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» » » Covid-19 and challenges to education

From Left: Obert Masaraure,Kudakwashe Kumbirai, Vongai Zimudzi, Tapiwa Takavarasha

…is E-Learning elitist?

Clayton Shereni

Access to education is a fundamental human right but this has somewhat been compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced schools to close for over 10 months now, with examination classes sitting under stringent conditions.

On numerous occasions, government tried to reopen schools, colleges and universities but this backfired after Covid-19 positive cases spiked.

This forced authorities at various educational institutions to explore digital solutions to the delivery of syllabi to try and cover the gap.

Exam classes were allowed to sit physically as government expected a return to normal, or possibly the end of the pandemic in early 2021.

In the past, soldiers were deployed to teach in some schools after teachers embarked on a protracted strike in 2008. This resulted in a high failure rate, forcing government to allow even those that failed to attain at least five Ordinary Level passes to proceed to Advanced Level under the condition that they would supplement while doing their ‘A’ levels simultaneously.

The repercussions were to be seen in 2010 when the lowest ‘A’ level pass rate of 14.44 percentwas recorded, as if to remind authorities that there are no shortcuts in times of crisis.

Pupils who sit for their ‘O’level examinations in times of crisis and their ‘A’ levels during under friendlier conditions will always experience the contradictions.

Kudakwashe Kumbirai, a pupil who sat for his ‘A’ level examinations this year, said he did not enjoy the exam experience.

“My‘O’ level exam experience was a bit perfect but that was not the case when I sat for my ‘A’ level exams due to insufficient preparations. I feel going into tertiary education will present its own challenges yet again, and many students are not ready for it,” said Kumbirai.

Recently, the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) released the 2020 grade seven examination results showing that a very low 37.11 percent had been achieved; some 9.79 percent shy of the 46.9 percent recorded in 2019.

Government, in partnership with United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), introduced primary school radio programs in June 2020 but the effects of this has not been fully tested amid claims that listenership has dropped due to youths’ preoccupation with social media.

In what seemed like a repeat of the 2008 educational crisis, 88 primary schools countrywide recorded a zero percent pass rate and schools in rural areas were the most affected.

Rural education neglected

In an interview with TellZim, Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure attributed the dismal 2020 grade seven results to many factors including the ‘neglect of rural education’.

“Artuz blames government for imposing examinations on unprepared learners who missed out on receiving formal instruction because of the Covid-19 disruptions.The examination board was also ill prepared for the exams and failed to properly handle the examination process. The Zimsec chaos might have contributed to the poor pass rate.

“However rural education is suffering from years of neglect, poor planning and mismanagement. The infrastructure is inadequate and dilapidated. Most schools have no laboratories, libraries, internet connection, electricity and basic ICT gadgets,” said Masaraure.

The union is advocating for a rural education fund aimed at improving educational facilities in the rural areas.

Masaraure called on the government to improve the welfare of rural teachers for the betterment of results in these schools.

“We propose an education equalization fund for infrastructure development in rural schools, rural retention and attraction allowance to attract and retain best teachers in rural schools. In the immediate, we are mobilizing citizens to draft an education charter for Zimbabwe and this is under our #SaveOurEducationZw campaign,”Masaraure said.

Human rights activist and Section 20 team leader Esther Zimudzi criticised the apathetic public attitude to matters of social accountability, saying citizens have to demand better from authorities.

“The way our society is operating currently is that people do not question authorities when they see red flags. I feel much pity for students who are now victims of their parents’ inaction when the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in conjunction with Zimsec scheduled public exams despite the fact that students had less than 10 percent interface with teachers. The recent published Grade 7 results are enough to predict the remaining two ‘O’ and ‘A’level classes likewise. 

“Prospects of a brighter future can come if students retake the public exams. We should be cognizant of the fact that not all would do so mainly because of financial constraints and life will take its course for the unfortunate,” said Zimudzi.

E-Learning and its challenges

Commenting on the issue of E-Learning being pursued by tertiary institutions, Zimudzi said authorities are being irresponsible and going against the dictates of the constitution.

“It just proves how irresponsible tertiary institutions leaders are to consider E-Learning and online exams in our present circumstances as a country with expensive internet access, poor connectivity and electricity shortages. Section 27 of the national constitution mandates that all students be given a fair and equal opportunity to education, E-Learning alone is elitist and exclusive,” said Zimudzi.

University students have had their own disappointments in 2020 as they have been grossly affected by lack of face to face learning but have been conducting ‘eLearning’.

Universities across the country have been conducting lessons online and some were using the Google classroom which has caused all sorts of problems for lecturers and students due to its ‘complex’ nurture.

Last year, universities had to force final year students to seat for examinations although they had not conducted proper face to face lectures, with E-Learning processes presenting their own challenges.

Many institutions of tertiary learning are blamed for producing ‘half-baked’ graduates even during normal times, and it appears more of the half-baked graduates are coming, with the current crop of final year students faced with a possible uphill task of online exams.

Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) has recently conducted a mock online exam to gauge preparedness for the possible online exams in case the lockdown gets extended beyond February 15, 2021.

GZU Student Representative Council (SRC) president Tapiwa Takavarasha said more had to be done before making online learning the main platform for delivery of course materials for the satisfaction of both parties.

“If the lecturers are not able to use Google classrooms, how then do we expect the generality of the students to cope up with the online learning? Online learning is definitely the way to go but we need another alternative besides Google classroom so that students, lecturers and the administrative staff are comfortable

“I know quality has been affected by E-Learning since the majority faces access challenges. We will wait and see how results of the mock exams will pay out,” said Takavarasha.

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