The Sunday Mail
GLOBALLY, one of the first measures adopted to contain the novel coronavirus was social distancing, which meant that schools, colleges and universities had to close.
In Zimbabwe, school doors remain shut.
An opening date is yet to be announced.
However, private institutions have opened and schooling has resumed through virtual learning. Pupils learn from home using the Google Classroom application, WhatsApp, e-mail and other such internet-based platforms.
On Google Classroom, which appears to be the most preferred, a learner gets a code with which to access the classroom, upon full payment of tuition fees. Google Classroom is one of the many services created to facilitate ease of learning by students worldwide.
The US-based search engine giant describes the application as a “free web service that aims to simplify, create, distribute and grade assignments in a paperless way”.
It further explains that the primary purpose of Google Classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students as it allows teachers to create classes, post assignments, organise folders and view work in real-time.
This ensures that teachers give feedback timeously.
Each student has his/her own Google Drive folder that allows both teacher and pupil perpetual access to previous and current work.
While online education appears to be the only way students can continue with their education during this crisis, the future of education post-Covid-19 has come under spotlight.
Has the traditional way of learning been replaced by online learning?
Can learners adapt to this new kind of schooling?
Is online learning the future?
Analysts, however, say post the pandemic era, online learning alone cannot be relied on to produce a wholesome learner and must be fused with traditional learning.
Educationist and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Dr Peter Kwaira said it is wise to conduct online classes for as long as the pandemic still persists.
“During this difficult time that we are in, the online platform is ideal because it is a continuation of what students have been learning,” said Dr Kwaira.
“However, post the pandemic, it should be used together with traditional learning. Children need interaction for social development while higher grades and tertiary institutions need to fuse theory with practical skills when learning.
“That is the education that is now being embraced around the world. It is very difficult for students to begin a new course online, master it well and write an examination. So online education can be used as an accompaniment, to reinforce what has been learnt earlier.”
Veteran educationist, Dr Caiphus Nziramasanga, believes that with the right infrastructure, online learning is not only possible, but is the way the education system is going, hence the reason why it is recommended in the 1999 Nziramasanga Commission.
The commission says Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) should be embraced by every school and child in Zimbabwe.
“At the moment, those children with parents that can afford the infrastructure and the costs are the ones with access to online classes,” Dr Nziramasanga said.
“However, with adequate infrastructure and resources, every child should have access to online learning. We even recommended it in our report and urged Government to invest in information technologies.”
The second academic term of the year was supposed to have begun last week, and in the absence of a pronouncement by Government, private schools have set the ball rolling.
The resumption of classes by elite schools has laid bare the inequalities that exist in the Zimbabwean education system. There is a massive education gap between the haves and have-nots.
The problem has been exacerbated by the recent increase in data and internet charges by some mobile network operators and internet service providers. This means only a few can afford online classes.
The most affected of the learners are those in rural areas where internet infrastructure is minimal.
Dr Nziramasanga reckons in instances such as these, Government should provide alternatives.
“Not everyone will be able to have access to the internet, however, providing radio and television lessons is possible,” he said.
“This is one method that can be used as a form of online distance learning, which is cheap and affordable. However, it requires careful planning.”
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Ambassador Cain Mathema said Government was making efforts to ensure that no student was left behind.
“We understand that some schools are not equipped to run such (online) classes. However, we have partnerships with broadcasters to conduct classes on radio, television and other broadcasting channels accessible to many.
In Africa, South Africa is one of the few countries that has managed to offer radio and online classes to its learners over the years.
A new normal
Despite e-learning’s apparent shortcomings in most developing countries, experts that spoke to The Sunday Mail said online education is a necessity and should be promoted in all schools.
There is a general agreement by various stakeholders that more should be done in terms of improving ICT infrastructure in all schools.
Some educationists believe learners, especially those in lower grades, need a variety of learning methods to quickly grasp concepts.
“There are some learners that comprehend better if concepts are infused with different forms of learning,” Dr Nziramasanga said.
His counterpart, Dr Kwaira, believes a wholesome student can only be produced with the fusion of both teaching techniques.
Dr Nziramasanga urged the Government to bridge the digital divide, especially in the education sector.