Coolwe Mumpande (15), a Form 2 pupil at Siadindi Secondary School in Binga, one of the most marginalised districts in Zimbabwe, is a bright young girl who has been passing with flying colours since primary school.
By Zisunko Ndlovu
Her elderly parents have high hopes for her at school and in life, and she is determined not to disappoint them.
Coolwe (Tonga for luck) hopes she will pass her Ordinary Level examinations so that she enrols for Advanced Level and possibly study sciences so that she can live out her dream in a science-related career.
“I want to be a pilot or a doctor,” she says.
Her desire is to escape the grinding poverty she has known since birth.
Being the only girl in her family and given that her only brother is physically handicapped, Coolwe found herself doing household chores from a tender age.
Before attending school, which is more than three kilometres away from her home, she is expected to gather firewood, fetch water, wash dishes, cook, sweep the family yard and clean the house.
When she comes back from school in the evening, household chores are waiting for her, whether she has homework or not.
Coolwe believes a sound education is her passport to a better life and has used her daily challenges as an inspiration, rather than a handicap. Unbeknown to her, however, is that her dream will almost be impossible to fulfil because there are no schools offering sciences at A-Level in Binga district, Matabeleland North province.
The only ray of hope is Binga High School which is building a laboratory. When complete it will result in sciences being offered at A-Level. After completion, only when will pupils from Siadindi and nine other secondary schools in the district be able to do A-Level sciences at the school which first opened its doors in 1983.
For now the only alternative for Coolwe, who wants to study sciences, is to seek education outside the district.
Binga High, whose mission is to produce “all-round useful citizens who are capable of being self-reliant by using their acquired knowledge for the development of their own political, technological, social and economic status for the benefit of their individual communities and the nation at large”, is confident of fulfilling its pledge if it gets science facilities.
Peter Munkuli, the deputy headmaster, says students from the district had suffered because of a lack of sciences.
“The infrastructure is not adequate, we have students who leave in search of science subjects in other districts, but are forced to come back due to stiff competition there. When they come back, they are forced to do other subject combinations which are not sciences,” he said.
As an alternative to sciences, Munkuli says the school last year introduced Computer Science for O-Level students.
The school is also planning to introduce the subject at A-Level, but knows that the real deal is to offer the broader range of sciences.
Following a request from the school, government started constructing a science laboratory at the school in 2013.
However, there has been delays due to financial constraints, forcing locals to seek alternative funding. The laboratory is now at roof level, but about US$83 000 is needed for internal fittings.
“We cannot wait for that (government). This issue needs to be addressed urgently.We have tried by all means possible and now we are looking up to the local community to assist,” says Edson Masungo the district education officer for Binga.
Once the laboratory is completed, Binga High aims to introduce Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Computer Sciences, among other A-Level subjects.
This would enable pupils like Coolwe to have a chance to pursue their dream.
The school has generally done very well at A-Level, recording an average of 83% pass rate between 2008 and 2013.
Authorities believe offering sciences will make the school more attractive, while also benefitting the entire district and its socially marginalised communities.
For a number of people, however, including Binga South legislator Joel Gabuza, the fact that the district has no other school offering A-Level is evidence of marginalisation and that is unacceptable.
“We are just left out,” said Gabuza, a former minister of water resources and development.
Juliana Muskwe, a social development expert in Binga, says parents and government have a critical role to play in children’s education. The United Nations has identified science as critical in meeting Sustainable Development Goals.