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‘Mass school dropouts looming’

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BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA

TEACHERS unions have warned of looming massive school dropouts as pupils are gradually losing commitment towards education due to the prolonged suspension of learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The teachers’ representatives called on the government to urgently roll out inclusive free online lessons during the lockdown period.

Mental health specialists said the uncertainty on reopening of schools for in-person learning had caused anxiety among schoolchildren and some were engaging in criminal activities as a coping mechanism.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said girl children in marginalised communities were the most affected with the majority being pushed into early marriages.

“Over 20 000 pupils dropped out of school in 2018 due to various constraints before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Masaraure said.

He added: “Figures of dropouts are set to surpass the 2018 mark due to the impacts of the pandemic which varies from financial constraints and idleness among pupils.

“We are still compiling statistics on the number of those who failed to sit for the Zimsec examinations. Already, the number recorded so far is surpassing the highest recorded in the previous years.”

Last year, during lockdown, government rolled out radio and television lessons which, however, segregated rural pupils as the majority had no access to radio signals.

Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive Manuel Nyawo said due to the digital divide between urban and rural infrastructure, most rural schools would miss out on e-learning.

“COVID-19 will be wreaking havoc for an unpredictable period. Some schools in the private sector are conducting online lessons because they have the necessary infrastructure,” Nyawo said.

“In the case of public government schools, it is difficult to take a holistic approach on e-learning because the disadvantaged rural pupils have no infrastructure.

Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said: “If government is serious about modernisation learning, it should invest in the provision of gadgets that are necessary for learning like what countries like Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda among others, have done.”

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