Community turns tobacco barn into a school

HARARE - Perched in the farming community of Mapinga in Zvimba East, Mashonaland West Province are two dilapidated tobacco barns that parents have turned into a school.

Last week the Daily News on Sunday crew visited the school while checking on the statistics of voters in the area for the country’s constitutional referendum.

Mapinga is 80km along the Harare-Chirundu road and is largely a farming community.

Along the road soon after the Great Dyke shops as one drives towards Banket, to the right lies a small school, Mapinga Siding Primary, with only two blocks.

From being tobacco barns, the buildings were transformed into learning structures.

The two structures are wearing off and showing signs they might collapse if not attended to.

Most of the people in the area are tobacco farmers who benefitted during the country’s land reform programme, but the school’s sorry state speak volumes of the authorities’ skewed priorities.

The situation at the school brings to the fore the unfair educational conditions that the children in the area and elsewhere have to endure.

An ancient Greek philosopher Plato once said that: “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

Contrary to this ideology, pupils at this satellite school are learning under a dire situation.

Arriving at the school, which is less than 500 metres from the main road, there are two old buildings and one can easily tell that there is “no life” in the structures.

The walls are wearing off, probably because of overexposure to the rain over the years.

The roof is not properly attached to the walls, while the inside is as good as the outside.

This is a school in the 21st century, in a country with Africa’s highest literacy rate.

In four weeks’ time the country will be holding its 33rd independence celebrations, but besides of the “successful” land reform programme and being endowed with vast tracks holding several expensive minerals, Mapinga Siding Primary School is an eyesore.

Ironically, underneath the school lies a host of vast ore deposits, including gold, silver, chromium, platinum, nickel and asbestos that follow the Great Dyke belt, which is a geographical feature, harbouring the minerals.

The buildings inside are divided by small roughly built walls that demarcates classes. So dire is the situation that the two classroom blocks, used as polling stations during the constitutional referendum have floors that are deeply cracking and dusty.

The pupils have to endure sitting on small badly made benches that form the only part of furniture that is in the classrooms.

So bad is the situation that the school does not have proper windows to protect children from the wind.

With the winter season fast approaching, pupils will literally scavenge for warmth.

There is dearth of basic facilities such as toilets and a library.

Winter normally sees a massive drop in attendances as children shy away from the biting cold especially if they do not have the kind of clothing required to protect them from the schilling weather.

It is amazing how people expect much from such a school.

Children at this school, write the same examination that children in Harare’s A-schools write.

They also do science subject, where they are expected to know how to handle pin plugs that they do not see or have never seen before.

This is an unfair education system that the government overlooks.

Zimbabwe under its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has a well-defined aim to ensure that, “by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”.

A committee of parliamentarians on MDGs that studied satellite schools around the country from 2010 revealed that for the past 10 years since the controversial land reform programme, children in farming communities, “have been condemned to such harsh learning environments and until something miraculous or dramatic happens, a dark cloud is cast over their future.”

Education minister David Coltart says because government did not plan for the satellite schools the problem is worse in such areas.

“The problem of accommodation and other necessary school requirements is particularly acute in satellite schools because the government did not plan for these schools. They were established in response to the land reform programme,” said Coltart. - Tendai Kamhungira, Mugove Tafirenyika

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