BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
ONLY 30% of schools countrywide have internet connectivity, a situation which is likely to affect government’s online learning programmes during the COVID-19-induced lockdown period.
This was revealed last week in the National Assembly in a motion on the first report of the joint portfolio committees of Information Communication Technologies (ICT), and Primary and Secondary Education on provision of online classes for learners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on ICT chairperson Peter Moyo said only 3 014 out of 9 625 primary and secondary schools around the country had internet connectivity.
He said physical learning in schools was disrupted on several occasions owing to the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns.
Some of the findings by the two committees were that pupils in border-lying areas failed to access the 2 100 radio lessons aired due to poor transmission.
They said the high cost of airing radio lessons was another factor that resulted in failure to effectively roll out online learning.
“In providing online lessons, the permanent secretary in the Education ministry (Tumisang Thabela) stressed that some learners did not benefit from the online services due to lack of connectivity and radio transmission. However, she mentioned that the platforms and radio lessons managed to meet the educational needs of more than three million learners, assisted some Grade 7 learners in attaining reasonable grades in 2020 and facilitated mobile learning through texts, visual and audio,” Moyo said.
In his oral evidence before the joint committees, ICT permanent secretary Sam Kundishora said his ministry had mobilised mobile network operators and other players in the telecommunications sector to develop digital platforms to enable learning to continue during the COVID-19 period.
Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe director-general Gift Machengete also told the committee that the parastatal had been rolling out various e-learning projects to some marginalised schools over the past years to ensure availability of ICT services under the Universal Services Fund programme.
Moyo said, however, representatives of teachers’ unions bemoaned the digital divide between rural and urban learners in accessing e-learning, which further marginalised learners from poor backgrounds.
“Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive officer Manuel Nyawo said government should prioritise setting up the necessary infrastructure to enhance universal access to online lessons throughout the country,” Moyo said.
“The government is not setting its priorities right. It should be investing in education by expediting the rural electrification programme to ensure that rural schools have power to enhance computer and internet connectivity. We cannot encourage e-learning when 70% of rural schools have no internet connection. How do you blame schools which have no internet facilities for low pass rate?” Moyo said.