Steep data tariffs- an impediment to online education

Albert Chavhunduka.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) recently engaged business leaders in a bid to address the loss of value of the local currency which continues to hit the roof on the parallel market and find ways to curtail inflation and maintain price stability.

 The volatile performance of the local currency has contributed to the wanton rise of prices of basic commodities and services. Mobile telecommunication providers have not been left behind, as they have regularly reviewed data tariffs something they attribute to the unstable nature of the local currency.

8 gigabytes of the private Wi-Fi bundle on the country’s largest mobile network company Econet now cost RTGS$4 320 as compared to RTGS $1500 around the same time in January 2021.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic 2 years ago, brought change to the way we perceive things and the world had to make adjustments and adapt be it socially, politically and even economically and that urgent need to acclimatize is manifesting in our education sector.

As the resumption of the 2022 school calendar remain uncertain due to COVID-19 infections and the more contagious Omicron variant, there is a distinctive rise in online learning. In many schools around the country, teaching is being undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.

The country’s statistics agency Zimstat, released a report showing that in 2021 alone 60% of the school-going population dropped out of school in Bulawayo and 56% in Harare.

In a statement announcing the postponement of opening schools on the 10th of January this year, Acting Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said there was need to first put preventive measures in place before commencement.

“Schools should be given at least one week after the next two weeks’ lockdown extension, to put preventive public health measures in place before the commencement of the general school calendar depending on the prevailing Covid-19 situation at the time,” said VP Chiwenga.

Last year, the Ministry of primary and Secondary Education in partnership with UNICEF launched the Learning Passport in Zimbabwe, an initiative meant to address the challenges faced by millions of children and youth worldwide to access continued, quality education in times of crisis and when it is limited to tradition learning.

The unrestrained skyrocketing of data prices is a major concern that urgently needs to be tackled. It is also an impediment to education ministry’s call to roll out e-learning in our primary and secondary schools making education accessible to every child in the country.

The education sector has received its own fair share of challenges as a result of the pandemic, as learners and educator’s learning processes were affected. The pandemic also exposed the country’s unpreparedness for online education.

 Most schools especially in rural areas have little or no access to the internet and this makes it more than impossible for schools to adjust and adapt to the changing environment and implement new technologies.

Covid-19 has split wide-open the clear divide between private and public schools exposes the economic and social inequalities in our society. Primary and secondary school learners in public schools bear the worst impact of the pandemic as compare to their counterparts in private schools who have better access to online learning tools and technologies.

This therefore makes adaptation difficult and disqualifies e-learning as a better tool to encourage in schools since not everyone has access to it. Many students residing in rural and other remote areas find it difficult to access the e-learning platforms.

In conclusion, there is need for universal access to internet and for the government to partner with internet service providers so that it becomes accessible and affordable to the majority of learners and compliment the efforts of the education ministry in Zimbabwe.

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