RURAL schools are poorly resourced compared to those in urban areas, a gap often reflected in public examination results. Shortage of information and communication technologies (ICT) tools and the Covid-19- induced lockdown is extending this gap.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19, online lessons have become the cornerstone of ensuring learners keep up with their education. The traditional face-to-face/physical learning model has been minimised to prevent the spread of the virus which thrives in crowds.
However, for rural schools, challenges of network availability and resources have hindered students from learning. Primary and Secondary Education Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Chairperson Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said pupils who wrote Grade Seven public examinations last year had been disadvantaged.
She said pupils in urban areas had access to online learning and extra lessons for those whose parents and guardians can afford.
Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said education is now being accessed by the rich who can afford extra lessons and online lesson resources. Rural pupils are mostly drawn from low-income families and their guardians or parents are often self-employed as smallholder farmers or artisans.
Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said as a committee they have proposed that class of 2020 Grade Seven pupils who wish to rewrite their examinations must be afforded the opportunity to do so in June.
“As a committee we have proposed to facilitate and allow students who wish to re-write their exams in June as normally done by Zimsec for O-level and A-level students who re-write in June. Zimsec should set a different paper from the 2020 one to give those who want to re-write an opportunity to do so,” she said.
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) national secretary general Mr Goodwill Taderera said many rural schools in Zimbabwe are falling short on infrastructure and this includes classrooms and teacher accommodation. He said Covid-19 has worsened the plight of rural schools.
“The rural to urban divide has always been there in terms of our schools infrastructure, lack of books and other learning resources and the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the rural education in that schools had to close and rural students did not have much time to learn as we were coming from the teachers’ incapacitation,” said Mr Taderera.
Lack of infrastructure is a worrying situation that has made education, particularly in rural areas, fall short in producing pupils with capacity to fight poverty and progress academically.
Most of the schools in the rural areas do not have electricity, laboratories and facilities needed for teach subjects like computer science, the re-packaged science subjects as well as the performing and visual arts in the new curriculum.
Mr Taderera said rural pupils have challenges in connectivity, lack of gadgets and also data in accessing online lessons. Sometimes pupils walk more than 15km to and from school which compromises their academic performance. He pleaded with Government and other stakeholders to improve infrastructure in rural schools and empower rural teachers so that goals set in the new curriculum are met.
“We plead with the Government pay teachers sufficiently for them to be attracted to rural schools so as to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas in terms of education standards,” he said.