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Matabeleland learners 'shut out' of academic science and technology careers

The government suspended the Stem programme in 2018 and channelled funds towards university students.

Matabeleland North learners have been denied access to the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) programme, and this has detrimentally affected their academic and professional prospects.

The government suspended the Stem programme in 2018 and channelled funds towards university students. However, little has been done to ensure public schools in Matabeleland have laboratories to support Stem.

Students in Matabeleland North are struggling to access the Stem programme, as the government suspended it in 2018 and focused on funding university students. This has dire consequences on their academic science and technology careers.

Most schools in the region have no laboratories, and qualified teachers for Stem subjects. As a result, learners, parents and schools are little enthusiastic about Stem subjects.

Introduced in 2016 by exiled former  Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, Stem was created to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. Beneficiaries had their fees paid by the government.

Former Ntabazinduna Chief, Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni, is concerned that learners from Matabeleland North will never be able to explore their full potentials in science and technology professions because of the lack of a viable government-funded Stem programme in the region.

Ndiweni believes that the programme would have allowed many schools in Matabeleland to have science laboratories and other supporting infrastructure, including labor to support Stem.

“What we have is a number of gifted children who did not benefit from Stem,” Ndiweni says.

“A classic example is an academically gifted young man in Ntabazinduna who wishes to be a doctor but now herds cattle back home.”

An investigation by The Citizen Bulletin revealed that little has been done since the suspension of the Stem programme to ensure that public schools in Matabeleland have laboratories to support Stem.

Some of the schools without laboratories are Gonye Secondary School in Nkayi, Thokozani Secondary School in Insiza North, and Sikhwili Khohli Moyo Secondary School in Gwanda. In addition, Nhlambabaloyi Primary School, Madlelenyoni Primary School, Mfanyana Primary School, and Dibha Primary School, all in Matabeleland North.

According to a 2017 report by the State Press, only seven schools in Matabeleland North have science laboratories. The worst affected is Binga, where no single laboratory meets the minimum requirements. Matabeleland North has a total of 825 schools.

Davie Nyathi, a Math teacher says Lupane secondary schools Stem uptake is disappointing because few students enrol in science subjects.

“For example, only Fatima High has physics at A level in the Lupane district. Schools have no capacity, specialist science teachers, no science facilities,” Nyathi says.

*”Given the inadequacy of staffing levels and science equipment, it is no wonder that learners are reluctant to take Stem. Learners, parents, and schools are reluctant.”*

Nkosilathi Ncube, a villager at Dlawa village in Nkayi, adds: “Sikhobokhobo Secondary operates with only two male teachers. How can you expect Nkayi learners to reach the Stem target?

Ncube says in those secondary schools that offer science subjects, most learners fail because they are taught by diploma-trained teachers, while in other provinces, they are taught by degreed teachers.

Vumani Ndlovu, the Rural Community Empowerment Trust (Rucet) Matabeleland North Coordinator, says that the majority of schools in the province have no laboratories or qualified and adequate teachers for Stem subjects.

“Stem teachers are in high demand within and outside the country. Therefore, given the infrastructural decay, lack of access to roads, poor transport and communication networks, and social amenities such as water and health facilities, many schools in Matabeleland North are less likely to attract Stem teachers,” Ndlovu says.

Ndlovu says the government must have a deliberate policy to support Stem through the construction of laboratories in Matabeleland schools.

“Construction of laboratories, improvement of communication networks, and access to internet services is needed to improve both the uptake and performance of students in these subjects,” he says.

“Utilising Lupane State University (LSU) through twinning them with secondary schools in Matabeleland North could be effective.”

Ndlovu says most rural pupils from Matabeleland have no appreciation of the utility and strategic value of those subjects in career development and prospects for job opportunities.

“As such, career guidance to promote Stem among the learners is needed,” he says.

A recent story by The Citizen Bulletin, which is part of this reporting series, shines a light on teacher retention challenges in Matabeleland North caused by poor infrastructure.

Thembelani Dube, a Matabeleland development campaigner, says there is an urgent need to develop infrastructure to support Stem in the region.

“Development of learning and teaching infrastructure, electrification and adequate human resourcing of schools in the region will help increase the number of learners absorbed into Stem,” Dube says.

Matabeleland South Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, coordinator Urgent Moyo says some public schools hire their own science and mathematics teachers to fill the skills gap.

*”Most schools fail to offer a full package of sciences owing to a shortage of staff. Even those schools offering Stem end up hiring teachers most top secondary schools cannot afford,” Moyo said.

“The way forward should be the provision of teaching personnel, facilities and other relevant material. The government should also offer attractive incentives to teachers, motivating learners to take the sciences through educational workshops and career guidance.”

Effie Ncube, a social analyst, says Stem was never going to succeed owing to corruption.

“Undeserving students who were not good enough benefitted from the scholarship because of corruption. However, the programme was worth it and was supposed to be sustained while dealing with corruption embedded in it,” Ncube says.

“Any program designed to promote Stem in Matabeleland should ensure that adequate laboratory facilities are available in addition to encouraging students to pursue Stem.”

The Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro says the government is aware of Stem infrastructure inadequacies across the country.

“So we are little by little putting up infrastructure using our budget and also together with our development partners," Ndoro said.

“The government is aware of issues of Stem infrastructure in all our schools throughout the nation and not necessarily only in Matabeleland region, we also have similar situations in Mashonaland regions as well as Masvingo and Manicaland and Midlands.”

  •  The Citizen Bulletin: This story is part of a reporting series supported by the Pulitzer Centre.

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