Mandlenkosi Arthur Moyo

The 2020  grade seven results that were published early this year proved that  rural schools in Matabeleland did not perform well as some schools  recorded a zero percent pass rate. According to a report from CITE, 10 of Matabeleland’s schools recorded a zero percent pass rate for their grade seven 2020 results. Matabeleland is responsible for 11,4% of the worst pass rate received last year alone.

Several reasons have been cited as causes of this dismal failure of schools in Matabeleland as this was not a new phenomenal in the region which has faced many challenges. Amongst the reasons cited was the incapacitation of  teachers, the technological divide and Covid -19 pandemic.

The covid 19 pandemic has changed the learning and professional landscape in ways unperceived before. Nowadays, the physical method of communication has been suspended as we have been thrown into lockdown in favour of the virtual platform.

Businesses, Institutions, schools and people alike are embracing the new form of communication, the online platform. However, the new method of communication brings with it unforeseen challenges, and begs the question, is Zimbabwe ready to go completely digital?

The digital divide (Gap between the technological haves and have nots) has exponentially increased, and this gap has disadvantaged people who cannot receive information such as people in rural areas.

Rural communities have been left out as most of the areas have no network reception, no gadgets and limited knowledge to use technology. This has however, affected rural school and students who don’t have access to technology hence the poor results.

During lockdown most schools in urban areas were doing online lessons through Google classroom, WhatsApp platform, zoom radio and television lessons just to mention a few. However, this was not the case with the rural students who did have access to these platforms.

This therefore, affected the results negatively.

However, as an effort to address this cause, Uluntu Community Foundation in partnership with the Roger Federer Foundation as advocates for Early Child Development learning in rural Gwanda donated some assessment tablets last year to help teachers in educating the ECD classes and assessing them, and as a means of initiating an appreciation to technology in rural schools.

The headmaster of Simbumbumbu primary school Mr Learnord Dube attributed the failure to conduct online lessons to network challenges and the lack of smart phones.

“This is a grim reality in rural areas. Network woes are widespread and pose the greatest challenge to the implementation of online learning. Aside from network challenges, most phones found in rural areas are not the smartphones urbanites are accustomed to. Rural residents use the simple phones due to their ability to detect even the weakest of networks and due to their battery, which can go up to five days on a single charge”, said Mr  Dube.

Meanwhile, the general fear of technology (Technophobia) is also attributed to the failure in conducting online lessons, as one ECD Teacher from Enyandeni Primary school recounts; “We send them work over the holidays, come school opening day when we ask for our work back, the students would not have done the work,”  said Ms Precious Mvundura, an ECD teacher.

Most rural children reside with their grand parents while parents search for greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa. Grand parents shy away from technology and those who have embraced technology in order to communicate with their relatives on the other side of the border often have no bundles or means to access materials online.

Coupled with these challenges, it is evident that a rural learner is at a disadvantage when compared to an urban learner, because an urban learner was learning during the lockdown period, and rural learners were in either in the fields or doing one of the popular activities in Gwanda. Gold Panning.

Now that schools have opened and school children are attending twice to thrice per week due to Covid -19 restrictions and incapacitation  of teachers, it is still important for online lessons to continue supplementing the days that children are at home.

If anything, the covid 19 pandemic has exposed how vulnerable our rural children are in terms of education in the face of the pandemic, which doctors don’t have the cure for as of yet.

The efforts of all stakeholders (Government, Civic Society Organisations, Internet Service Providers Non-Governmental organisations) should therefore be directed at addressing the challenges faced by the rural learners in the face of Covid 19.

At an entrepreneurial perspective, rural communities are ripe with opportunities for internet service providers (ISPs). Advocacy is needed for ISPs to also include rural communities in the technological age through placing the necessary technologies so that they will be connected. The government also has a role to play in championing these innovations and motivate ISPs as well as Non Governmental Organisations so that rural communities are also developed.

The right to education is guaranteed to us all and the future of the rural child depends on all of us to play our roles.