By Nevanji Madanhire
The saddest news this week was that of 264 people, mostly schoolchildren, who contracted Covid-19 since schools opened early this month. True, the government was under immense pressure from parents and other stakeholders to open schools for face-to-face learning against the advice of teacher unions and experts in the health field.
Apparently parents were failing to cope with idle children and homeschooling and threw caution to the wind. Luckily, schoolchildren are in the “right” age group and their infections will be mostly asymptomatic.
But that schools have once again become the epicentres of the spread of the coronavirus should be a wake-up call: We may never return fully to face-to-face tuition. Our education system is archaic and that has been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
An education system that sits dozens of pupils in front of an assumedly all-knowing teacher is a thing of the past. It teaches pupils to gorge down a mound of useless information and trains them for non-existent jobs.
There are three very interesting and very important articles we carry in this issue. One (P10) postulates that formal wage employment is antiquated; many economies have shrunk and more and more people have been driven into casualised labour. It says less than a third of the world’s employable population is in wage employment. But countries keep on pushing this anachronism down their children’s throats.
Another article (businenessDigest P12) argues that information communication technologies will bring change to economies and these ICTs are the preserve of the youths who have everywhere been born in an age where computers have become the lifeblood of education.
In countries where young people are exposed to ICTs early, such as in developed countries, youths have developed applications that have revolutionised our lives. Youths in Zimbabwe and all over the developing world should therefore be exposed early to ICTs.
In an earlier column I implored teachers to become entrepreneurs rather than stick to the old way where they expect to work in classrooms with bunches of schoolchildren.
They should devise ways to deliver knowledge in a different way that makes the knowledge relevant to the learners needs. But our teachers continue to harp on about poor wages and bad working conditions when they can create their own work spaces in which they work at their own pace and without the harsh supervision and harassment from their superiors.
Another interesting story in this issue (businenessDigest P16) tells of how a 27-year-old man from Mbare has created a successful WhatApp system through which he prepares learners for A-level examinations. His success rate is phenomenal. This is the kind of entrepreneurship expected of our teachers. Interestingly, the young man who runs this group is a non-trained teacher.
Many will argue that such teaching needs secure internet connections which are scarce in the country. Some will talk about the cost of data as a major challenge to the approach. At face value these arguments seem plausible but one needs to go to any rural home now and see a solar panel for charging the phone and for lighting. This means given the proper incentive most rural homes will strive for internet connectivity.
This also presents a major opportunity for internet service providers.
There are many areas where there is no internet signal. The demand is there and ISPs should plant bases everywhere and ensure no area is left unconnected. State-owned mobile telephony services providers should seize the opportunity and try to outdo private ones that have upstaged them in the provision of internet services. Covid-19 has provided both challenges and opportunities that wait to be seized.