The Educational Dilemma Of Rural Children Under Lockdown
40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education due to COVID-19, according to a recent UNICEF research. For rural children in Zimbabwe, it is a dilemma as most parents cannot afford adaptive devices to join children to learn online and through radio lessons.
By Tafadzwa Mwanengureni
Evelyn Marange(36) who live in Bocha Marange, a mother of two secondary school children one doing form 2 and the other doing form 4, shows her distress over the future of her children. “Learning during this lockdown is a privilege for the selected few and let alone to talk of children in rural and marginalized communities they are at a greater disadvantage", as she even struggles to purchase weekly WhatsApp bundles.
Selling farm produce and firewood are her sources of income. Although her income is not sufficient to cater for food and tuition concurrently, she struggles to make ends meet.
Most parents with children who want to sit for final exams are afraid that their children will not reach their full potential or rather some will fail since they are not doing any lessons. Although there are some lessons conducted on radio, there are some areas where radio transmission does not reach. Extra lessons in rural schools happens out of benevolence by local teachers as a tribute to social responsibility. Unlike in urban where children are seen having lessons.
Accessing the internet in rural areas is a big challenge as some areas have poor data connectivity. Data prices are out of the reach for many rural parents as well as adaptive devices that enable children to access the internet.
Huruva Mukucha Head of Hwata Secondary School in Muzarabani said there are endless challenges in rural areas regarding to online learning. "People have no phones that enable them to access at least WhatsApp and also data bundles are expensive, so learning through technological means it's a non-starter for them since online learning requires them to have computers which they cannot afford at all" Mukucha adds.
Rural parents value paying tuition and examination fees, making sure the child goes to school the rest is a luxury. Rural children endure the agony of going to school barefooted and spent the whole day with empty stomachs except when there are ripe indigenous fruits in forests. Unfortunately, the lockdown has brought an unfavourable idea of online classes in which most pupils have no clue. Many rural children have not been engaged with online classes due to the lack of technological device as most rural schools have no computers as well as access to wifi.
Mukucha also added that the government must provide sanitizers and standard masks to rural schools because children cannot afford them. ln, this vein government must also provide single-seater desks to allow social distancing. However, there is a shortage of classrooms in rural schools as the school may accommodate children from as far as 15 km within the vicinity.
Teacher's Association members have also raised the concern of data cost and scarcity of mobile phones in rural areas commenting on the online education issue. Zimbabwe Rural Teacher's Union, Vice President Gibson Mushangu said there is a need of provision of learning materials to all learners.
"There is a need of radio lessons to run with television lessons concurrently, need to partner donors and available radio to learners like people's radio", he said. In areas where radio transmission is accessible people can turn on their phones to listen to programmes since most phones have a radio in systems even if they can not access the internet.
"The online thing is not a reality in essence as many links have been produced where learners can access books, but if we are to count parents with smartphones in rural areas they won't reach 50% of their population".
A statement by Amalgamated Rural Teacher's Union (ARTUZ) concerning the state of education shows that there is a lot of things that need to be done to ensure equality in learning for both rural and urban children.
"At ARTUZ, we opened an online school which is benefitting more than 5000 learners but our teachers and learners are having challenges with data"
"Mainly rural communities are affected some do not even have network transmission to which helps to facilitate online learning", it states. In support of the ARTUZ statement, the union Secretary-General Robson Chere suggested that the Government must provide free internet to learners and teachers.
" Education has seriously affected due to the lockdown, if the current crisis of Covid19 persist it will have a serious impact especially with the reluctance on Government commitment towards education in the face if covid19"
"There is an unequal interruption on learning at the moment where some private schools have already started online learning whilst the majority of learners are secluded", he said.
In spite of Zimbabwe being regarded as one of the countries with a high education rate in Africa, learning infrastructure, learning resources as well teachers working conditions are in a bad state. In order to moderate the access to education for all pupils, both Associations, as well as heads, suggested the recruitment of more teachers to reduce the high teacher-pupil ratio during this lockdown.