School-going children in Zimbabwe have been forced to learn online in 2020 since learning institutions got closed down for even up to six months.
But, the COVID-19 pandemic put pressure on public services exacerbating implementation challenges, severely affecting service delivery in the education sector according to a report by the World Bank (WB).
UNICEF Representative, Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale said “Children have continued to bear the brunt of the pandemic. As results of this round of the survey show, only 40 percent of children were engaged in some form of remote learning, while access to essential health interventions have reduced.”
The WB report specifically says 9% of school-going children in rural areas were reported as having used mobile applications for learning during pandemic-related school closures, compared with 40% for urban children.
The government has been partnering with services to launch educational application software after the closing down of learning institutions recently.
One of the latest such applications is the Learning Passport app launched by the government and UNICEF in partnership with Microsoft launched in Zimbabwe on 11th March 2021.
UNESCO) Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA) in partnership with the government and the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) launched a WhatsApp-based educational application, Dzidzo Paden|Imfundwe’ndlini, on Monday 23 November 2020 in Harare.
Another one has been the MoPSE E-Library launched by the government also in partnership with a Spanish-based company, ODILO in August 2020.
The 40% turnout on e-learning services takes place at a time when almost half the population in Zimbabwe was in extreme poverty in 2020 due to the combined effects of the increase in the price of basic necessities, economic contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and poor harvests according to ZimStat.
Mobile internet and data usage which enables e-learning went up by about 43 percent since the outbreak of the pandemic and at a time when Zimbabwean residents were losing their sources of income.
Infrastructure that enables e-learning has been a challenge in Zimbabwe with only approximately 31% of Zimbabwe’s primary and secondary schools having internet access. according to statistics. According to Giga Connect, 75% of the country’s 6,611 unconnected schools are primary schools.
Civil Society Organisations have also raised an issue that guardians in rural Zimbabwe are too poor to own gadgets that access the internet including mobile phones and computers.
WB says Zimbabwe has to expand distance learning opportunities, including by printing modules for the marginalized to forestall a looming learning crisis.
The country has to also invest in data for teachers to allow structured teacher-learner remote contact to support students and address teacher absenteeism and moonlighting by gradually improving teachers’ conditions of services and non-salary incentives.
WB report goes on to say Zimbabwe has to extend the BEAM program to cover all students in public schools temporarily (for one year), which will feed into the gradual implementation of the Education Act provisions for free state-funded basic education.
The government has to scale up the school feeding program through increased funding meeting UN guidelines on student per capita spending, to ensure all learners have access to a standard nutritious meal each day.