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#MondayBlues: ICT Ministry Could Have Done Better To Enhance E-learning During Lockdown

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With  millions  of  Zimbabweans students locked  in their houses  for over 4 months during the  national lock down,  the ICT  ministry responsible with rolling out ICT  Policies and solutions was found  wanting, forcing many students offline, thankfully private schools had a solution.
The  government however  had other electronic strategies including radio and  tv  but  for the digital plan and execution, millions did  not manage  to connect from  public schools.
The ministry of ICT  however  had an interesting prototype in Murombedzi called  community network, which amongst  others must  have been developed  to cover  all Zimbabweans students, to connect  and learn from  local servers, without need to data access.
A  simple plan that  was supposed to be rolled  out as a Wider Area Network easily accessible at all towns and rural  Community information Centres with educational facilities  for  all students could have been rolled  out and  kept Zimbabwe  abreast.However  most solutions that were available were more data  centric and demanding to hard pressed parents, who could hardly afford basics like food during  the lock down.
Learners who have access to resources like internet and data bundles are forging ahead, whilst pupils from conventional and public schools have had to wait for the reopening of schools which was only yesterday 6th of September for everyone exactly a week after the exam writing classes, albeit with several challenges.
Educational institutions need to embrace digital literacy.What is coming out is that even in the developed world, the effects of the pandemic has given rise to learning losses and increases in inequality among learners.
With the progress that Zimbabwe has made in the fourth industrial revolution, digital literacy for pupils and teachers is one of the critical elements that the Government should therefore push for.
A good working rapport between the schools and the parents, with the support of the Government is one area that educational institutions should promote so that schools can have access to information community technology to promote digital literacy across. Once that has been achieved, it would be possible and necessary to develop flexible curricula that can be taught in person or online.
Additionally, teachers need to be better equipped to manage a wide range of IT devices in the event of future school closures. Already, ICT has been identified as a critical element of the National Development Strategy 1 the first 5-year Medium Term Plan aimed at realising the country’s Vision 2030, and modernising the economy through use of ICT and digital technology. Educational institutions need to wholly embrace digital literacy as the world navigates the challenges that Covid-19 has brought to the doorsteps of every sector.
Mindful of the discrepancies and gaps that already exist among pupils, most countries are making concerted efforts to bridge the gap by availing necessary tools and resources after schools reopened yesterday. Looking at the time lost due to lockdowns, which were necessary in curbing the further spread of Covid-19, educationists are calling for a coterie of recovery programmes, particularly for examination classes that are due for public assessments in a few months’ time. Such recovery programmes call for supplementary educational budgets, more learning time and beefing up of teaching and supporting staff.
It is against this background and the need to strengthen the education system in Zimbabwe that the Government has embarked on a massive recruitment exercise for teachers. The Government hired nearly 4 000 extra teachers for its schools, with 2 935 of them starting duty on Monday, the first day of the new term.
This decision augurs well with several Covid-19 measures the Government is putting in place to ensure that there is social distancing by ensuring more and smaller classes, required to minimise the rate of infection, while also promoting quality education. It is heartening to note that the Government adequately prepared and averted challenges that pupils were likely to face, amid revelations that quite a number of teachers failed to turn up on the first day of school because of Covid-19-related challenges.
Already, Treasury has since promised to avail funds to hire more teachers to fill in the gaps and ensure that schools stick to the required smaller classes than before. Such a robust developmental initiative will also insulate public schools from possible industrial action that some teachers’ unions have been planning, which if carried out, would further affect the learning process for thousands of pupils across the country.
Pupils are already lagging behind with their curricula, so any activity, which is not in line with the planned educational programmes would be albatross to education and the progression of student’s learning. The times that the world find itself in call for robust and progressive decisions that move the country and its people ahead, instead of derailing progress through engaging in industrial action.
The Government has often made it clear that it is keen on addressing concerns raised by teachers. What is of immediate concern to the nation is the need to ensure a smooth learning environment for students, whilst the Government is working on addressing teachers’ grievances. With reports from the World Health Organisation showing that the pandemic is going to be around for a few years more, Governments across Africa and beyond should start planning on averting further time losses in the education sector by coming up with measures to insulate the education system.
Of immediate concern would be to ensure that pupils who are behind receive the support they need to catch up to expected learning targets. Probably, the first step would be an assessment exercise, which identifies the gaps and areas of deficiencies, as well as the type of support needed. Once that has been achieved, both the Government and the schools should be flexible and possibly allow weekend learning of limited hours to take place so that pupils who are lagging behind can catch up. The Government has partially made progress in that regard, but there is still room to finetune the process and meet specific needs and collective aspirations of pupils who are yet to catch up on their targets.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela recently set out in a circular the details of how the schools will re-open, which shows that there will only be two school terms this year with the second term ending on December 17, just a week before Christmas, giving a total of 80 days, up from the normal term of 60. The compressed time will require due diligence from school administrators to use it productively for the benefit of the pupils, most whom could not do much during the ‘long holiday’.
The schools should not only recover by catching up on the curricular, but they need to use this experience to become better prepared for future outbreaks and other crises that may force the closure of schools. Both the Government and schools should also enhance blended models of education in the future, which allows education institutions to switch easily between face-to-face and remote learning once the need arises. This will protect the education of pupils not only during future pandemics, but also during other shocks that might cause school closures, such as natural disasters or other unforeseeable situations. This will also create opportunities for more individualised approaches to teaching and learning, to a stage where pupils are able to conceptualise learning methods, through a number of platforms, digital being one of them.
The closure of schools as a result of the global pandemic has disrupted education and learning, not only in Africa, but across the world, as countries battle to keep new infections under check.
ross moyo

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