Online learning widens gaps between Zimbabwe’s urban and rural schools

By Michael Gwarisa

HAZEL Tarungamiswa, a Form 3 pupil at a rural school in Masvingo’s Bikita district, fears she will never catch up on her studies after missing school for most of last year due to lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19. 

Tarungamiswa (18),  like is the case with many children in the rural areas did not have the privilege of joining online lessons during the early days of the pandemic because she did not have the necessary tools.

As if that was not enough, the government banned teachers from conducting private lessons for the out of school children, which would have helped her to catch-up on the syllabus.

“I have never attended an online lesson,” Tarungamiswa said.

“I don’t have a cellphone or computer to use during online lessons. 

“My teachers were conducting online lessons during the lockdown period, but because I don’t have a phone, I could not join them.

“I still need to read and catch up with the few, who have been attending these lessons.” 

Her predicament mirrors that of the majority of children in rural areas, who failed to enroll for the online lessons or to listen to radio lessons due to lack of access to information communication technologies gadgets. 

The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) 2020 Grade 7 results demonstrated how the lockdowns had created a huge gulf between rural and urban based schools. 

A staggering 88 mostly rural schools recorded zero pass rates while private schools in urban areas saw the majority of their students passing the Grade 7 public examinations.

For  Mandla Chikore (13), a Grade 7pupil at a  private school in Harare, online lessons were godsend.

“I think online learning is good, we managed to learn a lot during the lockdown,” Chikore said.

“However, it had its disadvantages largely because there is no physical interaction between the students and teachers.

“On the other hand when you are doing online learning you sometimes get distracted. 

“Imagine you are on WiFi and also connected to class and then something pops up, you end up browsing other pages on the internet.” 

Chikore’s mother,  Farai Marisa, however, felt that online lessons although welcome were not the most ideal way of preparing children for examinations.

“As parents we were not really familiar with certain concepts and this left us in a precarious position because we had to do the work by ourselves,” Marisa said.

“The teachers would offload work on us especially those, who were conducting lessons through WhatsApp.”

She also bemoaned the fact that online learning exposed children to uncontrolled and extended hours on the internet. 

Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson, Taungana Ndoro, said the government was working with different partners to improve the delivery of online lessons to make them accessible to all children in Zimbabwe.

“The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is working with the whole of government to ensure there is adequate infrastructure for provision of e-learning activities in rural and remote schools,” Ndoro said.

“We envisage that as government, together with development partners, no leaner will be left behind as we seek to provide and promote inclusive education for all Zimbabweans.”

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