Zimbabwe: A stronger education system after Cyclone Idai

Glenview N*2 Primary School, Zimbabwe.
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Story highlights

  • In 2019, Cyclone Idai caused major disruptions to the education system in Zimbabwe, affecting the schooling of more than 90,800 children.
  • With GPE’s support, the government built a resilient education system to ensure learning is never interrupted.
  • Now schools, teachers and students are better prepared to withstand the negative effects of natural disasters.
Map of Zimbabwe
Shingai, 15-year-old student
“In this classroom, we were actually afraid that the roof would collapse on us. The timber was broken and we were afraid that a strong wind could knock it down. We are now learning well. The roof was fixed, the class was painted. We now feel safe learning in here.”
15-year-old student

This story was written in collaboration with Save the Children.

Cyclone Idai in 2019 was among the worst tropical cyclones on record to have ever struck Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. Idai caused massive disruptions to education that affected more than 90,800 children in 139 schools in Zimbabwe alone.

Unpreparedness combined with a lack of disaster risk reduction measures exacerbated the severity of damages to school infrastructure, which resulted in children missing out on their education.

In 2020, the government of Zimbabwe received a US$2.34 million GPE grant implemented by Save the Children. The grant contributed toward efforts to increase access to quality, inclusive and uninterrupted education for marginalized students, with a focus on improving disaster resilience in 6 cyclone-affected districts.

The program aimed to build the capacity of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education along with the education cluster to effectively coordinate efforts while ensuring learning does not stop—especially during emergencies.


Michael Chinyau
“One action point that was very pertinent was the realization that without being coordinated, we would end up doing similar things. Let me give an example of a primary school called Mbire, where different development partners came to the same school with intentions to construct classrooms, thereby duplicating each other’s efforts. Cluster meetings allowed for coordinated efforts and we used them to share responsibilities of what had to be achieved.”
Michael Chinyau
School inspector, Chimanimani Rural District Council

Safe and disability-friendly school infrastructure

  • Marirangwe secondary school classroom block after renovations.
    Credit: Save the Children

With GPE’s support, 139 schools damaged by Cyclone Idai were rehabilitated, including 80 classrooms, 40 water and sanitation facilities and 19 teachers’ houses in 6 districts.

Improved school infrastructure resulted in increased protection of teachers and students against harsh weather. Similarly, better sanitation infrastructure improved hygiene for both teachers and students, an increasingly important aspect in times of a global pandemic.

Teaching and learning materials were also distributed to the GPE-supported schools, including rolled sheets of paper for drawing, posters, and dustless chalks for teachers, and pens, pencils, exercise books, rulers and textbooks for students.

Students in examination classes received solar-powered lights to help them study at night.

Simbiso, grade 7 student
“Before we had the study lights, we would use our grandmother’s phone. If the phone had no power, I wouldn’t study. Now I can study with the light anytime I choose with my siblings.”
Grade 7 student

The availability of more textbooks for students boosted learning and improved reading skills and attendance rates. The new materials also helped teachers easily prepare quality lessons and be safe from hazardous chalk dust generated from the use of low-quality materials.

To ensure menstruation does not prevent girls from attending school, an issue that can affect attendance, nearly 15,000 sanitary pads were distributed within schools, ultimately contributing to increased girls’ attendance rates.

  • Twelve-year-old Chipo who is currently in grade 7 shows some of the pads she received as part of the GPE program.
    Credit: Save the Children

  • Girls from Mandiki primary school showing the pads they received.
    Credit: Save the Children


A focus on children with disabilities

The GPE program of support did not just focus on infrastructure to make schools safe for children; it went a step further. It sought to rebuild cyclone-affected schools by making them inclusive to all students, seeking to increase the enrollment of children with disabilities.

Eighty classrooms now have ramps and door handles that are accessible to children using wheelchairs; toilets now have wider doors and ramps to improve access for children with mobility issues.

