81% of primary schools in Zimbabwe have no access to the internet while only 19% have, a status quo that is heavily stalling e-learning programmes in primary schools. This was revealed by the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) census of 2017.
The census methodology on access to the internet is defined as follows; access of an education institution to the Internet means the Internet is generally available for use by members of the institution at any time, regardless of actual use.
The census covered a total of 5 569 primary schools in Zimbabwe and of these 886 have internet access and 4 683 have no internet access.
According to the census, the following are the number of schools that have access to the internet by province; Harare 180, Bulawayo 101, Mash west 164, Masvingo 101, Midlands 77, Mat North 35, Mat South 43, Mash Central 33, Mash East 63 and Manicaland 83.
In an interview with Community Podium, the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Hon Cain Mathema said Government seized with the matter and plans are in place to provide schools with internet and e-learning infrastructure.
The minister acknowledged the herculean task of providing schools with e-learning facilities given the state of the economy.
“We are working to provide all our schools with e-learning facilities. It is not an easy task looking at the state of our economy but plans are in place” said Mathema.
Dr Themba Nyoni Director of Baobab Educational Assessment Centre said this is a serious worry that needs to be tackled by all sectors of society as a vast majority of learners (mostly in the rural areas) do not have internet access.
“Learners are encouraged to be active participants in their learning. Government has strongly advocated for Enquiry Learning – to develop a critical mind as opposed to development of robots through rote learning. The internet broadens the mind. It takes the learner to places where most of them would never physically reach. It helps the learner to explore and be informed,” he added.
Nyoni further explained that the end game in education is to create an informed pool of workforce and entrepreneurs. He went on to challenge the private sector to chip in because it stands to ultimately benefit.
“ICT is the now and the future. It just makes sense that all learners should be conversant with this field so that we give them an equal footing and competition with their peers across the world. Government alone cannot tackle this issue. It should be compulsory for the private sector to put aside a certain percentage of their profits and contribute towards an education fund. They are the future beneficiaries and so they should invest right from the beginning at Primary school level” concluded Nyoni.
Former Minister of Education, Sports and Culture David Coltart said the insufficiencies in e-learning and in education in general have been exposed this year. It’s has been the worst educational year.
“The harsh reality is that the e-learning programme has not reached the vast majority of children in our country. The few private schools that have managed to implement e-learning programmes have been deficient in many respects. This is a crisis that has been exposed by COVID19. The government is not in a position to implement the e-learning programme which will benefit the vast majority of children. The investment in the physical infrastructure of schools is catastrophic, the fabric of our schools is falling apart”, said Coltart.
The National President of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Association of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) Obert Masaraure said the e-learning programme has become discriminatory and further divides the society into the ‘haves’ and have nots’.
“We urge government to enhance the process of infrastructure development that allows for our primary schools to have access and availability of the internet to enhance e-learning”he added.
“In the interim, for rural schools we propose offline remote learning that ensures that rural children do not get left out as emergencies such as COVID19 pandemic have worsen education processes. Government should develop an education emergency response strategy in preparation for other foreseeable emergencies. Both parents and teachers must not only have internet access but also be capacitated to the internet resources” concluded Masaraure.
Mr Muziwandile Dube, a parent in Tsholotsho said that the absence or inadequacy of e-learning infrastructure does not augur well for learners in Zimbabwe and government must prioritise e-learning in primary schools in its budgetary allocations.
“Government should prioritise budgetary allocations for primary schools.”
Dube also made an impassioned plea to service providers to ensure that their services are affordable to primary schools
“Most primary schools in Zimbabwe rely on school fees which is paid in local currency which many ICT providers do not usually accept as they prefer foreign currency. Service providers such as Telone should review their prices downwards to make their services affordable for primary schools,” said Dube