Ministerial Statement: Provision of E-learning during COVID-19 period

Ministerial Statement: Provision of E-learning during COVID-19 period
Ministerial Statement: Provision of E-learning during COVID-19 period

Ministerial Statement: Provision of E-learning during COVID-19 period

THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY, POSTAL AND COURIER SERVICES (HON. PHUTI): Thank you, Mr Speaker Sir.  I would like to give a response to the First Report of the joint Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services and Primary and Secondary Education.  First of all, I would like to apologise that this report was supposed to be presented earlier than this time but because of a few other hiccups, it had to come this late.  Nevertheless, Mr Speaker Sir, thank you for this opportunity. 

I would like to thank the Hon. Members of the joint Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services and Primary and Secondary Education for a comprehensive report on the state of the programme to provide online classes to learners during this COVID-19 pandemic period.  I also want to thank the House for its constructive contributions to this debate, it shows how much we are all concerned about our children’s learning and the development during this pandemic era.

Mr Speaker Sir, it is very true that our children learning in rural areas are the most affected as there is little or no e-learning that is taking place in those areas.  There are rural schools that are connected but do not serve any purpose if the learners are not connected at their homes or if they do not have the necessary gadgets.  What we are therefore doing as a Ministry and the entire ICT sector, is to ensure that our rural schools are connected to the internet and that they are equipped with ICT gadgets.  This of course will not be something that can be done overnight but the will is there.

Mr Speaker Sir, the report referred to the National E-Learning Strategy.  I am happy to say that the Cabinet has since approved this strategy.  The objective of the strategy is to produce and distribute ICT gadgets as well as to provide internet connectivity to schools throughout the country.  The roll-out of this initiative will thus complement what we are already doing in collaboration with other development partners.

 Mr Speaker Sir, concerns have been raised that the teachers in the rural schools are not computer literate as compared to teachers in urban areas.  This makes it difficult for rural teachers to effectively carry out e-Learning.  To alleviate this, the Ministry has been running an ICT capacity building programme for the past seven to eight years.  The Ministry, for instance, has a state of the art training room housed at its Mukwati building offices.  These training facilities have since been decentralised and spread to all the other provinces. Furthermore, the Ministry periodically dispatches officers to train people all over Zimbabwe on ICT usage.  We are certainly going to arrange with my counterpart, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to ensure that teachers are trained and capacitated with basic computer skills. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the nation to go into lockdown and this resulted in a shift in telecommunication traffic patterns as more people had no option but to work from home.  This shift resulted in congestion in some base stations.  The Ministry, POTRAZ and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) embarked on a Capacity Enhancement Project aimed at decongesting the networks and ensuring the continuation of quality of service in this COVID-19 era.  This resulted in the upgrading of most base stations.  NetOne for example, upgraded a total of 75 base stations to 3G from 2G and a further 60 base stations were upgraded to 4G from 3G.  This upgrading of base stations is continuing and construction of new network towers, especially in rural areas is being speeded up.  We have also started receiving equipment for the National Broadband (NBB) Phase 3 Project and our major target is the rural areas.  This will enhance network coverage and ensure that more learners can access e-Learning.  To emphasise this NBB Phase 3 project, I must say with confidence that the President is going to be commissioning some equipment for the roll-out of this programme which will ensure a total of more than 260 base stations spread across the country.

Mr Speaker Sir, we have Community Information Centres (CICs) that are spread throughout the country.  These CICs are meant to be one-stop ICT access points, achieving quality access to information, especially for the marginalised areas.  It is also our hope that since these CICs have internet access and are also fitted with computers, our children can use them for e-Learning purposes as well as for training.  We will, however, continue to construct these CICs, especially in our peripheral areas so that school-going children can benefit. 

As Hon. Members have highlighted in various contributions made, the prices of ICT gadgets are too high, which makes it difficult for ordinary people to buy them.  I am happy to say that the country’s first ICT Assembly Plant is now operating in Msasa.  It will come in handy to breach this problem.   Very soon we should all be able to purchase ICT gadgets at favourable prices.

The issue of data bundles will remain a challenge and it is this issue that is affecting e-Learning for most of our rural children.  The problem is MNOs are in business for profit and they cannot always fully support Government and humanitarian efforts for fear of making losses.  We will, however, continue to play the humanitarian side through the regulator POTRAZ, and I must say that it should be of note that ZARNET has also been given support by Government to roll out support to the e-Learning Strategy.  That will see us achieving a better pace than has been of late.  I thank you

Ministerial Statement: Provision of E-learning during COVID-19 period

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