Learning Under a Tree? Here, have a Website

The priorities of our Ministry of Education need to be revised.

Learning Under a Tree? Here, have a Website
Learning under a tree in Zimbabwe

I grew up in a high density suburb in Bulawayo, attending one of the Municipality run primary schools. Back then, when there was a problem with water, we would get early dismissal from school. The standard was that school children should not be at school when there is no water.

 

Fast forward to 2018, and the times seem to have changed so much.

 

Go Digital, the Government says

The government seems to be pushing heavily for digitization across all schools. Schools are being urged to set-up internet connections with Tel-One and also engage website development companies to have websites. This is a push in the right direction, and the internet connections can be used by teachers when drafting content for their classes as well as students to research and do assignments. On this aspect ZImbabwe is very much being when placed on a scale with our neighbors like South Africa.

 

On the first of November, there was a special event held at Sihlengeni Primary School, a rural school in Matabeleland. Present at the event were VP Mohadi, Minister Paul Mavima, to name a few. The event was to launch the going digital of the school.

 

As much as this is commendable, there comes the question of priorities. Our government seems to have misplaced its list of them or started at the bottom. For schools off the grid and those in quasi rural and rural settings, Tel-One would likely quote them their VSAT packages, which do not come cheap. The cost of the VSAT package installation is upwards of $500 with an additional $50+ monthly subs.

 

This does not seem like much, what is $500 to a school with 200+ children. Well, here are a few catches, first, rural schools in Zimbabwe charge average $15 school fees per term. That is revenue of $3,000 a term. But, at most of these schools, parents are sent to the local courts all the time for failing to pay. You get 40% or more of the pupils going the whole year without paying the fees. Most schools depend on grants and donor funding for their day-to-day requirements.

 

Of learning under trees and no water

I did talk about water when I opened this article. I have had the privilege of working in remote rural areas such as Gwanda. There are schools in Gwanda that have no toilets, no borehole with water for pupils, teachers are accommodated in re-purposed school blocks, teachers conduct lessons under trees. Yes, all this in 2018 in Zimbabwe, and the government is celebrating website launches.

 

A matter of priorities

Now come the issue of priorities. Here is a nice long list of items that schools cannot fit into their budgets:

  • Purchasing stationery for teachers,
  • Purchasing teaching materials for teachers,
  • Purchasing textbooks for pupils.

I am sure you get where this is going. But the government says sure, have a website instead.

 

Should the government not be fighting to meet the basics of a school’s needs first before going for luxury. I know of no parent who would buy their child a fancy smartphone so they chat on WhatsApp when the child has no shoes on their feet. Morale at these schools is so low, and the government should look into these matters first before attending to secondary wants.