- Last Updated on 16 April 2012
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By Zibusiso Dube
THE government recently launched a countrywide campaign to introduce e-learning in schools across the country. The project is reportedly a follow up to the schools computerisation programme of the past decade under which the president is reported to have donated at least 10 computers to all secondary schools. While the e-learning project is a brilliant idea in light of the increase in use of internet and other information and communication technologies in the last couple of years, its success throughout the country is likely to be impeded by the skewed level of development in schools among the country's provinces. Also, the success of the project could be impeded by the high levels of poverty in the country, especially in the rural setting and the failure by the government to adequately address the educational needs of vulnerable children
While schools in the northern regions of Zimbabwe are well developed and have adequate infrastructure such as science and computer laboratories, suitable classrooms, sporting facilities, dormitories and favourable student to teacher ratios, schools in Matabeleland are the epitome of a failed education system. Years of marginalisation of the region, based on the antagonistic period of the early 1980s which was among other things characterised by the Gukurahundi massacres has meant that schools in the region are under-developed. In fact schools are basically non-existent in the region, especially in the rural areas, with children having to walk long distances to the nearest school and some opting to drop out of school altogether in favour of leading peasant lives, which has negatively impacted development in the region. The few schools that are found in the region are in a state of disrepair, with shortages of science and laboratory labs, dilapidated buildings and inadequate sports infrastructure. Some schools in the region even make use of Blair-toilets as they do not have water closets, not to mention the shortages of skilled teachers, furniture and other essentials.
How then are schools in the Matabeleland region expected to find any benefit in the e-learning programme that the government has announced? It seems then that the programme is an example of a sterling project that is however of no use to the intended beneficiaries because the implementers have failed to adequately assess the needs on the ground. While the e-learning project may be useful in areas that have well developed and well equipped schools such as Mashonaland, it will be of no use in the downtrodden Matabeleland region. What is needed in Matabeleland is the building of more schools and revamping of old schools that are falling apart. Matabeleland needs computer and science laboratories, maths and science teachers and adequate sporting facilities. Yes, the region needs e-learning too, but this would be impractical until these other needs are met.
It is pertinent to also note that most of the computers that were donated by the president during the country wide computerisation programme have become outdated and obsolete, not to mention that they were never enough to support schools that have student numbers of over one thousand. One major problem with the computerisation programme was that it did not put to account the fact that most schools did not, and still do not have computer technicians or computer studies teachers. Following donations, the computers were not well looked after leading to most of them breaking down as a result of computer viruses and misuse. The e-learning programme that the government has introduced will therefore be of no use as schools do not have the computers to run the software that the programme proposes to provide. In addition, how will school children who have never used computers be able to utilise e-learning methods?
Another pertinent issue to raise in this discourse is that of vulnerable children within societies. What use will an e-learning initiative be to children who are failing to attend school due to poverty. The government has failed to cater for the educational needs of orphans and poor children as shown by the low reach of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) which was designed to ensure that vulnerable and poor children get access to education. Statistics in Matabeleland for instance show that only about 50 percent of recorded vulnerable and orphaned children are getting assistance from BEAM. This means that thousands of children could be failing to go to school because of poverty. Such children would definitely not benefit from the e-learning programme that the government introduced recently.
It is imperative then that the standards of education in Matabeleland should be improved to match that of other regions in the country, before e-learning can be implemented in an equitable manner. Undergoing the project right now will further skew education standards among the provinces. The northern provinces in the country will be able to utilise e-learning to improve education standards while Matabeleland will have no use for it as it is still battling with the basics that are needed in terms of education in the region. The contention here thus is that while e-learning is a noble idea that is relevant to the world as society moves deeper into the information age, the concept cannot be supported by backward education systems such as that which prevails in Matabeleland. There is thus a need for the government to address historic imbalances in the quality of education offered by different provinces so that all children in the country truly have access to quality education in an equitable manner. Similarly, the government should ensure that vulnerable and poor children have access to quality education. After all, education is not a privilege, but a right that is entitled to all children regardless of race, tribe, economic status, religion or any other such delineations.