THE poor national examination results achieved by students in Binga schools each year tell a story of an underfunded education system suffocating a hugely marginalised district.
What makes it more deplorable is the fact that Binga, which is tipped to be Zimbabwe’s next tourism hub, is currently generating a lot of foreign currency for the country but none of it is being ploughed back into the district.
Binga, teeming with magnificent sand beaches, hot springs and wildlife, is one of the most beautiful places tucked away in Matabeleland North. However, it is also one of the most underdeveloped areas in Zimbabwe.
The district remains neglected in terms of infrastructure. The roads are poor, and schools and health facilities are in a deplorable state.
Home to most of Zimbabwe’s Tonga and Nambya minority groups, the district, sitting on the edge of the mighty Zambezi River, is affected by chronic poverty and reduced access to higher education.
Investigations by CITE established the poor conditions of Binga’s schools – where teachers live under squalid conditions and hardly have material to assist them in their work – has meant that students in the district have ‘an erratic relationship’ with teachers who come and go, sometimes as rapidly as the change of school terms.
The investigation was done, working in collaboration with the Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation that supports journalists in Zimbabwe and in the region to investigate issues of corruption in the public sector and bad governance.
The pain of those putting on the shoe
A resident in Binga town’s Simanyanga Suburb, Givemore Munkuli said:
“When these children leave school without any passes at O Level, they can only join their colleagues in marriage, that is if they are girls. If they are boys, then the situation is worse because they have no way of sustaining themselves in life.”
Women and girls suffer the most.
Starni Mpofu, chairperson of the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) in Binga, said of all the challenges faced by both females and males, women had to contend with challenges related to their gender.
“In some families, the education of women is not emphasised and hence some drop out of school at a young age to get married,” she said.
“There are also challenges related to women’s sanitary issues and most schools are not a conducive environment for a young girl, especially at secondary school.”
Some of the women approached for interviews refused to speak to the media.
George Nyathi, the chief in the Pashu area of the district, said the results are a mirror of the challenges that bedevil the district’s education system.
“In terms of teachers, we have a huge challenge,” he said. “For at the beginning of every year we have teachers coming from college. They are recruited and employed but they don’t stay long,” Chief Pashu said.
“Teachers come to our district schools, but within six months, so many would have transferred. In that they would have managed to get employed and get into the system, they can transfer.
“They use Binga as an entry point, to get into the Ministry of Education and get the public service number.”
Although insisting that people in Binga are receiving quality education, Director of Communications and Advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Taungana Ndoro, gave shocking statistics of the teacher/student ratio, which was as high as 1:45.
“There are 172 schools in Binga of which 125 are primary schools and 47 are secondary schools,” he said.
“In terms of the teacher student ratio, it differs according to levels. For Early Childhood Development education and Grades 1 to 2, a teacher deals with up to 40 students and for Grade 3 to 7, a teacher deals with up to 45 students.
“At secondary school, the ratios are lower in that a Form 1 and 2 teacher deals with 35 students, for Forms 3 and 4, a teacher deals with 33 students and for A’level, a teacher deals with 30 students.”
A Global South challenge
In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)’s Institute for Statistics (UIS) said there was a global need for 68,8 million teachers in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
“In the next 14 years, countries must recruit 68,8 million teachers to provide every child with primary and secondary education: 24,4 million primary school teachers and 44,4 million secondary school teachers,” the Unesco said.
Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia were said to account for over 76% (14,6 million) of the new teachers needed in developing countries to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, it was reported that 70% of countries face acute shortages of teachers, rising to 90% at secondary level.
Why teachers shun Binga
There are a myriad of challenges that make Binga District unattractive to teachers and, therefore, affect the quality of education in Matabeleland North.
Chief Pashu noted Binga has to contend with “a lot of difficulties and challenges” as there is lack of support for education and schools from both the government and community sides.
“We have a problem of infrastructure. I am talking about schools, more so satellite schools, which are very many where children are learning under trees,” he said.
“You find that a school has one block of classrooms, yet has grades ranging from one up to seven.
“You might find that a school may have about 300 students and only one block of classrooms. Even three to four blocks are not sufficient to cater for children that enrolled in that school.
“The other challenge is that of accommodation for teachers. This is coupled with the challenges of transport where roads to most satellite schools are non-existent.”
It’s not all gloom and doom
However, against all these odds, the Ministry of Education official said students in Binga were receiving quality education and used the pass rate figures to illustrate this.
“The O’level pass rate since 2018 has been 19,78%,” Ndoro said.
“It then went up to 24,26% before dropping to 11,15% as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and then went up slightly to 11,73%. This was also because of Covid-19 issues. Last year, it went down to 11,01% because of Covid-19 issues.
“In terms of A level, the pass rate in Binga District has been above the national average, mainly over the last five years. In 2018 the pass rate was 83,73%.
“In 2019, the pass rate was 91.05%. That was way above the national pass rate. Due to the Covid-19 in 2020, the pass rate went down to 80,2% for A level. Because of Covid-19 in 2021, it went down to 75%.
“But the interesting thing is in 2022. The pass rate then increased dramatically to 88.32%. So, people in Binga continue to receive a very quality education,” said the education ministry official.
Ndoro downplayed the challenges outlined by residents and Chief Pashu.
“A lot of teachers, particularly if they come from that area, stay for more than a year,” he said.
