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The release of ‘O’ Level results from last year examinations was met with an unprecedented outcry across the nation. Now that the dust has settled and emotions have calmed down, and a new government is in place, it is time to take a sober look at this vital aspect of the nation’s future. Instead of throwing mud at each other and burying our heads in the sand, the nation should now do some serious soul-searching and try and find ways in which this situation can be arrested and improved. Education and human capital are fundamental to the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.
Complex, multi-faceted challenges being faced by the Education sector in Zimbabwe can be linked to the socio-economic conditions that the country finds itself in. These range from brain drain to lack of basic infrastructure. Despite these challenges, it is the belief of this author that prioritising the utilisation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education will go a long way in addressing them. ICT includes radio, television, and digital technologies such as computers and the Internet which are powerful enabling tools for educational change and reform. When used appropriately, different ICTs can help in expanding access to education, strengthen the relevance of education to the increasingly digital world, and raise educational quality by, among others, helping make teaching and learning into an engaging, active process connected to real life. It can be utilised to resolve structural problems and deficits in the education system such as enhancing administrative and teaching efficiency, alleviating under-resourcing and supporting teachers who may be under-equipped.
Despite numerous benefits of ICT, there are many varied issues and challenges countries face when integrating ICT in Education. Overreaching all of them is the need for an ICT Policy in Education. Embarking on ICT projects without clear policy directions will result in stunted development. It is argued here that, the lack of a clear and dedicated body that specifically deals with ICT in Education in Zimbabwe has been hindering the government’s noble objectives, and will continue to do so if not addressed by the incoming government.
Any significant ICT-enabling education initiative has to integrate within the national education systems and needs to be developed on a national scale, for it to work sustainably. Efficient integration of ICT in Education requires a unified strategy for the whole sector. This is in view of the fact that each system of education leads into the other and the skills accumulated at one level of education could provide gains in the next level. University computer science students, for example, could be integrated to assist in the development of ICT in schools. A harmonized strategy and implementation framework would accelerate progress, complement other initiatives and maximise impact.
The fundamental purpose of producing a specific policy would be to articulate and clarify goals and to provide a conceptual framework to guide progress towards these ‘ICT in Education’ goals. Only a systematic approach can ensure that ICT educational goals are met in the best possible way, and the hard to reach are educated in an effective way. If appropriate objectives are set to meet the overall goals, the outcome of this strategy will become realistic and measurable resulting in people involved getting a clearer picture of the steps to follow and the rationale behind doing so. The current lack of a coherent policy is likely to contribute to the development or prolonged existence of ineffective infrastructure and a waste of resources if not addressed.
ICT in itself is not going to radically change education systems for the better. An overall view of what education should be seeking to achieve is needed for ICTs to be utilized to their full potential within education systems. In Zimbabwe, the outgoing ministries of ICT and education between them failed to incorporate ICT in the curricula; and therefore the integration of ICT in education and learning remains largely un-initiated. There are no frameworks in place to guide the integration of ICTs into teaching and learning and the curriculum in its entirety has not been reviewed. Without review and overhaul of curriculum to integrate ICTs, their integration will only be an “add-on” and may consequently not have the desired transformational impact. The primary reasons for this were a lack of awareness, understanding, requisite skills and specific institutional or sectoral policy that would support the integration of ICTs in education.
The fundamental issues of ICT in Education development and integration cannot be resolved in isolation and therefore require a coordinated framework that establishes clear goals and priorities for reform. Zimbabwe does not have a dedicated National Policy on ICTs in Education. ICT in education is loosely dealt with in the “Revised ICT Policy 2012” from the Ministry of ICT as a subsection on ‘E-education’. It features in the Science and Technology Policy from the Ministry of Science and Technology on a paragraph on ICTs. In the Ministry of Education and Culture Medium Term Plan (2011 – 2015) the use of ICT in Education is dealt with in a subsection on E-Learning and appears on various sections of the plan where it is captured via provision of computers etc to schools. It is not clear from these current policies, who institutionally cater for the programme of ICT in Education. It is therefore not surprising that the country is populated by a number of NGOs claiming to be spearheading ICT development in education in one way or another. However, without the shared vision of a dedicated national ICT in Education Policy, and a dedicated body to oversee its implementation, the efforts of NGOs and corporations may very well go in divergent directions or work at cross-purposes and their contributions to the nation’s education effort are more likely to be marginalized or even neutralized.
