Covid-19 prevention guidelines and e-learning pose challenges in rural Kariba

By Nhau Mangirazi

Makeshift shelters and an almost inaccessible mobile telephony system are making it well-nigh impossible for some schools in rural Kariba to either comply with Covid-19 prevention guidelines or join the e-learning revolution.

In a lot of cases, parents and children do not possess the smart phones or other gadgets necessary for online lessons.

This reality came to light even as Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services,  Monica Mutsvangwa announced in a post-Cabinet briefing the latest good news… the resumption of classes.

“Noting with satisfaction the preparations for the resumption of classes in schools, Cabinet is advising that schools will reopen on 30 August, 2021 for examination classes, and on 6 September, 2021 for non-examination classes,’’ Minister Mutsvangwa told journalists in Harare.

She said collaboration between the Ministries of Primary and SecondaryEducation, and Health and Child Care, had buttressed the sector’s Covid-19 prevention and management systems. For this reason, she added, Cabinet had resolved to reopen schools but urged online learning to continue.

For villagers in Kariba rural, this is a challenge. Most schools out there do not have the bare minimum requirements to comply with the expected World Health Organisation guidelines such as the wearing of masks, hand sanitisation and fumigation or deep cleaning of premises. They face clean water challenges, among a host of other basic education needs that they have.

There are 12 rural wards covering areas under Chiefs Negande, Nebiri, Mola and Msampakaruma in Kariba rural. 

According to the 2012 census, Kariba district had an estimated population of some 80,000 people, with the majority (55,000) in the rural areas, and urban with just above 25,000.

There are 32 primary and 13 secondary schools in Kariba rural. They are characterised in the main by dilapidated infrastructure, comprising makeshift sheds which would neither accommodate nor sustain any Covid-19 prevention protocols. In the worst cases, which are not uncommon, some classes take place under trees.

Villagers said most of the teachers have endured lack of accommodation “for too long”.

clean  water

‘‘There is hardly clean water at some schools,” one teacher said. “While part of the Covid-19 fight is through use of clean water, this is a challenge for both communities and teachers around Kariba rural.”

South African based educationist, Obert Lusinga, said the reopening of schools is very critical for both education and health ministries.

‘‘These ministries must work together to train teachers how to direct sanitisation and social distancing measures to learners and (even) their parents. Ministry of Education must provide PPEs including gloves, and  hand creams around the school class blocks. Teachers should be role models and ensure students, parents and villagers are aware of protective measures and actions,’’ said Lusinga.

He suggested that the health ministry must also equip teachers with oral PCR test machines and thermometers to screen students daily as they come to school.

‘‘We look forward to seeing students sticking to adherence. In rural communities sharing is part of everyday life, so it will be an uphill task for young pupils not to share facemasks amongst themselves.”

Isaac Mackenzie is a former Kariba Member of Parliament, and he said opening of schools “will never make any difference” as the district faces major challenges on mobile and road networks.

He said besides a poor road network and water challenges, mobile phone signals around the vast rural area are a huge disadvantage.

Mackenzie said, ‘‘It’s not possible for Kariba students at both primary and secondary schools to access online learning as villagers are used to climb hills and trees to access mobile network.”

A government official who spoke on condition that he is not named, said the issue of online learning was hard to achieve.

‘‘The online learning call is a direct insult to Kariba rural schools. We are talking of physical learning that was difficult before Covid-19. How do you expect the parents to afford a gadget like a smart-phone, laptop or radio? The situation in rural communities is wretched. The schools are worst affected to implement WHO guidelines,’’ the official said.

Community advocate, Dumisani Mawere, concurred and added that online learning in the rural schools of Nyaminyami District (in which Kariba falls) was not achievable.

‘‘The situation in Kariba rural schools is terrible. I am worried that only physical learning is applicable there. Circumstances are hard.”

He cited the example of a school called Jongola Primary School under Chief Mola in Ward 4, where, he said, children learn under a leaking grass and pole shed and teachers use firewood as a source of energy.

“They search for access to a mobile network on a hilltop situated a kilometer away for communication. More than half of the learners have no uniforms and can’t afford US$10 pegged as fees. Now can we expect such a student to possess the cheapest gadget for online learning? This is daydreaming!”

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