Improve availability of schools in rural areas
The 2013 Ordinary Level examination results are out and almost forgotten.
Those who failed have become a mere statistic. Out of the more than 173 856 candidates who set for five or more subjects, just 36 031 passed five subjects with grade C or better.
Many reasons have been given for this outcome. These include incompetence of teachers, increased focus on academic subjects and the advent of the mobile technology which has resulted in the birth of such communication platforms as Whatsapp and Facebook which distract serious study.
Unfortunately, the discourse on performance of Ordinary Level candidates seems to be narrowly focused on urban and peri-urban schools at the expense of rural schools.
The rural school is a unique aspect of Zimbabwe’s education system.
Statistics show that pupils from rural schools account for the bulk of those who failed to make the grade at O Level.
Rural government schools do not feature anywhere near the top performing institutions. Only a few rural schools made it into the top 100.
Learning conditions in rural areas make schooling difficult and passing a tall order. There is gross unavailability of decent learning structures, equipment and qualified teachers. As such, Government must construct and upgrade rural schools. The potential that is being lost through failure at rural school is too big to ignore.
Government says it appreciates the plight of rural learners, but it must now move from mere appreciation to action.
Developing rural amenities will attract skilled teachers and inspire pupils. Once proper educational structures are in place, these can surely attract other ancillary services and infrastructure.
A decade after the commencement of fast track land reforms, it is unfair that we still do not have the proper infrastructure in resettled areas.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora was recently quoted by The Herald acknowledging the existence of 2 220 satellite in rural and resettlement areas. Of these, 1 554 are primary schools and 664 are secondary schools. Government, he said intends to construct 2 056 schools.
Given this dire situation, all stakeholders need to move with haste to ensure that the disadvantaged pupil who is learning in a pole and dagga classroom also has the same facilities as his/her colleague in Harare.
It is unfortunate that children have been forced to attend school in tobacco barns, old farmhouses and unwalled pole-and-thatch structures but are still expected to perform well.
Even the most brilliant teacher will struggle to perform miracles in such deplorable conditions.
Work should begin now to construct proper classrooms and accommodation for teachers. Many qualified teachers have opted out of the profession rather than go to rural areas. Incentives must be found to get teachers to go there.
A shortage of money should not be allowed to justify failure in education or any other sector.
Government should be creative about use of available resources and manpower. Further, a small tax on land reform beneficiaries, especially A2 and commercial farmers, to fund education in rural areas would not be amiss.
People in rural areas can provide a few hours of their time to help build proper schools one class at a time.
Such things have been done before and they can be done again.
In the 1980s, the country constructed a lot of secondary schools. Under the programme, parents or guardians of children then at primary schools and some who had enrolled for secondary schools provided bricks, aggregate, river and pit sand and manpower, while Government came in with cement, door and window materials and roofing.
The programme saw 2 401 new primary schools being constructed by 1990. Secondary schools also increased from 177 to 1 512 by 1990. With Government having secured a US$23 million loan from China for the education and health sectors, an arrangement bringing in farmers and parents to build schools can work.
Trying to do everything from that money won’t see the country realising much form the Chinese loan.
In farms, farmers must be encouraged to pull their resources together and start erecting schools for their children. Every farmer should ensure that she provides better educational facilities for the children who can be useful in improving farm operations.
While it might seem disadvantageous to have illiterate people as farm workers, failing to provide them with education will be costly in the long run as the world is fast becoming mechanised.
Farm operations will soon require technical minded people to produce crops and it is imperative that farmers invest towards the education of their communities.
Once we have the schools and accommodation, it will be easier to attract qualified teachers to take up posts in rural schools.
According to Unesco, teachers are the most important input in the school system.
They are required to initiate and facilitate learning in the classroom and also as sources of information both within and out of the classroom.
As such, the importance of decent infrastructure cannot be understated.