By NQOBANI NDLOVU/BEAUTY NYUKE/TAFADZWA KACHIKO
GOVERNMENT has been urged to avail free data bundles for teachers to enable them to conduct virtual lessons in the absence of face-to-face learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused havoc globally.
The calls were made by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) yesterday, where they also demanded a further review of teachers’ salaries before the second term opens.
As schools remain closed, the Primary and Secondary Education ministry outlawed the holding of extra lessons either at school or home classes, saying these were possible COVID-19 super spreaders.
PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou in a statement yesterday said that learning could not be suspended forever and called on government to avail data bundles to teachers to allow them to begin online lessons.
“There is need for new pedagogical methods of learning rather than face to face learning. The earlier government embraces teachers’ initiatives of class and subject WhatsApp learning whilst pupils are in their homes, the better,” Zhou said.
“We therefore urge the government to provide data bundles to teachers and use the money donated by organisations like United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) to acquire learning gadgets that can assist pupils from poor backgrounds and those living with disability to effectively learn through WhatsApp lessons.”
While virtual learning is seen as a stop-gap measure in the absence of face to face lessons, the digital divide and high cost of data is seen as militating against the initiative.
Reports last week said government distributed over 200 000 radios to rural communities to ensure that learning continued.
However, Zhou said without adequate telecommunications infrastructure for network coverage, this would be futile in a country where 75% of students have no access to television and radio frequencies.
The PTUZ said e-learning was the way to go as opening of schools now would be a monument of injustice and expose the 136 000 teachers and almost six million pupils and other ancillary staff members at schools to the COVID-19 virus.
“Bloated classes, limited infrastructure, congested hostels and inadequate COVID-19 abatement equipment in schools, has cumulatively contributed to the spread of the virus at learning institutions,” he said.
The PTUZ recommended that schools must open in September 2021 when temperatures would be higher (hot) to adequately suppress the spread of the respiratory virus.
In Parliament, on Wednesday, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, said government would acquire ICT’ gadgets to facilitate e-learning at schools.
“The desire of government is that we should have what we call blended learning which incorporates physical and virtual learning. So the Ministry of ICT is looking for gadgets and will be erecting base stations so that those school pupils will be able to learn. Online learning is the in-thing worldwide,” Ziyambi said in the National Assembly.
Parliamentarians said e-learning must also accommodate children from remote areas such as Rushinga, Chipinge, Chiredzi, Beitbridge, Dande/Kanyemba, Hurungwe, Plum Tree, Lupane, Tsholotsho, Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe and Binga among others.