Manicaland challenges govt over schools internet “talk show”

By Kenneth Matimaire

MUTARE – Villagers in most parts of the eastern border province have criticized government over its continued tendency of making false promises regarding WiFi internet services connections in primary and secondary schools.

Government revealed that it had unlocked funds to install internet services at the country’s 8,500 primary and secondary schools.

The ground breaking ceremonies were jointly held mid-last year by the Ministry of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Cyber security, and Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

However, a snap survey conducted by Radio VOP within urban and rural schools in Manicaland province indicated otherwise.

“We are yet to have the privilege of receiving such (internet connection) services here. I can assure you that no such development or talks of that nature have surfaced here,” said a teacher at Mkwada Primary School who requested anonymity.

Radio VOP established that most schools, especially in the remote areas had no such connections while some urban schools have made internal efforts to install WiFi services.

“Ours schools have no internet services here, government should honour up to its promises,” charged Headman Mkwada of Marange.

Dora Ward 5 councillor Tonderai Gopito recently told Radio VOP that there are no WiFi connections at the three schools under his ward.

“There are three schools here, two primaries and one secondary school under Ward 5. All of them have no internet connections let alone computers,” he said.

“We are tired of government talk shows, they always promise things that they cannot do. Hold fancy ceremonies in expensive hotels and lie to us. We were told that all rural schools will get internet but we are still waiting,” said Fiona Zambuko of Nyanga South.

Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima said the programme is expected to be complete within the next five years with over $30 million required.

Mavima said government has partnered a private company e-Learning Solutions and two parastatals TelOne Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Academic and Research Network (ZARNet) to roll out the exercise.

ZARNet operates within the ministry of ICT, which is jointly spearheading the project.

“We have potentially unlocked internet connectivity for the 8,500 schools we have. We don’t want to be over ambitious because the work will be based on capacity and issues to do with electricity but our intention is to unlock internet to all schools. So we have to work with REA for electricity coverage.

“A big percentage will be done within three to five years but the 1,300 schools under ZARNet will be done within a year. But if we combine all the three companies we will cover 3,000 schools within a year.” he said.

Mavima said ZARNet has already received funding under the Universal Services Fund administered by the ICT ministry.

He further indicated that $10 million will be sourced for the initial stages while an additional $30 million will be raised by the contracted companies.

The internet project complements the Schools National Computerisation Programme launched in 2000 and the National e-Learning Programme launched in 2012 by former President Robert Mugabe.

Since then, thousands of schools have received 10 computers each under the programme.

However, most of the donated computers are now either mal-functioning or out of use.

Once operational the e-learning platform will enable live streaming of lessons, allow the ministry to warehouse all education data in central servers accessible to connected schools.

Issues to do with real time administration and management of schools will be made easier as parents will also be able to access school attendance registers to check whether their children have not absconded.