COVID-19 widened the digital divide

COVID-19 increased issues of the digital divide
COVID-19 increased issues of the digital divide

HON. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA:  Thank you very much Madam Speaker.  First, let me thank Hon. Moyo for the joint report and let me also thank in particular the ICT Committee who actually initiated this particular hearing.  We, as the Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, as you may know, Madam Speaker, have been to this House numerous times particularly at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and raised issues around our concern on the issue of the digital divide.   Therefore it was proper that the Committees worked together so that they would also understand the problems that we were experiencing as the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education and they being our supporters.

I also would like to thank and I think Hon. Moyo referred to this, the stakeholders that came to the table.  I think we did appreciate particularly having the stakeholders that were coming from the private sector who shared with us some of the problems associated with this issue of the digital divide.

Hon. Moyo has spoken to great lengths on the issue around how the issue of digital divide has created the differences between those that have and those that do not have and you know, Madam Speaker, that our SDGs speak to not leaving anyone behind, but I think what has happened in the education sector as a result of COVID-19 has actually created a situation where we are leaving a lot of our young people behind.

I just want to take this time, Madam Speaker, to buttress the recommendations that were put by Hon. Moyo on behalf of the two Committees.  In particular I want to buttress the recommendation about the need for an indaba on the issue of digitalisation within the education sector.  I say so, Madam Speaker, because the indaba would address a number of things. Firstly, it would highlight the problem that we are talking about, the challenges that we are facing right now in the country and globally and put at the centre how digitalisation has moved so fast that if we do not catch up, we are actually going to have our children not being part of the global community.  Secondly, the indaba will address the issues around financing because fundamentally the problem that we are going to struggle with for a long time is how do we resource the education sector so that it can respond.

Madam Speaker, we are noticing a global trend right now where issues of aid are being cut down.  I think if some of you were listening to the news yesterday, one of the conversations that were taking place in the British Parliament was where Members of Parliament were taking on the Prime Minister on the kind of development aid cut that has since happened and understandably because some of the countries within the global communities have also had to suffer an economic recession.  So we are not only going to have places like UK cutting down on aid, but generally development aid is going to be very difficult to come by which means that ourselves as African countries would have to really dig deep and find where we can find resources to deal with issues around financing of the social sector but in particular the education sector.  Madam Speaker, if we do not do this very seriously, we are going to have a lost generation where we literally are going to have particular classes and a few of the elite being educated and the rest of our children not being educated.

If you look at the numbers and population, we know that 60% of our population is actually in the rural communities.  So when we say the digital divide, we are actually saying there will be a part of our children in one part of the country who are going to be left out of the education sector.  So it is important that this indaba takes place and some of us have been actually proposing that the indaba should actually be held at the highest level where the Presidency is invited so that they actually put this as a priority in the issues.  I know that within NDSI we do have the issue of the education sector but it would be good at least at that highest level to have this particular indaba.

The indaba would also bring to the table the private sector.  I think it is important that the private sector, particularly the banks because we know that if there is a sector that has posted at least some benefits and positive benefits for such in foreign currency, it has been the banks.  So it is important to bring the banks on board, it is important to bring the mining community on board so that we can begin to look at the kind of resource mobilisation that we need to do so that the sector can operate.  

Most importantly and we have raised this with the Ministry of Education and I think Hon. Moyo has also raised it; we are finding that because those that are in private schools are able to do this, we need to start charging ourselves as Government because it is a service they are using so if the private sector is wanting to create an e-learning module for example, they have to use the module on the basis of the curricula that we as Government has set up. So we need to make sure that the charge for that curricula just like we charge for everything else.  When you go to a private hospital, you are charged and we as Government also get a certain amount of money from what is being charged at private hospitals.  But we are not doing the same around e-learning and these are conversations that we need to start having so that we can make a bit of money from our local issues.  

 Hon. Moyo spoke about the issue of internationalisation of this conversation, in particular regionalising.  One of the things that we have done in Africa and have not noticed is that we have looked at COVID-19 purely from a health perspective, which is why globally, we now have Covax, which is looking at issues of vaccines.  We are forgetting that the majority in terms of our own demography in Africa are young people.  For Europe, it works to prioritise issues of vaccinations but for Africa, yes vaccination is important but issues of education and the social sector are more important because we have a difference between ourselves and Europe.  This is because Europe has more of the older people and Africa has more of the younger people. So we need to say to ourselves within the context of COVID-19, what should we be putting resources on.  So, instead of having a global community that is just looking at a Covax problem, we should be looking at a global community that is looking at how we can resource supporting the social sector, in particular, the education sector.  

The other issue that was raised was the issue and this is one of my favourite subjects.  If we deal with the issue of digitalisation Madam Speaker, we may actually be able to address this increasing phenomena that we saw with COVID-19 where a number of our girls got pregnant during the lockdown.  We have had in this House, people that have issues with these kids coming back into school and the kids themselves being comfortable about going back into school. If e-learning is expanded and is given to circumstances where you are giving the pregnant girls an opportunity to learn while they are at home and they just come into school to write their exams, you are also dealing with the issues of stigma.  So, the issue around e-learning and digitalisation Madam Speaker, is crucial and important.

As far as our recommendations are concerned, we really want us to highlight the issue that Government needs to deal very urgently with the issue around e-learning and understand that without e-learning, we will not have moved anywhere.  We are hoping that when we do this regional meeting, we should be able to address it.  One of our own people is the one who is the AU Ambassador around issues of COVID-19, Mr. Strive Masiiwa and I think as a country, we need to take the opportunity of engaging with our own people who are now at positions where they are able to mobilise resources and say how do we get resources that are enough for us to finance the issue around COVID-19 and digitalisation.  

Let me thank you very much Madam Speaker for giving us this opportunity and because this report is critical, we are hoping that both the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education and the Minister of ICT will come and respond to some of the recommendations that we have given so that next time we are able to move more seriously and respond to this crisis that we have as a nation.  I thank you Madam Speaker. 

COVID-19 increased issues of the digital divide

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