By Patience Rusare
GOVERNMENT has urged the private sector to invest in education institutions infrastructure to improve the quality of education and skills development.
Speaking at the National School Infrastructure Expo and Conference, the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Lazarus Dokora said Government alone cannot meet the costs of infrastructure because of competing priorities.
He said while the nation prides itself with a literacy rate of 92 percent, the infrastructure in most institutions has become dilapidated.
“This is to ensure that schools are built and equipped in a way that will improve the quality of education from Early Childhood Development to Vocational and Tertiary level,” said Minister Dokora.
“There is need to ensure that classrooms, science and computer laboratories, workrooms for technical subjects, libraries are built and fully equipped if we are to turnaround the education sector.
“Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) are the way to go.”
Minister Dokora said there was need to rehabilitate depilated schools and build other schools to decongest mega schools.
PPP in the education sector have been defined to include any scheme where the public sector and the private sector work together to improve education.
In developing countries, infrastructure PPP in the education sector, are difficult to sustain in the short-term, as the private sector has to recover costs.
For example, in Egypt, UK, Australia, Canada and Netherlands’s governments had to pay the private sector players to allow recovering of costs.
However, this model is not applicable in Zimbabwe as capacity is not available.
Economic analysts opine the Build-Own- Operate- Transfer (BOOT) scheme as the best model to adopt for our education sector.
BOOT is a form of project financing, wherein a private entity receives a concession from the public sector to finance, design, construct, and operate a facility stated in the concession contract.
During the concession period the private company owns and operates the facility with the prime goal to recover the costs of investment and maintenance while trying to achieve higher margin on project.
“The private player charges fees and levies that are necessary to recover costs during the project period, which would then go down once the Government takes over the school,” said one economist Tilda Sibanda.
“The fee structure would be agreed to before the project, so that the Government is given an opportunity to put safeguard measures against exploitation of students through the fee structure.”
Sibanda said the biggest challenge that needs to be addressed before the commencement of the project would be the state at which the infrastructure would be handed over to the Government as the private sector exits the market.
The country has previously benefited and continues to benefit from PPPs especially in the arena of infrastructure development.
For example, the launch of the National Manpower Advisory Council (NAMACO) with a mandate to explore possibilities and opportunities for PPPs in the Higher and Tertiary education sector that already has other corporate players such as Mimosa Mining Holdings, Econet Private Limited, British America Tobacco (BAT) through its scholarship Programs, Unilever and Metallion Gold.
PPPs in the education sector have been limited to the involvement of churches such as the Anglican Church, Salvation Army and the Roman Catholic Church that have either seen the establishment and management of schools, provision of resources and technical expertise.
Education in spite of playing a critical role in any nation’s economic, political, socio-cultural and technological development as it helps people to participate fully in society and governance, the involvement of the corporate sector remains subdued.