By Nkosikhona Dibiti
The covid19 pandemic has exposed the bottlenecks in the education sector with many learners failing to access eLearning programmes due to lack of internet access. This lockdown has unearthed a serious issue that had been relatively masked before-the marginalisaton of most of Zimbabwean school children with regards e-learning.
Speaking to Community Podium, 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 worsened 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.
A census on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) of 2017 revealed that out of 4 683 primary schools without access to the Internet, 4611 were in rural areas while 72 were in urban areas. This shows that 98,4% of rural schools have no internet access further worsening educational constraints already affecting rural communities and the covid19 related lockdowns.
Former Minister of Education, Sports and Culture David Coltart said the insufficiencies in e-learning and in education in general have been exposed this past year. It has been the worst educational year.
“It 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.
Schools in remote areas are hardest-hit by the lack of e-learning facilities as there is no alternative to in-class learning during lockdown and in times of natural occurrences such as flooding.
Saul Moyo, a parent in rural Plumtree said “We are hearing that children in town are learning using computers but our children here in Mangwe haven’t had that opportunity to learn. Towards the end of last year, our children failed to go to school because of the flooded bridges”, he said.
In a telephone interview with Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Hon Cain Mathema said Government is 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”, he said.
According to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) census of 2017, 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.
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.
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.
According to the census, the following are the number of primary schools that have NO access to the internet by province; Harare 24, Bulawayo 6, Mash west 537, Masvingo 655, Midlands 722, Mat North 503, Mat South 470, Mash Central 401, Mash East 602 and Manicaland 763