Yes, Dokora is right, bring your cell phone to school.

So the controversial Minister of Education, Lazarus Dokora is facing the wrath of parents and educationists who insist that cell phones (smartphones, tablets, phablets) and other devices in the school are a distraction, a behavioral problem, prone to thefts and open children to the risk of “bad” websites and so forth. He’s even had to defend his position in parliament.

So what really? Is this a Dokora problem or is he just suffering because he talked about the elephant that’s taking up the whole sofa? Has anyone considered the use of devices that don’t necessarily have to make calls? After all, whether we choose to ignore it or not, and whether we are aware of it or not, Zimbabwean youths have managed to get their hands on a cell phone of some sort.

Has Zimbabwe really considered that while we are still talking about to have or not to have, there are some countries that have developed curriculum for instilling ICT skills into their society at a very young age, in the same way kids learn music or swimming at a very tender age.

Six year olds are learning to code in China so they can develop products that they will sell to Zimbabweans of the same age (who could have learnt how to make the products themselves) twenty years later.  As Zimbabweans we are stereotypical for referring to some of these skills and sports as zvevarungu (for the whites) and yet here is an opportunity to change that culture.

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There are countless learning opportunities that can be realised through e-Learning and introduction of devices in schools. Why else would Econet invest in the EcoSchool project?

Why are we content with it being for tertiary education only? What about the use of tablets to teach in preschool via the use of special applications. If we used to gather around an FM radio for a thirty minute lesson at school, one that we remember today from Radio 4 (now known as National FM), why should we not utilise devices in the classroom?

Imagine how simple it would be to explain the theory of plate tectonics via such visual and practical aids. Content (General Science) would cease to become just a theory, the practicality of which may play a role in developing psycho-motor skills once computers in all forms become core curriculum as tools of trade. I am pretty sure i would have understood hydrocarbons chemistry better if i had the tools that are available today. Its a simple 5 minute video on Academic Earth.

I only owned a cell phone in my early twenties however. My two year old child knows how unlock and navigate an S4 to and get to Talking Tom. He still can’t pronounce it but he knows how to use it. I can be secure about my child doing that because the cell phone has a “Kids Mode”, a secure environment within the phone that protects my child from undue exposure.

My point is, most parents fear the dangers of smartphones because they themselves do not know the fuller extend of what they can use their device for in terms of functionality especially productivity and security.

This is why you see some “big” people stacking gadgets on top of each other in boardroom meetings; a mbudzi for calls, a for-status iPhone and Galaxy tablet for email and documents management outside the office. This whole picture is wrong. How then do we expect a parent like this one to comprehend the full functionality including censorship and restrictions on a device that they can afford their kids?

Do parents actually know that they can restrict access to rated sites? Do parents know that it is now very easy to track a stolen device? Do parents know that a device can even work without making or receiving calls?

You don’t shut down the internet because there is pornography, No! You regulate it. The same way you don’t disallow some very key learning tools because it they have their own dangers. Restrictions must be put in place on the device and the developers who figure this out quickly will earn themselves a healthy living. The educationists who develop the curriculum will do a great service. Restrictions can be put in place at school level. If a child uses their device where they are not supposed to, they get punished.

The President Computerisation Program might have gone quiet, but it had it spot on from the start. Saying children cannot have devices at school is like saying,

Thank you for the computerisation drive but we are not interested in upgrading to 2015. We will use our Pentium 1s at school and S6 Edges at home.

If anything, this country should unlock a lot of potential within the youth by globalising youth’s perspective beyond just Zimbabwe. We have some of the best developers here but they have no market for their products locally because the same parents who sent them to school to learn code are today killing a market that they could serve. If children learn to use devices at a good age, they grow up with a smaller world than generation before and their thinking is not limited by boarders.

The government should even go beyond allowing use, but developing a proper curriculum that incorporates ICT as fundamental. If we are to liberate our youth and generations to come we need to start deliberately planting and cultivating ICT industries in them. Who knows, maybe by the time they are in Grade 7 they will be able to code in one programming language. How else to we develop a Sahara Valley.

Then there’s the issue about those who cannot afford them, specifically the debate around rich and poor gap. The answer for me is simple. This is opportunity for creating jobs and employing numerous graduates walking the street today unemployed.

If Gtel and Astro can sell affordable custom phones, why can’t the Ministry of Education figure out the same arrangement for inexpensive tablets for learning? Through government financing (for neutrality) every child would be supplied with a device when they enroll into school.

They would then pay for this device over the course of their education. A locally assembled tablet can sell for $100 and this is not much over six terms. In all of this we are not even talking about the opportunity to develop applications or repair devices and the jobs that a local assembly plant for these devices would create.

I’m going to have to agree with Minister Dokora on this one.