“They actually live there. Particularly when they are Tonga speaking teachers, they live in that area. A year is actually too small. A challenge, obviously, is when they are not Tonga.”
Asked on how many teachers speak Tonga in the district, Ndoro was evasive.
“Well, that’s too technical,” he said. “You know what happens is that someone may not be Tonga, but then goes to Binga and then starts to love the Tongas and speak and behave like a Tonga. How will we know that this is a Tonga or not?”
The silver lining
Deputy national leader of the Freedom Alliance party Moses Mzila Ndlovu blamed the challenges of Binga’s education on Gukurahundi, which he said marks the pinnacle of the marginalisation of the Matabeleland region.
“The conduct of the Zanu PF in Matabeleland, particularly the massacre of teachers, the number of which up to now is unknown, explains all this,” Ndlovu said.
“Those of us who have had keen interest in the way government abused teachers in terms of rape by the Gukurahundi, in terms of poor road network in the region, know that not many people are still willing to go to these remote schools.”
Binga based – Basilizwi Trust programmes manager, Danisa Mudimba said the infrastructural challenges have contributed to the huge failure rate in Binga District.
“Some of the schools are new as they are being established now,” she said. “There are no classrooms and the teachers are using tree shades where they cannot display what they are teaching.
“This is especially serious among the early grades at school. The infrastructure at our schools is not good at all. Most of the schools do not have more than one or two classroom blocks.”
Kudakwashe Mavula Munsaka, the Zanu PF Binga North candidate in the August 23 general elections, admitted that his party neglected the district.
“The old dispensation had really neglected Binga,” Munsaka said.
“The state of schools has been deplorable for a long time. It has been a sad story. This made the results to be so poor.
“Some schools would shockingly receive zero percent pass rate. However, we thank the new dispensation that has prioritised education in Binga. Schools are being built now.”
Chief Pashu said Binga schools also faced challenges in terms of textbooks where “the books that are supplied are not equal to the number of children”.
“Our children have to share those few books and to share those few benches available,” he said.
While agreeing with Chief Pashu on most of the points, the Binga resident, Munkuli also placed emphasis on the question of language.
“It is true that most of the teachers leave our schools after a short time of assuming duty here,” he said.
“The second challenge tied to teachers is the question of language. Most of the teachers who come here come from other districts where they speak a language different from Tonga. They don’t speak Tonga. In the process our children struggle to understand the teachers, and the teachers struggle to reach out to the students.”
A teacher in the district, who asked not to be named, said working at the schools in Binga was a labour of love.
“I was once in Rwanda, recruited as a teacher there, and their infrastructure is well advanced, they have invested in education,” he said.
“However, I decided to come back home because the salary could not allow me to work there while looking after home. I am now teaching at a secondary school here in Binga.
“When I came here I soon realised I needed to buy teaching material from my salary or own funds. This is what most of the teachers were doing or are doing. It is a struggle to implement the new curriculum here.”
The Basilizwi Programmes Manager, said, there are, however, efforts to make sure that the education system in the province did not completely go under the water.
“As an organisation, we are working hard to ensure that we assist the ministry in salvaging education in our district,” Mudimba said.
“Among the four thematic areas of our intervention, we have the education and culture promotion programme, which focuses on the enhancement of education in the district.
“What we do is that we promote the teaching of Tonga language in the district.
“We had our first Tonga Grade 7 examinations in 2010. Tonga language is now taught 100% in the district.”
She also spoke of interventions by the private business sector to help build infrastructure at schools in the district.
“For example, we have TelOne assisting a school to build classrooms,” she said. “The company will add about two to four new blocks of classrooms to the school.”
Munsaka said “there are a number of initiatives that need to be done to address the education situation in Binga.”
Binga District Development Coordinator (DDC), Land Siansole Kabome said the district was working hard to put up infrastructure around education.
“As the Second Republic, we have the devolution funds from the central government that we are using to build clinics and schools, even making renovations of those infrastructure,” Kabome said.
“We also receive money from Zinara (Zimbabwe National Roads Administration) for ERRP (Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme), so a number of developments have been done.
“In terms of schools, we have done schools like Chibondo, Mulindi, Mansenya just mentioning a few in terms of devolution money. These developments will go a long way for the communities.
“When it comes to learners this will improve perhaps the low pass rate that is depicted.
“For instance, these classroom blocks that are being built will mean that learners can attend classes under roof and it makes it easier for the teachers to provide work for the learners.
“You will realise that Binga recorded a low pass rate this year solely because these institutions were not yet built. We have now corrected that scenario,” said the Binga DDC.
An A Level student at Binga High School, Martha Muleya, said while the conditions at her current school were bearable, she still faced a lot of challenges as a girl child.
“We have to do household chores over and above our workload at school,” she said.
“With the current syllabus it is even more difficult because some of the work we have to do at home will contribute to our final marks.
“Homes are places where, as girls, we have a lot of caring and tending to do; we have to wash dishes and clothes, clean the home and hardly get anytime to do CALA (Continuous Assessment Learning Activities).”
A female teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the education ministry’s rules against teachers speaking to the media, said life was difficult for female teachers working in Binga.
“Some of the schools seem to be in the middle of nowhere and one is completely out of touch with their family since there is a poor network,” she said. “Day to day life is a struggle. We have to source clean water and other necessities.”