by Joachim Garikai
For a number of years now, the rural pass rate for ‘O’ level students in Zimbabwe has continued to decline creating the impression that probably rural teachers are not doing justice to the profession and the service.
I also used to share this erroneous observation until I woke up and found myself teaching in a rural secondary school.
This may sound as if I am digressing or scorning the rural student but the point is to contextualize what I am talking about for the benefit of those with an ear to listen and those in policy making positions so that they can do something to mitigate the growing negative trend.
As a nation, we can indeed brag about 90 % literacy rates [see Is Zimbabwe Reading? – The 2011 Reading Survey for why it’s probably lower these days] yet our rural school pass rates may always remain an embarrassing indictment on our academic literacy legacy.
Lack of library facilities at most rural schools, both primary and secondary, has led to the continued plummeting of pass rates in rural secondary and primary schools.
Pupils do not have secondary literature to stimulate their intellect over and above the textbook. The textbook is not a favourite read for many a student due to the attendant questions unlike, say, a novel which one reads for pleasure (yet also derives uplifting intellectual rewards).
As an English language and literature teacher I have come to realize the importance of a well-equipped library as this is a gateway to stimulating pupils’ interest in various subjects by inducing in them a reading culture which then translates into effective study habits.
Until the recent intervention by UNICEF and other stakeholders who donated textbooks to most rural schools, rural pupils were relegated to second-class citizens whose existence, one would say, is only a public relations tool by the government to present to the world when they talk about their ‘high literacy’ levels and not necessarily in terms of the quality of education and related facilities availed to them.
My humble opinion is that rural pupils are only there to contribute to the numbers. I strongly believe that since all secondary and primary school subjects, save for Shona, are taught in English, that subject should be given priority so that if our pupils understand it, it will become easier for them to appreciate other subjects even if their interests may not lie in the arts.
In simple terms, pupils who cannot effectively understand English will by extension find challenges in understanding mathematics, geography etc. I have witnessed this even at university level.
Most rural schools operate on shoestring budgets. They are not in the position to provide basic library facilities for their pupils. The government thus needs to court interested stakeholders and well-wishers to bridge the gap in order to change the fortunes of our rural pupils so that they can stand with pride in the face of the world and make meaningful contributions to their society in various areas of human existence.
The growth and proliferation of information technology such as e-learning [see Kenyan pupils get e-book readers. Zimbabwe is next?] still remains a mirage in our rural schools thus it is logical to provide them with the basic literature in hardcopy format.
For the sake of our development, we need to provide our rural pupils with adequate library facilities so that they may effectively compete with their urban counterparts. Current trends can only lead to the development of two kinds of students.
The article was reprinted from Kubatana, with minor updates, corrections and additions