BY LIZWE SEBATHA
Benson Dube, a retired primary school teacher, remembers with nostalgia the “good old days” when the student-textbook ratio was 1:1.
“For me, that is what made teaching exciting,” Dube said.
“It made teaching easy and we attained good results.”
However, this is a privilege that learners at some rural schools in the Bulilima East constituency can only dream of.
“From a distance, one would be mistaken that learners are playing because of the noise generated as they scramble for a textbook,” a teacher at one of the schools in Bulilima East said.
“In some cases, it is even worse because the teacher will be the only one with a textbook,” the teacher added, a situation that results in a pile-up of workload as they have to transfer what is in the books onto the chalkboard.
“We have swarms of work to write on the chalkboard.
“When the pupils are answering a comprehension passage, I have to copy it on the chalkboard, I cannot dictate it to them because they are young,” said a Grade 2 teacher at one of the schools, who could not be identified for professional reasons.
“It [lack of textbooks] presents immense challenges upon pupils and teachers alike. In the case of learners, at the end of the day they lose out on some concepts and it becomes difficult for pupils to attain good grades.”
A photocopied textbook for any primary school subject costs anything between US$6 and US$$10.
This means each parent or guardian has to fork out over US$100 to purchase textbooks for all the subjects for their child in a particular grade at primary school because the Primary and Secondary Education ministry is not providing such.
“Unfortunately, the majority of parents cannot afford that money,” said Bulilima East legislator Dingimuzi Phuti as he bemoaned the shortage of textbooks in his constituency.
With no government help in sight, the community in the constituency has been leading a campaign targeting their sons and daughters in foreign lands to assist.
On May 1, their call for help was answered when Sikhumbuzo Mlalazi and Hopewell Masola, both born in Bulilima East but now based in the United Kingdom, delivered tonnes of textbooks for the worst-affected schools.
They shipped 20 000 textbooks for distribution to needy schools.
“They shipped the books into the country, at their own cost and we distributed to needy schools,” Phuti said.
Some of the beneficiaries of the textbook donation include Bambadzi primary and secondary schools, Mbimba 1 and Mbimba 2 primary schools all in ward 10.
In ward 15, Longwe secondary, Mboma secondary and Sevaka Primary School are the beneficiaries.
“We chose these schools because personally, I know the situation, the crisis they face with regard to reading materials. Through my ministry, we are also trying to make sure that there is internet connectivity and access to IT services to bridge the digital divide,” added Phuti, who is also Information and Communication Technologies, Postal and Courier Services deputy minister.
At the advent of Covid-19, the government emphasised virtual learning, but it remains a pipe dream in Bulilima East as most of the schools face poor or no network connectivity.
In 2020, learners in the constituency were among the worst affected owing to lack of e-learning facilities.
Radio lessons have also not helped much due to the lack of connectivity.
“This is the reason why we have consistently fought for an education equalisation fund to bridge the infrastructure deficits in rural schools,” said Obert Masararue, the president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe as he expressed sadness over the lack of textbooks in Bulilima East constituency.
“It is difficult to imagine how these learners are tackling comprehension exercises among other tasks,” he added.
“Solutions that can be tried include community networks to enhance access to the internet so that learners can access reading material online and capacity building for teachers on content creation so that content can be created locally in line with curriculum dictates.”
Masaraure adds that the government should increase budgetary support for education to secure adequate learning and teaching material.
Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema admitted rural schools faced a crisis and emphasised the need for a collective approach to redress the shortage of learning material.
“We cannot expect our students to perform better when teachers are sharing houses, when the students are learning in mud-and-pole blocks,” Mathema said.
“We have a collective responsibility to address these things.’
However, with no redress for the lack of learning material, rural learners in Bulilima East continue suffering.
- 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.