Covid-19 ravages future for rural learners as teachers call for counselling programmes to address mental health challenges in schools

By Br. Alfonce Kugwa

Rural learners lost their precious time due to Covid-19.

Covid-19 has left indelible marks among many people in different parts of society. Some people lost their loved ones, others lost their livelihoods while most of the children especially those in rural areas lost a future. Coupled with economic hardships, Covid-19 lock downs impacted negatively on both urban and rural lifestyles with the rural families being the most affected and failing to provide basics for their children. The closure of companies meant serious shortage of supplies in terms of food and other basic utilities as people could not work to support their families back home. This paved way for a sharp rise in gender based violence as couples and children had to spend most of their time together. There was mounting pressure on men, women and children whose needs skyrocketed yet the economy was shrinking, closing doors for opportunities.

Mr. Alfonce Mugabe, Nemangwe Secondary headmaster, lamented the high dropout rate at the school.

With lock downs, schools were closed and children were told to embark on online education. This frustrated the majority of rural learners who could not afford facilities to study virtually. There was a general disinterest in education by some rural and to some extend urban learners as well that some started abusing drugs while others joined the bandwagon as artisanal miners. The girl child’s future was heavily affected as a good number of them abandoned school to become mothers. A high dropout rate was experienced in rural schools particularly in Gokwe and other parts of the Midlands Province as many girls turned their back to education. While some opted for marriage over education others were forced into it by their parents who wanted to salvage their families through marrying off their young girls.

More girls dropped out of school as a result of Covid-19.

The headmaster of the Catholic owned Nemangwe Secondary School in Gokwe South, Mr. Alfonce Mugabe lamented the high dropout rate at his school which he attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said his school recorded 51 dropouts most of whom were preparing to write their O’level examinations.

“Covid-19 has actually affected a number of our learners, especially the O’ Levels who were due for registration of their national examinations. We have a list of 51 students inclusive of the Form 4s who were supposed to register for their O’ Level examinations for 2021 with 26 girls and 25 boys,” Mr. Mugabe said.

Mr. Mugabe stated that the major reason for the dropout attached to Covid-19 was that most girls got married during the long holidays while some of the boys became artisanal miners, makorokoza. According to Mr. Mugabe, rural learners became virtually idle during the long holidays with completely nothing to do and this gave them ample time to engage in all kinds of mischief.

“When I called one of them in, he said it was no longer necessary to study because the holiday was too long and he was not sure of what was happening, thus he opted for other things like gold panning. Most parents in the area survive on buying and selling and this was np longer impossible because of the lock down and curfews that prohibited free movement of people. This also contributed to high dropouts in the school,” Mr. Mugabe said.

Mr. Boniface Masango, SDC Chairperson for Nemangwe Secondary School in Gokwe.

The School’s Development Committee Chairperson, Mr. Boniface Masango buttressed Mr. Mugabe’s comment, saying children took advantage of the lockdown to abuse themselves, others and their future. He also blamed some parents for “selling” their children in exchange for food.

40 girls and 30 boys abandoned school at Chireya Secondary School also in Gokwe due to Covid-19. Mr. Douglas Manyuvire, the head of the school, told Catholic Church News that of the 40 girls, 15 got married and others were employed as domestic workers.

“Most of the boys joined their peers as artisanal miners in such areas as Kwekwe and Kadoma, others got employed as cattle herders in nearby villages while others jumped the border into South Africa to look for greener pastures,” Mr. Manyuvire reiterated.

The Headmaster of Chireya Secondary School, Mr. Douglas Manyuvire.

A parent at Muyambi Primary School said most children abandoned school because their parents lacked the resources to provide the facilities for online learning. Her daughter became a mother at 11 years and her son found himself a job as a cattle herder. He refused to pursue his education when schools were opened. She blamed Covid-19 for teenage marriages, pregnancies, prostitution and drug abuse saying children would roam Manoti Business Centre aimlessly. Muyambi primary school had 23 dropouts inclusive of 10 boys and 13 girls. Another woman from the same village narrated the story of her daughter who abandoned her education to become a mother in Form 3.

She said: “My daughter’s future has been ruined. Maybe she was going to be someone in life had it not been for Covid-19.”

The education Secretary for Gokwe Diocese, Fr. Norbert Matongo said they were deeply affected basically because all their schools are rural day schools. He said Primary schools suffered a big loss considering dropouts of minors from school.

Fr. Norbert Matongo, Education Secretary for Gokwe Diocese.

“The boy child later on decided to join chikorokoza as they found it to be profitable. They had no source of entertainment. For the girl child, idle time at home was tantamount to abuse, hence, a high number of teenage marriages,” Fr. Matongo said.

The priest mentioned that children were also affected as their social interaction was interrupted due to coronavirus. He said children were used as cheap labour at home and some of the parents did not mind about their children’s education. The most affected schools in Gokwe Diocese include Nemangwe Secondary School with 51 dropouts, Chireya 70, Muyambi 23, Batsirai 21, St. Dominic’s Chireya Primary 19, Sawi 10, Tsungai 8, St. Mary’s Tongwe 8, Kana High School 9, Siakobvu Secondary 8 and Nesikwe Secondary 5.

The general loss of interest in studies by learners due to Covid-19 was observed as a serious issue of concern in many rural schools. Headmasters and teachers highlighted that many students no longer had the zeal to concentrate in their study areas because of the long period they spent at home during the lock down.

Mrs. Mupitirira, Headmistress, Lalapanzi Secondary School. She calls for counselling programmes in schools to deal with mental health challenges.

Mrs. Mupitirira from Lalapanzi Secondary School said some students had become uncontrollable that teachers were finding it difficult to deal with them. Bullying in schools was also reported to be on the increase with learners abusing each other sexually, physically and emotionally. This, she said, has greatly impacted on their performance as they take education as a pass time than a serious programme.

“The attitude of children towards their academic studies has deteriorated because of the idle time they had at home during the lock down. Some had started taking drugs and this has affected many children. They no longer have respect for each other and even for their teachers. Most of them no longer have the zeal to learn that the pass rate has been greatly compromised,” stated Mrs. Mupitirira.

Mrs. Mupitirira called for serious counselling programmes as a way of bringing about sanity in schools and to deal with mental health challenges affecting learners.

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