Guest Article in Zimbabwe NewsDay by Bothwell Riside, a Friend of Pakati, 21/08/2020

Saw this article and I felt justified in trying to help Pakati schools to get into the digital world. This will be linked to the Vision page (which I am still re-writing) soon.

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COVID-19 a wake up call for the education sector

-August 21, 2020

guest column:Bothwell Riside

ZIMBABWE like any other nation globally has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily statistics are showing we have not reached the peak of the infections. Ignorance and arrogance will definitely impact negatively in the quest to fight the pandemic. Never have we seen in our lifetime a situation whereby the whole nation and world at large are brought to a standstill by a disease. We have had the deadly Ebola in West Africa, but it never threatened our nation a little. With the locally transmitted cases surging, one question in mind is what of our education sector. If education is affected, it means the impact of the pandemic will live with us for the next decades even if a permanent solution is going to be found. The postponement of the opening of the schools for the second term though necessary is not a good piece of news. Of course life is more important than education and at the same time we can’t ignore the short and long-term impact of tampering with our education. Thinking of schools that entirely depend on fees to pay for all their educational inputs shows we are in unprecedented times.

E-learning

Never had Zimbabwe as a nation relied on distance electronic learning. While distance e-learning has never been part of the system, it is popular in most countries where one even goes to the extent of getting a PHD just after attending virtual classes. Many of Zimbabwean scholars have done their education online. A research on the implementation of the use of computers in the teaching and learning situation in Zimbabwe indicated that less than 10% of the schools are using ICT in the day-to-day learning activities. For those 10% , very few use ICT-based technologies for instructions. This is quite unfortunate for a country like Zimbabwe, 40 years after independence. We remember how the government in 1980 made the education sector its priority. It was one of the sectors that experienced phenomenal growth both in terms of educational inputs and outputs. Today in the COVID-19 wake, most schools are relying on inferior platforms that were not designed for teaching and learning but merely communication. Platforms like WhatsApp although offering fast and real time collaborations do not provide proper support for distance e-learning. But what can we do if this is the only available platform we have?

Where are we in terms of ICT?

The most undoing thing in Zimbabwe today is the unaffordability of the internet. I would want to say comparatively in US dollar terms it is cheap, but the level of poverty in the nation makes internet unaffordable. Taking into consideration that the teacher who must be imparting knowledge may not afford the costs of the internet, breaks the whole system of education. The same applies to the parents, they rarely afford the internet costs. To make matters worse, the only gadget affordable to some is a cellphone and online teaching and learning require a laptop because of its versatility. Just like the health sector, the education sector must plan for life during and after COVID-19. If we had excellent and affordable internet connectivity, it was going to be a plus for us. Internet must be the most affordable service in our country. There must be free hotspots doted everywhere. Rural areas just as in mobile phones connectivity, must all have affordable internet.

Teachers who are not computer literate

According to research, most teachers are not computer literate or have minimum skills that make them unable to conduct online lessons effectively and efficiently. Our education system must make our teachers to be more technically minded in order to lead in the e-revolution from the trenches. It’s imperative for a teacher who is leaving college or university to be able to make a beautiful slide presentation for use in schools. Even in rural areas, a teacher may hold his pre-charged laptop and show the students his or her presentation. Having solar systems installed may be an icing on the cake.

Change in curriculum

While teacher training colleges or institutions have been concentrating on the psychology, philosophy, sociology and methods and ways to impart knowledge in our students, none ever thought of distance e-learning. Knowledge of these areas is now imperative.

We cannot afford to have our children be at home without learning again. The teacher training institutions must have a course called e-learning that looks at pictures,videos, audio files generation, editing, storage and dissemination ways. A certified teacher must have knowledge of various softwares.

Google software

Google has dozens of applications that one may use in day-to-day teaching and learning. Fortunately, these may be used in the day-to-day e-distance learning too. Teachers must be able to use software like google classroom, Gsuites, jamboard, google slides, hangouts, forms, docs, drive and quiz and so on. Having a teacher who can type, prepare a powerpoint and a spreadsheet is not enough. We must be seen equipping our teachers with these skills such that our children grow up knowing them. A modern teacher must be able to share with his or her students information online without any problems. Cloud saving of documents is the way to go in this age.

Microsoft software

Besides Google, Microsoft has a lot of software that class teachers may make use of. The teachers may use Microsoft teams, powerpoints, slides, paint and so on to impart knowledge in the students. In this age, distance must not be a barrier. Having a teacher who can edit his or her videos and put pictures in it would be a great asset for the education sector. All institutions must use ICT effectively and efficiently in learning and teaching. Teachers who are equipped with such are likely going to excel.

Other software

We cannot rule out the importance of WhatsApp as a way of communication. There also software like wechat, telegram, zoom, kahoot and many others that schools are making use of globally. A lot of educational websites are there and our own teachers may create their own sites where they post examinations and activities. We need to be very proactive in the teaching and learning of our future generations. With the right training and exposure our always hardworking teachers may find these quite interesting and useful.

ICT curriculum overview

Zimbabwean ministries responsible for both education and ICT must form a synergy and review the curriculum biennially. Primary and secondary students must be the ones doing programming and learn about software. ICT must be made a compulsory subject at school. Where we are going, handwritten documents are becoming less and less common. There is a digital revolution in the world. Everything is being done digitally and every ministry has an application downloadable from the internet. If students are introduced to basic programming languages like logo, scratch and Qbasic at an early stage, it means when they start learning some programming languages at a higher level, life would be very easy.

Future generation

Education provides for the future generations and we must not tamper with it. Our country has a lot of potential to do well if we have the right mindset. Our political leaders must set the tone. We have a dream of a country we all have. Politics and education are inseparable and our political leaders must be proactive rather than reactive.

This is just a disease that has brought our system to a standstill. In future we can use google forms to take examinations online. What if we have a natural disaster too? Our children and their children’s future must be safeguarded today . We must live to leave a legacy.

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Author:

My name is Chris Walker, and between January 1989 and September 1991 I worked, through VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), at Pakati Secondary School in Murehwa South district in Zimbabwe. I was a Maths teacher for 2 years, the Acting Head for the last 8 months there. I have also taught in Botswana & the UK, had 4 years working for VSO, and spent the last 14 years as a Civil Servant in Bradford. I married a Zimbabwean woman & we have 2 sons.

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