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COVID-19 Moves Primary Education to Radio, But Who Are The Learners?

by Amanda Ncube

Moving primary education to radio seems to be the most convenient thing to do in the face of COVID-19. However, even with the radio, there is a gap in access to education for some communities.

GWANDA, August 10, 2020. (The Citizen Bulletin)  — Schools have remained closed as part of efforts by the Government to curb the spread of COVID-19.

To ensure that pupils catch up on their lessons the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has introduced radio lessons for Grade One to Grade Seven learners which can be accessed on local stations.

The Ministry recently released a schedule for the fourth phase of the radio lessons. The lessons are being aired on National FM, Power FM, Classic 263 and Radio Zimbabwe.

The effectiveness of this program is however questionable as most communities in Matabeleland South Province do not have access to local stations, disadvantaging rural pupils.

Radio network in parts of Matabeleland South is inaccessible, with Beitbridge town and surrounding areas being the most affected.

Molvin Dube who is a member of the Zimbabwe National Educators Union (ZINEU) says radio lessons are a good initiative but could be effectively implemented in a country with total network coverage and where most communities can access the internet.

He says 80 percent of schools in Matabeleland South are in rural areas.

“For a province like Matabeleland South Province this initiative doesn’t serve its purpose but it leaves the rural child disadvantaged. Most learners from the province are in the rural areas.”

Molvin Dube, ZINEU member

Dube says while about only 20 percent of pupils in Matabeleland South Province can access local radio stations not all of them have radios at their homes. He says the majority of homes in urban Matabeleland South do not own a radio.

A parent from the Mashaba area, Ward 19 in Gwanda, Subisisiwe Moyo, says she is not aware that Government has introduced radio lessons for learners. Two of her children are in primary school.

For Moyo’s children, there is no way to access the radio stations as there is no coverage in her area.  The community in Mashaba can only access Studio 7 and Botswana stations.

Moyo says her children are being left out while other children are learning.

“One of my children is in Grade Seven and I feel she is missing out on lessons while others can access radio lessons. Time is moving and soon she will have to sit for her Grade 7 examinations. At least in the urban areas’ children have access to extra lessons even now when schools are closed but our children don’t. I have a radio at my homestead but we also don’t have access to local stations. Our children continue to be disadvantaged yet they have a right to quality education,” she says.

Chief Bango from Mangwe District says he is not aware that there are ongoing radio lessons.

He says information on the development did not reach his area. Villagers in Chief Bango’s area can only access Botswana radio stations.

“This is a good initiative but we don’t have access to local radio stations which leaves the rural child disadvantaged. If there are such programmes there is need for them to incorporate children from all communities as access to education is a fundamental right for every child. The content also has to be in a language which every child can understand,” he says.

Dube says there is a need for a consultative process before implementing such programmes in the future.

“Learners can’t be treated holistically, there should be systems that are tailor-made to suit their circumstances. As it is, some parents are not even aware that there are such radio lessons which are ongoing. There is also a need for a monitoring system which can help determine whether this initiative of radio lessons is serving its purpose,” he says.

Marginalised: In rural Matabeleland South most children have no access to the radio lessons as schools remain closed. Photo by UNICEF

Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson, Taungana Ndoro says plans are underway to introduce alternative learning and teaching methods during this time when schools remain closed because of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

He says the Ministry is committed to ensuring that the learning process continues and lessons are accessible to learners in the country.

“As a Ministry, we are aware that the radio lessons are not accessible to all learners and that is why we are working on introducing more alternative learning methods which will be announced as time goes on. The radio lessons were introduced to ensure that learners have alternative learning methods while schools remain closed and more programmes are yet to come. At the end of it all, we want our programmes to be inclusive for all learners.”