Since the attainment of Independence in 1980, rural development has been number one priority on the Zimbabwean government’s agenda.
This has been in an effort to reduce rural poverty which has an indirect contribution to urban socio-economic instability through rural-to-urban migration.
However, education has been singled out as a priority sector the world should invest in to deal with increasing poverty and growing unemployment rates. Recognised the world over as a fundamental and universal human right pre-requisite for economic growth, human development and poverty reduction, education remains the focal point for development especially for poverty-stricken Third World countries in Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe.
Although efforts have been made to better the education faculty in the country, more visibly during the era between 1980 and 1983 where major educational facility constructions were carried out, continued investments and upgrades are still required to address and further develop education infrastructure, especially in rural areas.
In Zimbabwe, Binga — which is widely known as a “place of the forgotten people”, due to its grave poverty levels and national alienation — or Basilwizi (People of the Great Zambezi River, due to their historic bond with the rich river) has examples of the grim situations that bedevil the country’s rural education system as a whole.
Binga suffers from perennial poverty cycles worsened by bad weather conditions which annually hamper agricultural productivity. Other factors are identified as unaffordability of adequate farming inputs.
With no indications of poverty being alleviated in the district, the future of the education system and infrastructure in the district poses dim prospects for positive development.
Binga’s education infrastructure has remained unchanged over years. And the quality of education has declined and failed to meet even promises made during the United Nations general assembly held in 2000, culminating in what came to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Coincidentally, MDGs were intended to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and to achieve universal primary education by 2015.
Although Binga can boast of an increase in rural primary schools, poor infrastructure and an unmatching number of secondary schools is a cause for concern as it has contributed to discontinued education for students who graduate from primary schools.
The whole of Binga district has up to now not managed to secure any science laboratory for students. Thus, most children are forced back into destitution and exposed to exploitative labour practices and gender inequality despite strong advocacy against child exploitation by non-governmental organisations that include Unicef.
According to statistics, Binga is estimated to carry a population of around 200 000 people and has 80 primary schools and less than 40 secondary schools. The Tonga community has in the past decade engaged in strong advocacy to have their language examined in schools around Binga. This has been in the belief that the introduction of the Tonga language in schools would help restore their cultural rights, pride and dignity as equal citizens in Zimbabwe.
Tonga (or Chitonga) was in October 2011 officially tested at Grade 7 level for the first time in Zimbabwe. But since then, the language has failed to secure sufficient policy and financial support. Today Chitonga remains only taught in a few selected schools and only expected for “O” Level examinations this year. The language has a good reception in Zambia where 1,3 million people are believed to be conversant in it against 138 000 who speak the language in Binga.
In an interview, Binga North MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda said that the education infrastructure in the district is dire, and it goes beyond the solitary capacity of NGOs to address the situation as they are funded to address only a specific area of intervention.
“The educational situation in the district is very serious that at the current levels, it demands concerted efforts by many stakeholders to address it as one angle of intervention would not help redeem the district out of the troubles faced in the area of education. The government is one institution that is expected to resuscitate this sector. The district has numerous operating NGOs, but these can only address one aspect of the problems faced and their intervention is dependent on the funding they obtain; these funds are project specific,” he said.
“I visited Nagangala Primary School and was shocked to find 70 students hot seating for Grade 7 exams. And I was told this was the total number that will sit for the exams out of the entire school.”
The district has continued to raise concerns over organisations and persons that purportedly vulture on it’s vulnerability and social destitution.
More recently the ambassador of the United States, Bruce Wharton, was slammed over what was believed to be decrepit strategies used by both NGOs and their benefactors. This is despite the fact that some also believe Binga’s woes were born out of government’s neglection of the district since Independence.
Over years, Binga has suffered from teacher exodus due to the unavailability of their accommodation, clean water, phone network and rural incentives. Thus, most schools in the district are staffed with unqualified teachers.
Schools like Magobbo remain inaccessible while communities like Chunga and Lungu, which lie on the patches between Siabuwa and Binga centre, have no telecommunication link.
Despite these problems, Binga district managed to record an overall pass rate of 24% in 2014.