A targeted ICT in Education policy can open ways in which the sector can strategise and explore alternate affordable solutions. The country is faced with a situation where computer equipment is costly and electricity and connectivity coverage is limited, and it would be prudent to explore all available ICT options to determine the most feasible options to meeting the educational objectives set. The way forward would be to start by utilising the technology that we have, know how to use and can afford. For example, with the prevalence of mobile phones and radios in Zimbabwe, ways could be explored to determine how these could be used as an educational tool.
The development and integration of ICT in Education needs to be spear-headed by staff equipped with the specific skills for the role. It is clear that the skills and experiences in the areas of educational technology, ICT policy formulation and planning, e-learning, and digital content creation are a pre-requisite if education is going to benefit from this technology. Without these specific skills, critical areas in ICT integration are not attended to or insufficiently attended to, causing skewed development. Without education experts (with ICT and ICT integration knowledge and experience) in charge, ICT in Education initiatives are likely to be technology driven rather than being leveraged as tools to address specific education challenges. A dedicated ICT in Education Policy can focus on acquisition and development of these skills. Guidance and support to educational institutions can be clearly set up to enable them to make efficient use of ICT through implementation of plans to meet set targets. Even simple guidelines like standards are critical. In the absence of uniform standards and specifications institutions may acquire sub-standard equipment.
With the state of the education system in Zimbabwe, it is acknowledged that some of the efforts from NGOs, individuals and other well-wishers are providing much needed help in this sector. However their efforts could reap better results if these were co-ordinated by a central body with enough expertise in the area. Without the guidance of a specific national policy and the resources of corollary programs, it is less likely that individual school and classroom innovations will be sustained. Nor is it likely individual effects will accrue across the country to have an overall impact on the educational system. The country might end up, again, with a loose fragmented policy which is techno-centric, promoting the purchase of equipment or the training of teachers without providing a strong educational purpose or goal for the use of technology. The mere establishment of a written national ICT in Education policy has value in itself. At a minimum, it conveys the message that the government is forward-looking and intends to pursue the utilization of ICT in Education. The government should try to create circles of innovation through co-ordinated strategies on broadband deployment, PC purchase programmes, digital literacy programmes and on-line e-service provisioning. While each of these components has value in isolation, a network effect in education can only be achieved through co-management and evolution strategies. The government should, of course, aspire to more by putting the policy content into actual practice and becoming a role model in applying ICT in their own administration and services.
It should be noted that the full realization of the potential educational benefits of ICTs is not automatic. The effective integration of ICTs into the educational system is a complex, multifaceted process that involves not just technology. Given enough initial capital, acquiring computers for example, is the easiest part. In order to make successful use of ICT in enhancing the quality of teaching and learning, policy makers need to be aware of how ICT can be of best value in the country’s education system, and need to develop a supportive policy environment and framework at the national level for its integration. It is urged that the incoming government prioritises ICT in Education in order to reap the benefits of technology. This will require appropriate investment, and it has to be systematic and well planned.
A version of this article was originally published in the Newsday (Sat 14th Sept).
The author, Dr Samuel Chindaro, holds a PhD in Electronics (University of Kent), MSc in Electronics and IT (University of Birmingham) and a B.Eng. Hons in Electronic Engineering (NUST). He is also a Chartered Engineer (Institution of Engineering and Technology). He can be contacted on S.Chindaro@gmail.com.