Tsholotsho schools get help for science education
ZIBUNGULULU Secondary School in Tsholotsho North had gone for five years with no single candidate passing Ordinary Level public examinations until only one pupil managed to pass five subjects last year. The pupil, a girl, is still at the same school studying mathematics and science after failing the two subjects. The Matabeleland North province school is not the only rural school that is struggling to produce good results.
Its situation reflects the gloomy picture of most rural schools which are inadequately resourced, incapacitating them from producing sterling results.
Apart from lack of resources, pupils travel long distances of about 20km per day to and from school, which negatively affects them.
This puts them at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in urban areas that are spoilt for choice when it comes to education.
This was witnessed recently after the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development launched the STEM programme which saw rural provinces such as Matabeleland North coming last in the number of pupils subscribing to the initiative.
Tsholotsho North constituency MP and Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development Professor Jonathan Moyo, whose ministry is championing STEM, said he was shocked by the low uptake of the initiative by schools in Matabeleland North province, let alone schools in his constituency.
This prompted him to embark on a fact finding mission to ascertain why pupils in his constituency were performing horrendously in public examinations.
He visited all the 11 secondary schools in his constituency and interacted with teachers and education officials to discuss the challenges the schools are facing.
In the meetings, the teachers cited inadequate teaching materials and the long distances pupils need to walk to get to school as some of the problems causing pupils to perform dismally.
After visiting them, Prof Moyo admitted that the schools were in dire need of some interventions.
“Teaching capacities for secondary schools, consideration of staff shortage to issues of teaching facilities, classrooms, laboratories and schools themselves are limiting factors. Children have to walk long distances, some were telling stories of how they have to start their day as early as 3AM in order to get to school on time and arriving back home at 8PM and in some worrying cases 10PM,” said Prof Moyo.
A teacher at Zibungululu Secondary School said some pupils view schools as a resting place before they embark on their journey back home, meaning they cannot fully concentrate on their school work.
Teachers said some pupils have never been exposed to other environments outside rural Tsholotsho, making it difficult to introduce some concepts to them.
Most of the schools in the constituency run low cost boarding facilities where some classrooms have been turned into dormitories for pupils staying far from school.
“It was a mind opening and shocking experience. In fact, I felt very bad that too often we don’t get an opportunity to interact with headmasters and teachers outside big meetings. When we meet them next, there will be another meeting going on or it will be a graduation ceremony. Therefore, we don’t really sit down and get to understand the challenges. This was very useful because what we learnt was revealing and even shocking,” said Prof Moyo.
He said it was sad that pupils were attending school but could not sit for public examinations due to non payment of examination fees.
“We’ve a generation of young scholars that has not completed ‘O’ Level and they become a lost generation. Heaven knows where they end up – some as we know cross the borders to Botswana and South Africa. That means they go for menial labour. Others just disappear into the community here,” said Prof Moyo.
He said plans were on course to construct five new schools and low cost boarding facilities to address the challenge where pupils have to walk long distances to get to school.
Prof Moyo said the construction project will be conducted in partnership with the local community.
“The challenges faced by rural pupils are tenfold compared to their urban counterparts. The distances in between schools are long, leaving the child unable to concentrate after the effort of getting to school. They put in so much effort to reach a school with no furniture, few classrooms, no computers or science labs and no equipment for basic learning like books and pens among other things,” said Chief Mathuphula of Tsholotsho.
He said it was imperative to make education accessible to all.
“The latest initiative to provide holiday lessons is worth mentioning. These children are provided with equipment to prepare for exams, all at no cost. Students from all schools were given green books, calculators and other learning materials.”
“We believe Prof Moyo’s efforts directed towards the rural pupil will pay off as there are a lot of very intelligent pupils here who have many odds stacked against them. Education is a basic right, the onus is on our leaders to make it accessible to the rural child,” said Chief Mathuphula.
Most rural schools suffer from under development as they operate without running water and electrified houses leading to teachers shunning them.
Shortages of text books among other learning aids and failure by pupils to pay school fees continue to be a challenge.
Matabeleland North provincial education director Mrs Boitatelo Mnguni said more needs to be done to improve rural education.
She said it is difficult for rural provinces to produce good results as most teachers they get are always in transit.
“Teachers are not dedicated – we want a teacher who can stand what is going on in the school. There’s a lot of mobility in rural schools as teachers want to leave the school the moment they arrive,” said Mrs Mnguni.
She said they hardly have a teacher who remains in a school for long periods and as a result, pupils are constantly meeting new teachers, which can negatively affect them.
Mrs Mnguni said even after obtaining science kits, most teachers in the province are not trained to use them.
The science kits consist of science apparatus that can be used in areas where there are no science laboratories.
“When the science kits were donated, the organisation that was donating them also offered training on how to use them. But in Matabeleland North, we need to have teacher training every term because of the mobility of the teachers. But this is not happening.”
Mrs Mnguni said infrastructural development is key if the province is to retain its teachers.
The province is operating with skeletal staff and in some schools, teachers are teaching subjects that they did not train for, she said.
“We had two schools in Hwange District that operated with a single teacher teaching Grades One to Six. If you close your eyes for a minute, you can imagine the chaos in those schools.” — @nqotshili
Professor Jonathan Moyo