By Sij Ncube
BULAWAYO, February 11, 2015 – THE continued low pass-rate of schools in the entire Matabeleland region, including Bulawayo, is raising eye-brows with government critics attributing the decline to a myriad of problems, including politics, regionalism and poor infrastructure.
Matabeleland schools, among them Plumtree, Mzingwane, Mpopoma, used to dominate the list of top 100 schools but latest Zimsec reports indicate the former top schools are nowhere near the top.
Mashonaland and Manicaland have been topping the list of best schools in Zimbabwe in the past few years, raising concern about the drop of education standards in Matabeleland.
Educationists that spoke to VOP blamed the low-pass rate at both primary and secondary levels said the deployment of Non-Ndebele-speaking teachers to the region was one of the major reasons of the drop in education standards in the southern region.
Others blamed central government for prioritising the development of Mashonaland, Masvingo and Manicaland region schools at the expense of the region, which has few schools offering science as a subject while some apportioned the blame to the first decade of political disturbances that rocked Matabeleland and some parts of the Midlands.
The deployment of temporary teachers has also been proffered as one of the many reasons for poor results in the region.
Former education minister David Coltart said the early disturbances that resulted in the destruction of schools which the government never reconstructed or maintained resulted in learning being highly compromised.
“What happened soon after independence has contributed immensely to the continued failure of children in this region as the schools are not fit for the purpose (of learning. Even teachers who are working in those schools are not motivated to be in the area due to poor road networks that make teachers feel unstable,” said Coltart.
Moreover, the aspect of mother tongue speaking teachers has also contributed to the failure of students and lack of relevant equipment to be used by students at school is not available.
“The other problem is that the issue of mother tongue teachers are not afforded a chance to teach there and as a result there are concepts which need to be explained in local languages when students do not understand,” he said.
Veteran educationist Isaac Nyandeni Mpofu said the failure of students in the region is a complex matrix of economic and social problems.
Mpofu noted that the distance students travelled to schools was another debilitating factor that militates against good results in the province.
“The fact that our children are forced to travel long distances that has become an incapacitating factor which has contributed to the continued failure in Matabeleland schools,” he said.
Mpofu said the infrastructural conditions of roads and classrooms had a bearing on the poor results, noting that teachers at times fail to reach their workstations because of poor roads.
“Classrooms are just falling apart and this on its own affects the education system. Furthermore our regions are dry and when students go to school hungry they can’t concentrate because of malnutrition,” he said.
But there is general consensus the government needs to institute an inquiry into the plummeting standards of education in Matabeleland.
However, Victoria Falls’ Mosi oa Tunya High School headmaster Ronald Sibanda attributed the school’s poor performance to hot-seating and the school’s large enrolment rate.
Sibanda said the school has 1 580 students, with 78 teachers, making it difficult for teachers to interact with and assist learners adequately.
“With the number of students that we have, we do hot-seating which limits the number of hours that students have to learn to only five a day, which is not enough for teachers to fully assist students. Some teachers end up teaching on weekends.
“I do not know how this can be solved, but l believes if another community school could be built, which would charge almost the same school fees as ours, the enrolment figures would reduce and results produced would improve.”
Hot-seating is the practice where some students learn in the morning and then make way for another group which comes to school in the afternoon.
The headmaster said out of 118 ‘A’ Level pupils who wrote Arts subjects this year, only 20 managed to get 10 points and above, eight in commercials and one in the sciences.