BY MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI
Grade 7 pupils at Chiwenga Primary School in Muzarabani district, who for many years had to endure a 40km distance to go and write final examinations at Chadereka Primary School, have been rescued from the ordeal following the construction of a classroom block by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS).
Chiwenga Primary School, which is on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, was established in 1984.
However, over the years, the school which also enrolls students from Mozambique has not been conducting Grade 7 final examinations as it fell short of the Zimbabwe School Examination Council (Zimsec) requirements.
Among the school’s shortfalls was poor infrastructure as it did not have proper classroom structures, save for a makeshift classroom block that was constructed by the community.
The majority of lessons are conducted outside in the open or under thatched shades.
A teacher at the school confirmed there was no meaningful learning taking place due to the shortage of classrooms and lack of qualified teachers.
“The school has an enrolment of 650 pupils, and some of the learners come across the border in Mozambique,” said the teacher.
“The biggest challenge we have here is that of classrooms.
“We don’t have a standard classroom block and learning is conducted in makeshift classrooms.
“Learning in the open has disadvantages ranging from bad weather conditions to failure by learners to pay attention.”
The teacher said qualified teachers shunned the school due to poor infrastructure.
“There are supposed to be 17 teachers, but currently there are nine.
“We have instances where a teacher has to teach a class of 109 pupils outside in the shade and you cannot expect meaningful learning to take place,” he said.
A villager, Cleopas Dambakurima said the situation was worsened by Zimsec’s failure to register the school as an examination centre.
“When it’s Grade 7 final exam time our children have to go and write examinations at Chadereka, 40km away, because this school is not registered as an examination centre,” Dambakurima said.
“It does not meet Zimsec requirements.”
It is against this background that ZRCS, through its disaster risk reduction component, has mobilised funding for the construction of a standard classroom block at the school, with support from the Finish Red Cross.
“The first project’s objective of disaster risk reduction was the lack of standard and safe learning structures for school children at Chiwenga Primary School in ward 24, which is our current ward of operation,” said ZRCS secretary-general Elias Hwenga.
“Children learn in makeshift structures that do not have floors or furniture while outside they sit on dusty ground, exposing both teachers and learners to respiratory infections. At worst the structures can easily collapse if a storm hits the school, causing injuries or deaths.
“During the rainy season students are dismissed early as there is not enough space for them.
“As a result of these substandard learning facilities, the school has not been registered as an examination centre for Grade 7 exams.”
Hwenga said the project was in line with ZRCS’ comprehensive school safe model, which it is championing to mitigate disasters in schools and shall be implemented in Muzarabani this year.
Government has since approved the classroom block being built at Chiwenga as a model to be followed by schools in the district.
Muzarabani North MP Zhemu Soda is said to have used part of the constituency development funds to build a classroom block and a teachers’ cottage at the recently opened Chiwenga Secondary School.
Muzarabani is one of the marginalised districts in the country despite prospects of gas and oil deposits.