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18 Comments

  1. Simbarashe ZimInvestors says:

    The time is coming when traditional jobs like data capturing etc will be taken over by the smart devices we are holding in our very hands and the time is now. The strategy is which side of the divide you stand. Would you rather let technology destroy your job or rather you help create a new one for yourself buy moving with technology? Great article and hats off to the minister

  2. anonymous1 says:

    you seem to be mixing up your arguments my friend. what people are against is smartphones and tablets being allowed in schools, not children being allowed to learn programming skills at a young age as you seem to be assuming. one is offering kids another distraction from concentrating in class (as if they didn’t have enough of those already) and the other is implementing a policy where learning to work with computers is a skill that is taught to kids in primary school. you made a number of good points, but for the wrong argument. what you could have said is the use of phones to track children in case they get lost or kidnapped while at/after school. I do agree with the content of your article regarding kids being taught programming at a younger age. but they don’t need to be allowed to use their smartphones in class for that to happen.

    1. Anonymous 2# says:

      You also miss the point there. Computers are more difficult to procure and handle and have high requirements in terms of power. Reality in this country with our power issue is that you will have more success with mobile than fixed PCs. Mobile is more pervasive and can be used for the right reasons. The fact that someone is using it for the wrong reasons does not mean we should banish it because there is risk of abuse. The proper way to respond to risk is to mitigate. I agree regulate access to the device during school and that should be the solution. This article is valid!!!

      1. Hacha Ndizvo Dr says:

        Both of you are wrong. No phone in class – PERIOD. Use whatever you want but NO PHONE.

      2. anonymous1 says:

        i beg to differ. if we consider practicality of implementing these policies, how exactly can a personal smartphone be used in class? as a replacement for textbooks? i dont think so. have u ever tried studying or reading a text book on your phone? and as novel as the idea of tablets replacing computers may seem, there is just some stuff that u can only do on a computer. like the aspect of programming that the author mentioned. Nope, nobody does their coding on a smartphone or a tablet. if the issue is visual learning, they can get a projector for that. much cheaper too. I would rather lobby for the purchasing of cheaper computers than cheap tablets to be honest. point is, there is no place for the smartphone in our classes.

    2. Ini says:

      Keep calm Dr Hacha and Anonymouses (kkkkk) , and watch this video, the minister is right https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_pIK7ghGw4

  3. almond says:

    That is so true he is mixing issues, studies have already been done in this area and has proven allowing gadgets in schools reduces concentration time and in turn affects grades negatively. As much as we must move with the times I dont think it should mean giving unattended access to kids lest they spend most of thier time playing games which is what most of them are doing anyway when they get hold of these devices. I am for supervised use for these devices in schools.

    1. Anonymous 2# says:

      Agree with supervised access.

    2. Fundo says:

      They play games on whose phone. Isnt it your phone they play games. If you load games on to your phones then kids will play games on your phone. If you put educational stuff on your phone then kids will learn on your phone. For mobile learning to succeed it needs the co-operation of teachers, parents and students themselves. Whilst the idea of mobile learning is good I think there is need for the responsible ministry to come up with relevant mobile learning content and platforms, pinpoint proper mobile usage scenarios, train teachers to integrate mobiles in learning in ways that makes learners use these technologies ‘safely’ and responsible.
      Education needs to move with the times, primary and secondary education just like tertiary education is no longer about literacy or ‘good grades’ as these metrics can deteriorate the learning experience by shifting the focus from learning to maximizing scholastic performance. If technologies are introduced in our schools I see teachers start to teach through learning from students whilst students start learning through teaching each other and perhaps the teacher too.

  4. Fundo says:

    “We must start by recognizing that education is a service. It faces the same challenges as any service enterprise whose goal is to build in innovation and excellence that will serve every customer.”
    “For many years, we have treated elementary and secondary education as assembly line, mass production — one curriculum, taught one way, by one teacher, with little variation. Almost twenty years ago, when we decreed that every child can learn, that kind of one-size-fits-all mass production was out — although we may not have realized it at the time.”

  5. Dee says:

    My 7 year old kid can flawlessly use my tablet and access his favorite games, but under my supervision.I have no problem with kids accessing tablets and phones for e-learning, but i have a big problem if kids use the devices for non educational purposes. Do you realise that some kids are smart enough to by pass the security resctrictions? I know of a young kid in my neighbourhood who keeps hacking other peoples WiFi .

  6. huh? says:

    once upon a time the book was not for every ton dick and harry. when authorities eventually realised it was better to hv an enlightened population, they had lost countless resources and opportunities. by refusing to integrate ICTs in education (mind you having a computer lab is not integrating ICTs in education), we are doing the same. By the time we realise the advantages, we would hve already relegated ourselvee to 3rd class citizens in the world. lets move with the times, kwete kungoda kuzoita zvinhu zvekuzotndanisa izvo zvaenda.

    1. Hacha Ndizvo Dr says:

      I agree. Do it but not with a PHONE.

  7. chengetai says:

    is this going to increase pass rate in school.definetly ‘no.this is a waste of time

  8. Ini says:

    Keep calm, and watch this video, the minister https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_pIK7ghGw4

  9. Ini says:

    Keep calm, and watch this video, the minister is right https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_pIK7ghGw4

    1. thanks for the link.

  10. hnhemwa@gmail.com says:

    parents are against phones because they them selves are abusing them….look at the number of sextapes that have leaked from cellphones…thats their greatest fear…but tosvika kupi tichiita sezvatakaitwa ku90s where our parent would hold a reciever at a public fone for use,….when internet was only for the offices…this is 2015 wake up….THUMBS UP DR DOKORA

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