More rural schools get internet, solar energy
Wendy Nyakurerwa-Matinde-Manicaland Bureau
Learners in rural and marginalised areas continue to benefit from the national e-learning strategy for schools approved last year to ensure that all schools have practical internet access so the education system can cope with disruption such as disease outbreaks and natural disasters.
The implementation of the national e-learning strategy for schools is being led by Government and is complemented by Unicef’s ‘Re-imagine Education’ and the Unicef-ITU Giga initiative, among other programmes.
Zimbabwe is one of the 19 countries participating in Giga, a global initiative to connect 2,8 million schools, including all schools in Zimbabwe, to the internet by 2030.
Thirty-two schools in Zimbabwe have already been equipped with solar panels to power ICT and given internet access under a general programme, with the rest to follow, starting with rural schools which have been left behind in the ICT revolution.
Speaking after commissioning a computer laboratory at Dzvairo Primary School in Makoni District in Manicaland yesterday, Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Dr Jenfan Muswere said students in rural areas should have access to the same opportunities as their urban counterparts.
The ICT Ministry, through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), handed over 30 top-of-the-range laptops to Dzvairo Primary School, while Unicef handed over a solar system to the school.
The double gift means Dzvairo has the computers, has the internet connection and has the electric power to run both.
“We are using a holistic approach that brings on board the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works and international partners such as Unicef and the FCDO who are focussing on a solarisation of rural schools,” said Dr Muswere.
“This partnership shows our commitment to transform the entire education sector. The development and deployment of solar panels and the provision of computers dovetails with Government’s commitment that no one should be left behind.
“Learners from rural or disadvantaged areas will now be able to compete with their peers in urban areas due to this programme.”
Dzvairo Primary School has 252 pupils and eight teachers.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela said the programme came at an opportune moment as it guaranteed uninterrupted learning in rural and marginalised schools.
She said in 2019, Cyclone Idai forced the Government to realise that relying solely on face-to-face teaching and learning was not sustainable as some natural disasters could force the lengthy closure of schools.
Mrs Thabela said the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw schools closing doors for months, was another wake-up call for the Government, prompting the ministry to join hands with the private sector and development partners to provide e-learning for students.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education estimates that up to 4,5 million students were impacted by the Covid-19 disruptions between 2020 and 2021.
“Traditionally, we had one way of teaching, that is teacher-pupil face-to-face interaction,” said Mrs Thabela. “All along there were no disruptions to learning until Cyclone Idai hit Manicaland Province and some schools were forced to shut their doors. Learning came to a screeching halt at the expense of the students.
“Government and its partners then worked tirelessly to restore the destroyed infrastructure and learning resumed in all affected schools. However, a few years later, Covid-19 struck and this time, schools went for months without opening their doors.”
Mrs Thabela said there were disparities that existed in Zimbabwe’s education system, and some situations had forced learners to move to online learning.
“Unfortunately, e-learning comes at a high cost, both in terms of the infrastructure, the gadgets and the data,” she said.
“Many communities in rural Zimbabwe also have little or no access to electricity, smartphones, internet access and data. In addition to this, only 30 percent of our students have access to online platforms.
“This is why Government is rolling out this programme, which reassures us that education can continue even if the school gates are closed, e-learning is not limited by geography,” she said.
Unicef deputy representative, Ms Zeinab Adam said the transformation of education to make it more accessible, flexible, inclusive and innovative in reaching all students was in line with President Mnangagwa’s promises during the UN Secretary General’s Transforming Education Summit in New York.
“There is an urgent need to connect all schools to power the internet so that the students can have a wide range of digital learning options,” she said.
“This is the only way to equalise education for children across the world, especially for those in marginalised, hard-to-reach areas.”
Ms Adam believed that following Dzvairo Primary School’s connection to solar energy and the internet, performance of learners would improve.
The school’s pass rate for the recently released Grade 7 results was 72 percent.
School head Ms Tendai Takaendesa was confident that with the presence of the internet, her students would now be able to conduct meaningful research and their pass rate will get even better.
“We really appreciate the efforts being made by Government and Unicef in connecting rural schools to the internet,” she said. “We have been craving digital teaching and learning for a long time and this is a dream come true for us. This will ensure continuous learning, even when students are at home.”
The connection of rural schools to solar systems and the internet is in line with Government’s commitment of leaving no one and no place behind.
Apart from powering digital devices for students and their teachers, community members will also benefit from a solar charging kiosk installed at the school.
Several Government officials, traditional leaders as well as officials from telecommunications companies, the Rural Electrification Agency and Potraz, attended the event.