The effects of poor infrastructure in schools can also be seen in learners’ dropout rates and poor-teacher retention rates.
Schools opened on February 7 for the first term, but legacy problems haunt the public education system in Matabeleland North.
Abandoned and dilapidated classrooms, pit toilets and other damaged school infrastructure describe the picture of several schools in the region.
Schools were closed for the better part of 2020 and 2021 over COVID-19 fears, but no meaningful investments were made during their closure.
It is a case of missed opportunity, parents and other stakeholders say.
Martin Moyo, a Lupane villager, says the government was supposed to construct more schools to decongest classes, or improve existing facilities.
“The government should have put a deliberate policy on school construction. I believe the funds were available,” Moyo says.
“Many companies donated cash which could have been channelled to construct spacious classrooms or even construct new schools to shorten the walking distance and decongest schools.”
An investigation by this publication shows that the majority of schools in Matabeleland North still do not qualify to hold classes under the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), a COVID-19 regulation tool by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry.
The SOP’s emphasise the need to improve sanitation and purchase Protective Clothing Equipment (PPEs) for learners and teachers. Under the SOPs, hot-seating is discouraged while a maximum of 35 learners per class and frequent disinfection of classrooms is encouraged.
Critics who spoke to The Citizen Bulletin say the province’s education sector legacy problems should have been addressed during the COVID-19 induced school closures.
“Every important government programme is launched here; summits and conferences are held here. We even supply electricity to the nation, but our children have no proper schools. It baffles me,” says one Cleopas Ncube, Chinotimba resident in Victoria Falls.
In 2020, a number of Matabeleland North schools were hit by COVID-19 with John Tallach in Ndabazinduma recording more than 100 cases.
In October, 2021 Sino Hydro Corporation Limited Company extended its corporate social responsibility to Neshaya Secondary school in Hwange by donating full furniture worth thousands of dollars.
The Chinese company donated 500 pairs of furniture units comprising a chair and desk each to ease decongestion at the school.
A month later, Matabeleland North provincial minister of State Richard Moyo officiated at the opening of an ECD classroom block at the local board-run Nechibondo Primary School also in Hwange.
Phillip Sibanda of Binga says this is not enough.
“It’s so sad to see our children attending classes in dilapidated premises after walking several kilometers. Ever since the COVID-19 emerged, no improvements have been made. Instead, nature has been taking a toll on the old premises,” a disgruntled Sibanda says.
Greater Whange Residents Trust (GWRT) Coordinator Fedelis Chima says COVID-19 donations should have been used to complement education infrastructure development efforts.
“They (authorities) should use COVID-19 donations to decongest classrooms by building more classes and setting up facilities for e-learning,” says Chima.
Matabeleland Institute of Human Rights (MIHR) coordinator Khumbulani Maphosa argues that School Development Committees (SDCs) must be capacitated to coordinate infrastructure development programs.
“I think there is a need to capacitate SDCs; there is a need for the government to partner Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and capacitate SDCs,” says Maphosa.
“We are supposed to be a people starting devolution of power and if one looks at the SDCs Manual it is very clear that SDCs have a mandate to fundraise for the developmental projects of the schools.”
“We need to extend the term of SDCs to more than one-year and also to elect members who have proven to be developmental even in their personal lives.”
Source: The Citizen