BY MAZWI MHLETSHWA
The prolonged closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inequalities between students in rural areas and those in urban areas after the 2020 Grade 7 public examinations pass rate in Matabeleland South dropped drastically.
Several schools in the province recorded a zero percent pass rate, including Riverblock, Koodoovale, Driehoke and Zindele.
The poor perfomance was attributed to non-attendance by both learners and teachers as well as lack of resources to facilitate online lessons.
Over the years, the pass rate in the province, particularly in Gwanda district, has been low.
Some of the institutions that record zero pass rates are satellite schools whose enrolment is low and have no adequate resources.
When schools closed for the better part of 2020, pupils, especially in examination classes, had to undergo online or radio lessons from national radio broadcasters.
However, many people in most of the Gwanda communities have no access to local radio stations.
A parent from Bengo in Gwanda South, Uratile Nleya, said they had, over the years, alerted the government on the need to bridge the digital gap through availing the network, but all their efforts have not yielded results.
“For years and years, we have requested for the improvement of the network in the area, but our MP Abednico Ncube has done nothing about it as we still have to hunt for network spots that are not easily accessible distance-wise,” Nleya said.
“This has affected our children, who were writing Grade 7 as unlucky ones will have to travel long distances to get to the network while at the same time having household chores waiting for them which also affects their study time.”
Fortunate Ndlovu, a former Grade 7 pupil at Mntandewenema Primary School, who got 30 units, said lack of resources affected his performance in the examinations.
“I learn in the rural areas, and even before the closure of schools, we had challenges in terms of the book ratio, which made it worse when schools closed, and we were left with totally nothing,” Ndlovu said.
“We don’t have adequate network coverage in our area for radio or internet connections, which means we did not learn during the closure of schools and only managed to do so when schools opened for a short time, but it was too late as examinations had already arrived.”
In sharp contrast, Lorraine Zondo, a former pupil at Mt Cazalet Primary School in Gwanda town, who got six units and has already secured a Form One place at Manama High School, said of online learning proved to be the turning point for her.
“I managed to participate in Radio Zimbabwe’s radio programmes, and our teachers conducted online lessons on WhatsApp,” Zondo said.
“We would later research more on the internet,” says Zondo.
Primary and Secondary Education ministry director of communication Taungana Ndoro acknowledged that rural schools continued to be badly affected by lack of access to national radio. He, however, said they were yet to ascertain the pass rates in remote areas compared to urban areas.
“We are yet to release statistics as per province as we are still in the assessment stages,” Ndoro said.
“However l can confirm that rural schools and mostly in the Matabeleland region produced low results mostly because some had no data, electricity and network.”
He said the ministry was working with the ICT and Energy ministries in addressing these long-standing challenges facing remote schools.
*This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a nonprofit news organisation that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland.