FOR the second year running, COVID-19 has upended Zimbabwe’s education system and chances of a return to normalcy are receding with each lockdown extension that the government makes as infections and deaths remain stubbornly high.
As of Saturday, Zimbabwe had a daily average count of 754 new cases compared to 857 over the previous week. When schools closed in May to end a truncated first term, the daily average was as low as 16, and a semblance of normalcy was returning to institutions of learning and society at large.
So, the resumption of face-to-face learning seemed logical.
The emergence of the Delta variant has altered the landscape. The dangers have multiplied for teachers, other school staff, pupils and parents. All institutions of learning have been closed while the enterprising have been able to proceed via digital learning platforms.
Last year, government declined proposals to postpone examinations and will likely do so this year as well on grounds that such a move would detrimental to pupils and teachers because there is no way of telling how long the pandemic would last.
There is urgency on the part of authorities to get the education system rolling again, to reopen the schools and for some form of academic and emotional recovery. The 4,6 million schoolchildren in Zimbabwe are among the millions affected by the pandemic globally. The high number of new infections and deaths mean that there is still uncertainty over how our education system will proceed.
When government imposed a national lockdown in March last year to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, no one knew how long it would last or the impact it would have on children’s learning.
The country has been developing alternative ways to ensure continuity of learning, including broadcasting lessons on the radio, but the lack of a digital library for students to access lessons lessened its impact.
With so many unknowns in how the pandemic will unfold, and given the possibility of a fourth or even fifth wave as a result of new and emerging variants, is it not time for Zimbabwe to develop a hybrid digital learning system?
How effective are WhatsApp lessons? Can lessons through Zoom or via Teams apps replace face-to-face lessons?
Where are Zimbabwe’s innovators to help solve this puzzle? Now is the right time for them to intervene.