabwe to learn from other countries in similar contexts about how they are implementing and financing the key provisions on free basic education. 

Towards a Solution

Following the approval by Parliament of the Education Amendment Bill, the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) Zimbabwe Country Office facilitated and financed two exchange visits to Zambia and  Kenya  for members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, over the periods 13–18 October 2019 and 20–25 October 2019, respectively. These visits were carried out within the framework of the regional South-South cooperation initiatives as espoused in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and African Union strategic frameworks that promote development through peer-to-peer learning. Eight parliamentarians were accompanied by a representative from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education for each visit, together with UNICEF Education and Social Policy staff. Kenya and Zambia adopted free basic education years ago, and the Parliament of Zimbabwe found it beneficial to visit the two countries and learn from their experiences in rolling-out and implementing the free basic education programme. The ultimate objective of the exchange was to create a platform where parliamentarians from each country, given their oversight of government programmes, could interact and share knowledge and experiences aimed at improving social development programmes within the region, such as the free basic education programme. 

Since Zimbabwe was one of the few countries left to implement free basic education within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, the exchange visits provided significant insights on how other countries have rolled-out their programmes, the challenges they faced, the associated risks and mitigation measures they introduced, as well as the opportunities that could arise to further enhance the achievement of children’s results. 

Through lessons learned and insights from the exchange visits, the Parliament of Zimbabwe successfully advocated for its roll-out, even before the President had assented to the Bill.  As a result, the 2020 national budget set aside ZWL$400 million (US$23 million) for the free basic education, and ZWL$200 million (US$12 million) for the provision of free sanitary wear. Furthermore, the exchange visits also sparked debates on the sustainability of the programme, including capacity strengthening of the responsible ministry(ies) and the establishment of the Education Fund that will finance the programme, as informed by regional best practices. 

One key lesson from the two exchange visits was that regional flagship programmes are important for sharing learning and creating incentives towards greater efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063. The smooth implementation, standardization and sustainability of programmes can be realized through interventions such as the free basic education programme and peer review mechanisms between and among countries, as well as the enhancement of monitoring and oversight by parliamentarians. One of the key lessons learned from these visits as Zimbabwe begins to implement the Education Act is to ensure that proper steps are taken to avoid sudden disruptions to the education system, possibly by making free basic education access a gradual rather than an instant target. One of the agreed initiatives is to put in place well-structured peer review mechanisms. These could take the form of technical review teams drawn from the various parliaments in the region. For instance, there could be technical review teams for education, healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and social protection programmes. Findings from these reviews could then be used as a basis to improve programmes and other regional South-South and triangular cooperation initiatives. This will go far in ensuring that initiatives within countries are well focused and are addressing common regional challenges. As a result, this will allow the region to move at a more or less similar pace towards the achievement of the SDGs. 

Contact Information

Mr. Tawanda Chinembiri, Chief of Social Policy and Research, UNICEF Zimbabwe | Mr. K.M. Chokuda, Clerk, Parliament of Zimbabwe

Countries involved

Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Supported by

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

Implementing Entities

Parliament of Zimbabwe, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development

Project Status


Project Period

2018 - 2020

Primary SDG

04 - Quality Education

Primary SDG Targets

4.1, 4.2

Secondary SDGs

01 - No Poverty

Secondary SDG Targets

1.1, 1.2, 1.3

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