Eight thousand primary and secondary schools in Zimbabwe will shortly be connected to the Internet as part of a new national eLearning programme, says Nelson Chamisa, the country’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology. “All political parties in the government have agreed that eLearning should be a priority in order to improve our education system,” said Chamisa, adding that the state would be furnishing educational institutions with computers so that all schools go digital by 2014.
By Golden Maunganidze
The programme comes at a time when the country is overhauling its national ICT policy for the first time in six years. Launched at Chogugudza Primary School in Mashonaland East Province in March this year, the national eLearning programme will initially target schools on the national grid.
The scarcity of electricity in most rural areas was in part responsible for the failure of the first attempt to computerise the nation’s schools a decade ago. The collapse of the economy and the subsequent brain drain of skilled teachers nationwide forever changed the formerly bright face of education in Zimbabwe. By 2009, reports UNICEF, 94% of rural schools had been closed, and school attendance had dropped from 80% to 20%. UNICEF has been paying the school fees of over four hundred thousand underprivileged primary schoolers through the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), but the agency has recently announced its withdrawal from the programme. The new national eLearning programme will therefore be challenging to implement in remote areas where schools are underfunded.
Jeffreyson Chitando, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Member on Education, Sports and Culture, said the country was keen to see rural areas benefiting from the eLearning programme. “Our committee shall make sure that there is no school that will be excluded in the ongoing national eLearning programme. We understand the benefits of eLearning, and we are going to make sure that no student shall be disadvantaged in accessing modern technologies such as the Internet,” said Chitando.
Might such a large scale project be key to reinstating the country’s former educational glory? Academics throughout Zimbabwe have lent their voices to the discussion of why eLearning initiatives need to be promoted more than ever before. Reformed Church University (RCU) Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Wiseman Magwa said that newly established universities such as his were ready to abandon the old ways of learning and to embrace modernity.
The RCU has recently been granted permission by Zimbabwe’s Council for Higher Education to grant four year degrees, starting in August 2012. Magwa said, “We want to continue in this direction until we reach levels where we have universities without walls – a situation where our lecturers would be using technology to deliver lecture notes while they are far away from the campus. We should move to a situation where we all understand that eLearning makes learning much easier and more enjoyable,” he said.
Great Zimbabwe University’s Dr Jacob Mapara said that although the idea of a national eLearning programme is to be commended, what is needed is: “to encourage authorities in schools, colleges and universities to train people on how to derive maximum benefits from the new communication technologies.” With so much ground to be regained in reviving and restoring the overall quality of the country’s education, the progress of the national eLearning programme will be something to monitor closely.