…’Zimbabwe not ready for online classes’
GOVERNMENT has been urged to revisit the issues of contraceptives in schools and re-introduce corporal punishment to curb the growing cases of child pregnancies and indiscipline in schools respectively.
This was said during a recently held press club in Mutare which discussed the state of preparedness of the education sector under covid-19, which was organized by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).
David Mutambirwa who is also Chief Svosve, a development practitioner and public policy scholar said an idle mind is the devils workshop, citing how idleness during covd-19 has fueled drug abuse cases and child pregnancies among school children.
“These kids now have so much idle time on their hands due to the delays in schools re-opening and end up being pressurized to take illicit drugs while some engage in unprotected sexual activities which eventually leads to child pregnancies. We are therefore losing a generation. The continued closure of schools is therefore problematic and lasting solutions should be proposed by our Government,” said Mutambirwa.
This comes in the backdrop of a 2016 report by the then Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora to the National Assembly which revealed that 4 500 Grade Seven pupils dropped out of school that year owing to pregnancies and child marriages.
“We need a serious national dialogue again to discuss whether or not we should have free condoms in toilets in our schools because the results are being seen by the unbroken increase in child pregnancies. Let’s not turn a blind eye on this,” said Mutambirwa who is the director of Mhakwe Trust Heritage Foundation, an organization that focuses on heritage and culture preservation for sustainable development.
In his response the deputy Manicaland Provincial Education Director (PED) Charles Mugano said the issues of indiscipline in schools and child pregnancies were being closely monitored by the Ministry at principal level and recommendations were being made to the Ministry at national level then they will be submitted to the presidium in due course.
“We have not yet done any actual research for empirical statistics, but the Ministry is informed through its structures about the cases of indiscipline that are happening. The Learner Welfare Department in charge of the psychological services in schools is responsible for the issues of contraceptives. We are interrogating the issues, monitoring and making recommendations to the Ministry’s head office. So we are not turning a deaf ear to those concerns as the public might think,” said Mugano.
The Manicaland PED Richard Gabaza said a united front approach is needed to improve on the country’s education sector, which means teachers, parents and the community all have a role to play. He said without discipline in the education system there is no proper learning.
“Discipline is the cornerstone of any education system. We are very concerned about the matter of indiscipline but also we need parents and the community at large to help us,” said Gabaza.
Gabaza said unfortunately corporal punishment is no longer allowed according to the country’s Constitution which was approved in 2013. “So our hands are tied down legally and we need to respect the law,” he said. While there is a general consensus that corporal punishment is effective in getting children to comply immediately, at the same time there is caution from child abuse researchers that corporal punishment by its nature can escalate into physical maltreatment.
Corporal punishment was generally used as a disciplinary measure for ill behaviour in Zimbabwe before it was outlawed in 2017 through a High Court ruling that declared article 60(2) (c) of the Educational Act unconstitutional. Before 2017, the use of corporal punishment in Zimbabwean schools was every day.
Whilst some still hold the belief that spoil the rod and spoil the child, the 2017 High Court ruling read that children should not be subjected to any form of violence and corporal punishment breached their rights under Zimbabwe’s Constitution. According to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child, school corporal punishment is incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world’s most widely-ratified human rights treaty.
Gabaza however concurred with the sentiments raised by the parents that there is need to re-open debate over the distribution of contraceptives in schools and possibly re-enforcing some ‘lighter forms of corporal punishment measures in view of the revelations that thousands of school children are falling pregnant every year, especially of late during the covid-19 pandemic. He said in order to deal with the situation, national debate is now imperative again on whether or not to provide contraceptives in schools to children who are now ‘undeniably’ sexually-active.
While the age of consent in Zimbabwe is 18, Zimbabwe to a large extent has a conservative society that believes pupils in school are still children and should be practicing abstinence, therefore distribution of condoms in schools was immoral and against African values and culture.
However, the proposal to distribute condoms in schools as a means to promote safer sex among school children and to help reduce the HIV scourge has been a centre of controversy for some time now. On the contrary, in neighbouring South Africa they have since adopted a Children’s Act that provides children the right to access reproductive health services as a way of addressing the HIV pandemic.
Representing the voice of parents, Moses Semwayo, an educationist and director of Semwayo School of Sawing and Creative Designs situated in the high density suburb of ZIMTA in Mutare, said online education was compromising the quality of the education for children. Adding that it was now creating disparities in the quality of education and exposing the ‘haves and have nots’. Most private schools have been continuing with their school terms through online classes while government schools were closed due to national covid-19 restrictions.
Semwayo said it is no secret that the unemployment rate is very high in the country and most families cannot afford three basic meals a day, what more of data for online classes and the smart phone technologies or laptops required for online classes.
“As a parent I feel more should have been done to cushion those from less privileged backgrounds so that their children do not get left behind because they cannot afford the technological gadgets or data for online classes. Government should have incentivized for cheaper smartphone technologies to be sold locally through subsidies or brokering deals with technology companies,” said Semwayo.
He added that most parents are now forced to become more or less like teachers during the covid-19 pandemic, of which some are not educated enough to help their children with homework or online lessons. Semwayo said face to face classes covered all these gaps before.
The re-opening of schools had initially been set for January 10, 2022. President Emmerson Mnangagwa last year on December 31, deferred indefinitely the opening of schools as part of measures to contain the Level 2 covid 19 pandemic whose infection rate and deaths had risen during that time, due to a spike in cases of the Omicron virus.
However, on 28 January Government announced that schools would reopen for the 2022 learning calendar this week on Monday (7 February). Ironically, teachers have gone on strike since Wednesday, just two days after schools re-opened, regardless of the strenous prolonged closure since last year due to the covid-19 pandemic.
A survey by Easterntimeszim in Mutare on Thursday revealed that some schools were open but not all teachers were working. The Government and unions are currently locked in a dispute over salaries. Government responded on Tuesday by offering a 20 percent pay increase backdated to January 2022, a US$100 Covid-19 allowance effective March, payment of part of the salaries in United States (US) dollars, as well as subsidies on purchases such as cars and houses. The unions have rejected Government’s offer stating that it is too low, maintaining demands for a US$540 wage and a better Covid-19 allowance.
Gabaza admitted that the blended learning programme is constrained financially but Government is making concerted efforts to make it work given limited fiscal space. He added said that a multi-stakeholder approach was required to make the concept of online classes work.
ZUJ programmes officer Eric Matingo said the press club sessions with community, top government officials and other news makers on topical issues in communities were being held countrywide in an effort to promote solutions journalism and platforms for dialogue for journalists to get access to sources easily.
“Most of these senior government officials are very busy, but through these press club sessions journalists and the community get the opportunity to get firsthand information. This is what we want to promote,” said Matingo.