THE use of Information Communication Technology (ICTs) in teaching and learning environment is no longer a luxury, but a necessity that creates opportunities that bring all pupils into the information era, but more still needs to be done mainly in rural schools where adoption level is still low.
There is greater need for introduction of ICTs in both rural primary and secondary schools to equip pupils with the necessary skills and tools.
Zimbabwe’s national e-learning strategy emphasises on providing infrastructure to schools, equipping and providing connectivity to more than 8 800 schools by 2025 to transform and revolutionise the education sector, as enunciated in the National Development Strategy (NDS1).
The national e-learning strategy seeks to connect the unconnected and revolutionalise the country’s education system in terms of access to quality education and research.
However, many rural schools face manifold hindrances, ranging from low income to support the programme and limited power supply.
They hardly have suitable buildings to house the computers as well as grapple with shortages of hardware and software, ICT teachers, and reliable and affordable internet connectivity, among many others.
These rural schools are operating on shoestring budgets, and unable to offer e-education to pupils because they do not have funds to purchase the gadgets and internet connectivity.
Unlike some urban schools that have computers, most rural schools cannot cope with ICT demands because they have no computers and internet access.
Lack of access to such critical technology has created a digital divide, disadvantaging a whole generation of pupils in rural areas.
This, therefore, means that teaching and learning in these poor schools has largely remained rooted in traditional models of delivery that have long been outpaced and outstripped by new and dynamic trends.
Acting Manicaland Provincial Education Director, Mr Charles Muganhu said Manicaland has 1 208 schools, of which 70 percent of them lack ICTs infrastructure and equipment, limiting pupils to theoretical studies.
“About 70 percent of our schools do not have ICT infrastructure and equipment, let alone internet connectivity. Most rural schools are poor, and operating in the monologue era. They lack capacity to acquire the hardware and software. The physical infrastructure to put these gadgets is not even there, and stakeholders need to coalesce around this cause to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural schools because Government cannot do it alone,” he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the traditional concept of schooling inside the walls of brick and mortar being superseded by the spectacle of schooling without walls.
This means conventional learning set-ups have been overtaken by digital environments, and the face-to-face mode of tutorial delivery is fast being replaced by online articulated learning and knowledge delivery methods.
In an effort to bring the potentially empowering benefits of ICT to rural pupils, the Information Communication Technology, Post and Courier Services Ministry has embarked on a massive drive to turnaround the education sector by donating state-of-the-art computers and internet connectivity to many schools in rural areas.
Last week, ICT Minister, Dr Jenfan Muswere commissioned two computer laboratories at Nyakuipa and Katsenga secondary schools in Makoni West, Rusape, to enhance smart learning in rural schools.
The ICT labs were each fitted with 32 new laptops, cubicles and chairs, printers, projectors and free internet subscriptions for six months.
This is part of Government’s drive to narrow the digital divide between rural and urban schools.
“This is a milestone, and we can make it in life. We will spend more time researching to improve the quality of our passes since the school doesn’t have enough new curriculum textbooks. Most textbooks are outdated, so the Internet Research Centre will be of great help, especially to exam classes,” said a pupil at Katsenga, only identified as Trish.
Dr Muswere said they were looking forward to connect 2000 schools next year.
“To compliment the national e-learning strategy, we have the Presidential E-learning Programme being implemented through Postal Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), which has seen us establishing 170 Community Information Centres (CICs) across the country. All these will also become e-learning strategy pedestals as we journey towards an e-education and all these CICs are there for free until such a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has been mitigated against.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that access to ICTs is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Post Covid-19, life is never going to be the same, as demand for ICT services will increase,” said Dr Muswere.
ICT expert, Engineer Jacob Mutisi said bringing ICTs into the learning environment will create opportunities for broader education initiatives that will bring all pupils into the information era.
He said ICT facilities should be adequately available in school libraries to cater for the needs of all pupils.
Engineer Mutisi, however, admitted that the financial expenses required to provide these ICT facilities were enormous to the extent that Government may not be able to do it alone, making it vital for schools to enter into partnership with ICT providing organisations.
“Government alone will not bridge the digital divide. They need collaboration and partnerships. There is a need for corporates to fill the gap. For example, each school operates a bank account, and these financial institutions should help all our poor schools with these gadgets. Covid-19 created an ideal environment to encourage the use of ICTs, and there is a need to create community training programmes for our urban and rural schools to empower youths,” said Engineer Mutisi.
He applauded Government’s thrust to introduce digital internet libraries in schools.
“This is a great initiative because it is a group of computers connected to the internet, where individuals can access books, information and pictures from the internet. The positives are that there are no physical limits, pupils can access information 24 hours. Our challenge though is our digital libraries being dominated by Western, Asian and Arabic literature.
“Africans do not write in general, and there is need for a push to have an African story that goes beyond Roman Empire and portraying black Africans as a face of literature. Furthermore, we don’t have photos for our townships, villages, towns, etc. There is a need to encourage a culture of taking pictures and populating the digital library space,” he said.