Power crisis takes toll on students during their exams

A countrywide power crisis that has gripped Zimbabwe and is expected to continue into 2023 has taken its toll on students who have been studying and writing their examinations.

Some have been sleeping on their campuses to be able to charge their devices, which contain their study material, and prepare for sit-down assessments. Others have had to write their examinations in darkness.

The power crisis in the country, reportedly related to the hydroelectric power generation capacity of the Kariba Dam, has forced the power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), to introduce 18 to 22-hour load shedding schedules which has affected homes, industries and educational institutions.

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Acting Registrar Munyaradzi Madambe confirmed that the power went off while students were writing examinations earlier in December, pointing out that the university often experiences power outages.

“We had a series of power outages on 6 December. It’s unfortunate that someone decided to be mischievous by taking that picture [of students writing in the dark] during the 30 seconds transition from Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority electricity to generator power. All our venues have backup power,” he said.

However, Allan Chipoyi, the UZ student representative council president, told University World News that the power cuts had an adverse effect on students and raised questions about the seamless transition to generator power.

“We understand that the power crisis is a national crisis, but the University of Zimbabwe is a big institution and should always be prepared. It is a shame that the institution has hiked fees but cannot provide simple things like generators for students during examinations,” said Chipoyi.

Impact on students

Tinotenda Dzapasi, a UZ sociology graduate, said the electricity situation had an effect on students’ mental health.

“Most of the time phones and laptops are off due to power shortages … This disturbs reading time since electricity is coming late. These erratic power cuts may expose students to sleeping disorders,” said Dzapasi.

Students elsewhere echoed these sentiments with Rudaviro Zvigerenani, a first-year forensic accounting and auditing student at the Harare Institute of Technology, telling University World News that she is afraid because the crisis seems to worsen and is affecting the education sector.

“Power is a necessity for most university students. We have been coping by staying up until 10pm at night or sleeping at campus waiting for electricity so as to charge our laptops and phones. This has caused a lot of strain and affected our focus in the examination room.

“The crisis is also making technology appear useless as we are now forced to submit handwritten assignments as opposed to uploading soft copies on Google classroom, for example. It is a shame because education 5.0 requires us to utilise technology as part of our learning systems, thus giving students a very difficult experience,” said Rudaviro.

Takudzwa Makayi, another final-year chemical engineering student at the Harare Institute of Technology, said the power situation in Zimbabwe is a “mournful situation” where students are experiencing 19 hours a day without electricity.

“Education 5.0 emphasises industrialisation and innovation requires Wi-Fi which works only when there is electricity. Learning at a tertiary institution requires students to have access to reliable internet connections, which can only be available when there is electricity.

“Learning nowadays is mostly online which can only happen when the power grid is on the horizon. Most tertiary institutions should, by now, have local solar power plants which will self-sustain the institutions. We have the brains who can research and come up with alternatives,” he said.

Crisis affects economy

Euphrasia Chinyanganya, a third-year peace and governance student at the Bindura University of Science Education, told University World News that it has been difficult to deal with exams with current power cuts where you only get electricity at 10pm that goes off again at 4am.

“It’s really difficult to study because we are unable to charge our gadgets which contain all our studying materials. Wi-Fi also works with electricity so we can’t access that too during power cuts.

“The issue is a crisis for everyone in the country; not only students, even the hospitals are affected. This needs to be addressed; the sooner, the better,” added Chinyanganya.

Faith Rukete, a final-year law student at Great Zimbabwe University told University World News that the power cuts could not have come at a worse time.

“Experiencing 18 hours of load shedding during the exam period does not only mean no access to lighting in the evening, but also we can’t access online databases we need for research.

“The campus library is forced to close before sundown because the university simply cannot sustain running on generator power for a prolonged period of time. Sadly, none of this matters to the examination board; we are still expected to show up and perform.”

Electricity outages have escalated in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority cites vandalism of its infrastructure, but experts say power generation is being crippled by a lack of investment in renewable energy.

In recent days power outages have worsened, even before November’s announcement that the country’s Kariba power station was shutting down because of low dam levels.

Some parts of the country have been experiencing 24-hour blackouts, disrupting all economic activity from heavy industrial sites and central business districts to backyard workshops.