E-learning A Way Forward For Zimbabwe’s education., What Can Be Done To Achieve Better Results

Educators and parents in Zimbabwe have cried the lack of resources as a major impediment to the implementation of the new curriculum. Various motions have been initiated to reverse what seems to be the only major transformation in Zimbabwe’s education since independence. Technomag unpacks the overloaded word “resources” that every educator is pointing at, and within it is the generalization of the need for ICTs in schools.

The introduction of e-learning in Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education has gone through many phases, starting with the former president, R. G. Mugabe’s initiative, from as early as the year 2000, where he donated computers to schools. During the period to 2010, more than 1,000 schools benefited from this programme that saw in excess of 8,000 desktop PCs distributed to public schools.

Having realized the little impact that Computers had on education outcomes, government through the Ministry of ICT (as it was called then), initiated the Lab per school project that was named the Presidential e-Learning Programme, This programme focused on increasing the ICTs that were being availed to students for teaching and learning and also introduced the use of Digital Content to teach core subjects such as Maths, English and Science. A model project was launched at Chogugudza Primary school in Domboshava and at John Landa Nkomo High School in Tsholotsho. With additional 40 schools across the country receiving the same resources.

The introduction of e-learning software to the computers started to yield results as schools improved pass rates. After analysis of the parallel programmes done by private companies such as eLearning Solutions at Mutasa Primary School in Highfields, it was discovered that although students were getting access to the computers, the impact of the e-learning introduced was a result of the time teachers were spending on the computers doing their lesson plans and the confidence they developed through the use of multimedia elearning software. Other external benefits of the introduction of e-learning at this school were improved school attendance as students were motivated to come to school and learn their core subjects using ICTs, the homework that teachers started printing using the e-learning software also improved parent engagement and the school also increased its school-fee collection rates. It demonstrated that parents can surely sacrifice to pay for education when there is value for money in the education their children are receiving.

Chogugudza Primary school also registered increasing pass rates from the introduction of e-learning at their school and the school has maintained a pass rate increase over more than 4 years. There was an increase in enrolment as parents preferred to bring their children to a school that had technology infused in teaching and learning. Teacher participation at this school has improved not only in classroom activities but also in the implementation of various initiatives.

In 2013, the Office of the president and Cabinet, through POTRAZ, rolled out a Connect a School Connect a Community Project that saw 60 schools in the 8 rural provinces benefiting from the latest e-learning technologies, teacher training, learning software and classroom facilities. These model schools received student laptops (known as classmates) that promote classroom e-learning, teacher devices, classroom multimedia devices that include projectors and interactive whiteboards. This model was responding to the gap that still existed after the Lab-per-school initiative. One of the major challenges was that students were required to move from their classroom to a designated block where computers were housed for them to conduct lessons on core subjects using e-learning. This challenge, which industry experts equated to the era where companies had typing pools and one had to leave their desk to go to the typing pool to get to use word processing or spreadsheets to do their work. This was viewed to be redundant and also did not completely integrate technology into school practice.

Although elearning improved education outcomes, learner engagement and teacher confidence, there was still the challenge that technology was being used to produce the same education outcomes, only faster, more efficient and more effectively. This, together with the founding recoomendations from the Nziramasanga Commission of Enquiry into Education in 1999, saw the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education embarking on a curriculum review exercise. There were also gaps that existed between what our education system was producing and what industry was and is looking for. Our former education curriculum was strong on knowledge areas, popularly known as the 3Rs of Education. Zimbabwe had been ranked in the top 3 countries on Literacy in Africa. But with that highly regarded education, we still saw the country having the highest rates of unemployment. Companies would spend a lot in retraining education graduates through Internships and Graduate trainee programmes, almost to say that what they were coming out of education with was irrelevant to what was required in the workplace.  There was also a disconnection between the way learners were being taught and the lives they live everyday.

The New Curriculum introduced 21st century skills as an addition to the learner exit profiles over and above the mastery of knowledge areas (subjects), see diagram below for full exit profiles

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