Four years after the launch of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme, most learners within the Matabeleland region are yet to benefit from the program.
In 2016, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education introduced a national initiative to boost the study of science subjects in public schools. Under the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme, the government would sponsor children who would register for science subjects at public schools.
The programme generated much interest but was briefly suspended in 2017 and relaunched in February 2018 to include teachers' training.
"There is a need to equip learners with knowledge, skills and values that guarantee economic growth and increased opportunities for employment creation, well-rounded citizens who are relevant nationally and competitive globally," then President, the late Robert Mugabe, said in February 2018 at the STEM relaunch.
However, for most learners in the Umzingwane district in Matabeleland South, STEM is a lived dream as the majority of schools in the gold-rich community have no science laboratories; The Citizen Bulletin has established.
"This is no wonder why our children fail to secure places at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) for example and end up choosing gold panning for survival," says Adrian Moyo, a villager of Sihlengeni communal lands under Chief Sigola. NUST is approximately 60 kilometres away from Umzingwane.
Umzingwane is a gold-rich district, characterised by massive burning of bushes, destruction of vast tracts of land and river systems by artisanal miners from across the country searching for the precious mineral.
Locals lament a lack of infrastructural development at public schools saying there is little to show for the rich gold deposits in the area as proceeds from the sale of the precious metal are not invested back in the area.
"Sadly, 41 years after Independence, most schools in the district are still poorly capacitated, our students continue to fail science subjects at Ordinary Level", adds Moyo, whose last-born child is in Form 3 at the government-run Sihlengeni secondary school.
There are eighteen secondary schools in Umzingwane, 12 of them government-run, with the remainder being mission or private boarding schools such as Sacred Heart and Falcon College.
Umzingwane legislator Levi Mayihlome on March 24, took the government to task over the lack of science laboratories at schools in his district, arguing this effectively denied learners in his constituency STEM education.
"Honourable Brigadier General (Retired) Mayihlome asked the minister of Primary and Secondary Education to inform the house why there is a shortage of science laboratories at schools in Matabeleland region yet all three state universities in the region are science-oriented," Mayihlome is quoted as having said in the Parliamentary Hansard of March 24. The Hansard carries minute detail of proceedings in Parliament.
Matabeleland has NUST, Lupane State University and Gwanda State University. Before introducing STEM, the Education Ministry said research had shown a steady decrease of students taking up science subjects as tertiary level students flocked to the arts and humanities.
Among other factors that the Government considered before initiating the programme was the worrying trend in higher learning that had in previous years seen the population of those with STEM qualifications at a paltry 0.03 per cent.
"We have an emphasis on Education 5.0 in this country and in our region where I come from, particularly my constituency Umzingwane, we are in dire need of science education," Mayihlome emphasises.
Education 5.0 entails that university graduates should be equipped with skills acquisitions that empower them to become innovative towards societal development through transformative science and technology knowledge.The concept seeks to restructure the higher and tertiary education sector to deliver universities and college training institutions focused on five missions; teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation.
According to Paul Mavima, the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister, the government notes the importance of STEM but complains that a lack of resources militates against efforts to capacitate schools with science laboratories.
"In this particular case and in line with our emphasis on STEM education and the general aspiration of joining in the fourth industrial revolution, we would like to emphasise the availability in our schools of all the human capital that can help in pushing ahead with the STEM agenda," Mavima says.
"We will sit down with the Public Service Commission as well as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, which is supposed to give us concurrence. I want to emphasise the importance of the STEM agenda... to achieve our objectives of industrialising this country."
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe says the lack of access to STEM education for rural learners is a 'national crisis'.
"We want the private sector to come in as it stands to benefit from that investment. We need to avoid a situation where only urban students benefit from STEM, leaving out rural learners. Rural learners are Zimbabweans too and have a right to STEM," he adds.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin