Parents mobilise funds to improve schools in Binga
Leonard Ncube, Senior Reporter
ALMOST 20 schools in Binga District recently made headlines after scoring zero percent pass rates at Ordinary Level in last year’s Zimsec final examinations.
The schools, which include Simbala, Saba, Simatelele, Masibinta, Msenampongo, Sinampande, Sinakoma and Ntivule, failed to yield much at a time when Government and its partners are geared to improve the country’s education system.
The competence-based learning, through which the Continuous Assessment Learner Activities (CALA) are being implemented, is one way in which Government is trying to help learners realise their potential through learning lifelong skills in and outside the classroom.
When a child struggles in class, they are helped to realise their dreams in other areas where they are talented in, be it sports, arts or handwork.
Inadequate learning infrastructure and learning materials, absence of mobile and internet services, long distances travelled to school and a general lack of support for academia have been attributed to the poor pass rates in Binga.
These, coupled with general disinterest towards school by some pupils and the community as a whole, have been said to aggravate the situation.
The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic further disrupted learning in the schools which were already beat down.
A Chronicle news crew recently visited some of the schools to have an appreciation of the environment and what could have led to the poor performance.
Most of the schools are satellite institutions established about five years ago as Government moved in to address the shortage of schools.
These were however, adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Simbala Secondary School located between Saba and Tinde was opened a few years ago as an annex of Tinde Secondary School about 10km away.
The school has more than 100 learners and 22 wrote Ordinary Level examinations last year. This was the fourth exam class since the school was established five years ago.
Some children attending school at Simbala travel for more than two hours to get to school, better than the about five hours they used to take to get to Tinde before Simbala was established.
Teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity said last year’s class was the first to record zero percent pass rate as previous candidates had performed better.
Msenampongo Secondary School, located in the Msenampongo area between Manjolo Business Centre and Binga Centre, was opened five years ago and has 108 learners.
When the news crew arrived at the school, it was welcomed by more bush than school as there were no buildings at all.
There is neither signpost nor road to the school from the Cross Dete-Binga Road and one struggles to locate it.
About 100 metres from the road is a small cleared piece of land where a small shed and a nearby tree are makeshift classrooms for Form Ones and Twos.
The news crew arrived at the school at around 9AM and there were no teachers. The learners were seated on poles arranged as benches.
About 200 metres away, further into the bush, is another pole and dagga shed roofed with old zinc sheets, used as a Form Three and Form Four classroom.
The two classes share the makeshift classroom.
There was one teacher, Mr Sitshobeni Mumpande at the Form Threes and Fours side because he is a local and stays within the community while the other three teachers reside at Binga Centre due to lack of accommodation for teachers in areas surrounding the school.
The school keeps its few learning materials such as two white boards, a few chairs and a handful of books at the nearby shopping centre.
The shed used by Form Threes and Fours belongs to the Assemblies of God Church.
There are no classes when it’s raining because of lack of infrastructure but sometimes, learners use a nearby Church of Christ building.
Parents have started contributing building material for construction of a toilet. They struggle to pay school fees and some children use chickens as payment for their education while a majority of them struggle to get exercise books.
The learners are predominantly from poor backgrounds and a majority of them drop out of school due to hunger.
The school has no feeding programme due to lack of facilities.
Pupils said sometimes teachers fail to come for lessons or knock off early due to transport challenges since they stay at Binga Centre.
The Msenampongo catchment area includes the whole of Ward 6 covering Sikalenge, Siabanga, Chilila, Donga and Msenampongo.
Last year’s Form Four class of 22 candidates was the school’s first to sit for Ordinary Level and the pass rate was zero percent.
Msenampongo School Development committee chairperson Mr Lazarus Muleya said parents were trying to mobilise resources to build the school.
“The establishment of the school is a relief for children not to travel long distances and yes, we know there is still a lot of work to be done, especially to improve pass rates.
We are trying to find ways of mobilising resources to build classroom blocks at the school site where construction of a toilet has started,” he said.
Masibinta is an annex of Manjolo Secondary School and is located near Manjolo Business Centre.
It was opened in 2018 and has three complete classroom blocks, one under construction and a makeshift administration block.
Masibinta has an enrolment of 270 learners with the school’s name having been derived from a nearby now dormant water spring.
Forty candidates sat for Ordinary Level examinations last year and the pass rate was zero percent.
This was however, a drop from 40 percent in 2019 as parents and teachers concur that the Covid-19-induced disruptions had a huge bearing on learning.
While bigger schools screen applicants for Form One, satellite schools enrol everyone who comes seeking a place as the schools are opened to serve the disadvantaged community, which affects pass rates.
Although some communities in areas along the Zambezi River are largely into fishing, the Muchesu community is into farming as it is located in a valley between mountains.
Children in fishing communities drop out of school to embark on fishing activities and so do those at Muchesu Secondary School who are made to help their families in the fields at the expense of their education.
There are concerns about community attitude towards education.
While parents are generally reluctant to assist their children with CALA, there is an ongoing trend where minor children are allowed to attend sports events and parties where they allegedly indulge in drug abuse and girls are subjected to sexual harassment.
The community believes this practice should be stopped as it affects children’s learning.
“We have a worrying trend especially during the second and third term where there are a lot of soccer tournaments and parties around Binga. Children are allowed to attend those events and in some instances return home late or sleep over, which compromises their behaviour.
“Some miss school because of these events and others indulge in drug and alcohol abuse. These are the same children we expect to pass.
Others fall pregnant or get married and all these factors affect learning in Binga,” said a community member, Ms Eniel Mudimba.
Some children attend one term in a year and return to write examinations, according to teachers at most of the schools.
There is a general lack of motivation for learning.
While the rest of the country embarked on online learning during Covid-19 lockdowns, most children in Binga were idle due to lack of access to the internet, textbooks and other learning materials, information communication technologies and mobile network.
A parent from Muchesu blamed the poor pass rates on “lazy” teachers.
“Teachers hardly conduct lessons as they are always away from school and this has affected our children’s performance.
The school used to post good results until the headmaster who was there left and since then, the pass rate has been going down,” said the parent who preferred anonymity.
Government works with various organisations to spearhead a number of programmes in disadvantaged communities and Basilwizi Trust is one of them.
The organisation’s programmes manager Mrs Danisa Mudimba said while poor performance is not unique to Binga, there is a need to urgently find ways of capacitating schools and learners so that they improve.
She said poor education leads to school dropouts, failure to get employment, poverty, teenage pregnancies, early child marriages and lack of development.
“Our children need encouragement to go beyond Grade Seven and parents also need to be encouraged to embrace Government programmes whose aim is to improve education.
“We need to change attitude as a community and value education. Yes, poor pass rates are not unique to Binga as most rural schools suffer many issues like learning environment, rural setup, no phones and internet, but we need to work hard as stakeholders and make sure our schools have access to network and computers.
“When schools were closed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, children in Binga were redundant and school became the last priority. Covid-19 contributed to low pass rate as there was no learning at all.
If you check on the infrastructure, it is poor in many schools,” said Mrs Mudimba.
She said girls that fail in school become more vulnerable to many situations as they lose self-esteem and control.
Basilwizi Trust seeks to mainstream gendered programming through safe reproductive health programmes targeting children in remote areas. — @ncubeleon