Edgar Moyo, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education
“The project brought back to use infrastructure that had been destroyed by Cyclone Idai. And when you look at the statistics after the rehabilitation of the classrooms, we saw that a lot of children came back to school and those who had not been in school started coming to school. So, the impact was really great. The coming-in of GPE into the matrix is a big complement to our efforts and also to satisfy and ensure we achieve our education sector strategic plan, so we are very grateful.”
Edgar Moyo
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education

The GPE program helped provide more than 2,520 assistive devices to students. These included hearing aids, wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetic limbs, study lights, large print books and special sunscreen lotion for children who have albinism.

  • 9-year-old Vongai who is in grade 4 shows her sun protection lotion. She received many bottles as part of the GPE program.
    Credit: Save the Children

  • Vongai applying the sunscreen provided by the GPE program.
    Credit: Save the Children

Munyaradzi, 17-year-old student
“Sometimes I would go to school only when the wounds [on my feet] healed, because I would be severely cut by sharp stones on the ground. I’d like to thank GPE for these shoes. I can now walk long distances.”
17-year-old student

School feeding to promote learning

  • One of the 22,350 students who benefitted from the school feeding program supported by GPE.
    Credit: Save the Children

Cyclone Idai exacerbated poverty and reduced food security for many families, causing a major negative impact in school attendance.

To counter this effect, GPE funds were used to support a school feeding program in all 139 schools, benefiting 22,350 students.

In conjunction, nearly 280 personnel were trained in school feeding hygiene practices. The trained personnel consisted mainly of parents and teachers—those who were already responsible for school feeding.

Parents were pleased that schools were now supplementing the food and nutritional needs of their children, providing an additional incentive to send them to school.

Michael Chinyau, school inspector, Chimanimani
“When you came in with this supplemental feeding, it assisted to a great extent. It encouraged some of the learners who might no longer have attended school to return. I also want to thank the Global Partnership for education for realizing that there is a need in areas like Chimanimani and many others."
Michael Chinyau
School inspector, Chimanimani

Support to teachers

Making sure teachers were well supported and motivated was another key element of the program. With GPE’s support, 2,780 teachers were trained on catch-up and accelerated learning methodologies, as well as on child protection and child safeguarding.

After the training, a student help desk was established in each school so that boys and girls who had gender or child safeguarding needs could get immediate support.

To cushion teachers from the harsh economic conditions resulting from Cyclone Idai and COVID-19, more than 3,730 of them received a food hamper that included tinned beans, cooking oil, sugar and rice. These hampers improved teachers’ motivation to continue teaching.

Improving disaster risk reduction to respond to an emergency

Cyclone Idai proved one crucial point very clearly: Disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures are key to ensure children can keep learning after a natural disaster. With GPE’s support, 288 teachers received training on simple measures they could take to mitigate the risks from natural disasters and increase resilience.

This training was further provided to the students and remaining teachers of the 139 impacted schools, reaching more than 99,900 children and 3,730 teachers.

As a result, DRR committees were either strengthened or established in the GPE-supported schools, allowing for better preparation to respond to emergencies.

These committees are composed of students, teachers and children with disabilities, creating an inclusive and diverse group that can respond to shifting needs of students enrolled in schools.

These combined efforts led to an important outcome: In GPE-supported schools, enrollment rates increased by 9% and attendance rates by 7% compared with before Cyclone Idai struck. Additionally, the dropout rate dropped to 0.5%, which is below the national average, thus proving the positive impact of the program.

Enrollment and teachers' availability rates
  • A student uses the school’s suggestion box.
    Credit: Save the Children/Sophie Hamandishe

“We received training on the importance of putting fireguards around vegetated areas, to preserve livestock fodder through stacking maize stalk harvests for livestock feeding dry seasons,” said a DRR committee member of Chaseyama School. “We were further trained on how to assist our children when they encounter an accident during a disaster and were encouraged to relocate if our communities are dangerously disaster-prone.”

These efforts from GPE, Save the Children and the ministry are helping Zimbabwe build a more resilient education system that will be able to withstand the negative consequences of natural disasters more effectively while ensuring learning never stops.

November 2021