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Rural teachers thrown to the deep end

08 Jun 2019 at 07:54hrs | Views
With learners at heart, pregnant with a passion of serving the nation and refining young brains into doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants among other professions, *Mrs Bongiwe Nyoni welcomed her deployment to a rural school at the heart of Umguza District in Matabeleland North Province.

Aware that most rural homes do not have electricity and piped water, she just yearned for a decent and safe house. However, she was welcomed by a grass thatched hut, with cracked walls that have never known paint and an old potholed floor that reminded her of the shanty houses that blacks were forced to stay in during the colonial era.

While her urban counterparts cry foul over poor salaries which they say are not enough to pay for decent accommodation, water and electricity as well as other needs, Mrs Nyoni has never slept in a decent house since her deployment in 2013.

At the far eastern side of a dilapidated corrugated iron-roofed farmhouse used as a "classroom" at the primary school in Ward 10, Umguza District, is a hut and an old two- roomed house built of pole and dagga.

The house has some net wire put up as window panes, small wooden doors that leave a gap when opened and rough floors. In front of the house is a solar panel which the teachers use as a source of energy. A few metres from the hut is a small thatched shed that is used for cooking.

The "bathroom" is just a pile of zinc roofing sheets that are put together, leaving gaps such that when someone is inside, you can see the whole body. At the back of the house are drums in which the teachers store water to avoid walking long distances to the borehole. "This is where we live and we've come to accept it.

This is my first time to live in such a home, work has taught me a lesson. This is a deserted farm and we're made to live in these huts," she said, standing at the door of the hut that is almost falling apart. The school, an annex of a more established school and has 115 pupils, was set up in 2013 at a deserted farmer house.

The school was set up to cater for learners who would walk up to 20 kilometres to get to school. By merely looking at the school, one can tell that no improvement has been made to the school beyond demarcating the old structures into classrooms and the teachers' quarters. The school is located in what seems to be the middle of nowhere with a few homes visible kilometres away.

Mrs Nyoni said the three teachers live in fear of attacks from wild animals as well and thieves.

There is no a perimeter fence or security guards at the school.

"After dismissal time, the place becomes as deathly quiet as a cemetery. It's only the three of us here. We don't have security guards and imagine if someone attacks us, where do we go? Who do we call for help?" she said pointing at the nearest villager's home, a distance away.

Mrs Nyoni mirrors the sad life of teachers in rural areas, especially at satellite schools, who are enduring squalid living conditions for the love of their profession. During teaching practice, they are not exposed to such harsh conditions.

According to Mrs Nyoni, temporary teachers are not allowed to go to remote areas.

"We were not allowed to come to such schools. What you're exposed to during teaching practice is totally different from what we're seeing now. I think they should let student teachers feel this pain so that they know some of the discomforts that come with the profession," she said.

In addition to being exposed to these conditions, teachers at the school are among the most burdened teachers as they have composite classes. The three of them teach pupils from Early Childhood Development to Grade Six while Grade Sevens are taught at the parent school.

Under such conditions, teachers cannot stay with their families and are forced to travel 88km to Bulawayo to spend weekends with them. The bus fare, they said, strains their already stretched budget.

"I can't bring my family here so I'm forced to travel home every weekend. It's straining to think of using $20 per week for transport. Besides that, I have to go with some groceries but as the breadwinner, having to run two households is not sustainable," said another teacher.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe Mr Obey Masaraure said poor living conditions de-motivate teachers, thereby resulting in low pass rates in some rural schools.

"Matabeleland North Province is one of the provinces with very low pass rates and such living conditions are contributing factors. Teachers are not motivated to teach when they are treated like second class citizens," he said.

Mr Masaraure said his association wants the Government to come up with an education equalisation fund to cater for schools with poor infrastructure.

"Under this fund, we're saying companies should at least pay a levy which will help develop infrastructure," he said.

Mr Masaraure challenged Government to introduce a rural retention and attraction allowance which he said will see rural teachers being given some funds to cushion them.

"All teachers are equal. Rural teachers should be given an allowance to at least motivate them. In Mozambique, rural teachers are given a 100 percent allowance."

He added that the Education Amendment Bill, which is being worked on, should define what a school is.

"The bill should make it clear what is expected of a standard school to avoid such situations where a deserted farm is turned into a school. It is the condition of a school that determines the performance by teachers," Mr Masaraure said.

Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo said Government is aware of the poor living and working conditions of teachers at the annex schools adding that efforts to address the issue are underway. He said this situation is common at satellite schools where building of new infrastructure takes long due to economic challenges.

"We're aware of this situation which mostly affects satellite schools. For instance, this was a farm house but because of financial constraints, it's hard to renovate such structures. We plan to build new structures in the long run," he said.

Deputy Minister Moyo said the ministry lacks funding for infrastructural development noting that there is need to adjust its budget to suit the needs at hands.

He bemoaned the living conditions at such schools saying teachers are respected figures in society who should be treated better.

"Normally, when people have challenges especially in rural areas, they go to the teacher. He is an icon of knowledge and wisdom. Hence we don't tolerate it when such important people are living in these conditions," he said.

*Not her real name

Source - chronicle
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