The plight of the rural learner amid worsening situations of COVID-19

By Justice Ngonidzashe Mutizamhepo

The COVID-19 pandemic has landed almost all the institutions across the globe in a crisis. Economies have been put to a standstill, with little if any production at all. Health sectors have been shaken, the worst affected being the ill prepared and sub-standard African health systems with most health personnel either working in fear or neglecting their vital duty due to fear of contracting the novel corona virus. In the middle of such a global crisis, I feel it worth to voice my opinion in line of the rural child whom I feel has suffered the blow even way before the COVID-19 crisis hit the globe. It is my concern that the plight of the rural children in Zimbabwe has been in existence for ages.

I present this article in light of what I believe has become a catalyst for worst situations to come for the rural pupils. This article seeks to highlight some of the situations being faced by the rural school going pupils in their bid to acquire one of their universally declared entitlements,” the right to education.” 

Despite education being a basic human right, the enjoyment of it, with special reference to the rural children in Zimbabwe has been affected by a wide range of social and economic huddles some of which are too high for the children to cross over. For quite a long time, the rural children have suffered so many challenges ranging from walking long distances to and from school, without having had a decent meal which can sustain them for a day’s length and without proper school wear. For the rural child, this has been something one has been forced to endure for the whole length of one’s educational life. This has been the fate of these pupils and an important chapter which one has to read with empathy.

Upon getting to school, the child is tired and something else comes up again, there are little if any learning resources. The learner comes across demotivated teachers who only work to fulfil their mandate to teach but without a calling to assist these pupils who wish to enjoy their right to education the same way those in the urban and boarding schools do. To make matters worse, the schools have limited textbooks, classrooms and ill-equipped laboratories in the event that the school has any. A research I carried out in 2016 on “the impact of the economic meltdown on the provision of education in rural day secondary schools” confirms all these factors which have affected the rural children in their pursuit for knowledge.

It has been established that most rural schools do not have adequate learning resources and this has been the trend for a long time. Will it be surprising to know that some rural schools do not have access to electricity?  It’s not a shame! It’s just what the rural learner has to face with boldness, ITS REALITY. What then will become of a learner in such a situation if the essential tool for modern learning is electricity which enables one to connect with the global village? I wasn’t surprised to come across one child who could not switch on a computer, let alone type a document. Is this the same right to education? Should we look up to having computer software engineers from rural children who grow up in a setup without a computer, let alone electricity?

Should we anticipate having medical doctors from these rural schools where the only science related subject being offered is Combined Science at Ordinary Level? Is it not a confirmation of Karl Max’s thoughts that the education system emancipates the elite and strengthens the poverty of the poor. When the social and economic gap between children of the same generation widens, then someone must give an ear to the plight of one who is at the losing end, the rural child. When the situation is like this, the rural child will, without doubt, remain inferior to his counterparts even when they are said to be enjoying the same entitlements.

The advent of COVID-19 has posed new challenges of virtual communication and e-learning. This means that the rural children and those from underprivileged families are indirectly being dropped or eliminated from the education system. With coronavirus, a new nature bottleneck system is being experienced whereby means of education are only enjoyed by the elite.

Does this so called online learning exist for a child in the remote areas where one has to walk a power draining five kilometre distance up the mountain to search for mobile network? Does the online learning accommodate the rural child or it’s only a bus to be boarded by the urbanites that have the ability to purchase the now expensive mobile data bundles? Does the rural child even have the mobile phone? I am sure the majority do not have them. What then will be the fate of the rural child when faced with the public examinations? These leaners will write the same examinations and the same marking guides will be used for all of them, even when the playing field was not favourable for others. This has been the plight of the rural children for ages.

I subscribe to the view that as long as the cries of the rural children have not been addressed, they will remain affected in their quest for education as the gap continues to widen. It is therefore in the midst of the cries of the rural child that I call upon the policy makers, the government and the non-governmental organisations to hear the cries of these most desperate children and come to their rescue. The right to education must equally be enjoyed by all. Being born into a rural set up must not be a curse, neither should it determine one’s life destination. Children in these rural areas desperately need the same type education being enjoyed by their counterparts. They are aware of Nelson Mandela’s wise words, “education is the only weapon which we can use to conquer the world. Rural and urban are only words which must define locations and must not determine destinies.”

Addressing the plights of the rural learners should be a matter of urgency. Rural pupils are equally important in making this world a better place. Is it something that cannot be done? The rural child has been neglected for too long. It is us who can make the difference. Education is an important asset for all. Empower the rural children. Make their lives better. Together we can make a difference. Together we can change their destinies.

Enjoy spiritual reflection bellow:

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