Reacting to the coronavirus spread March 30, the Zimbabwean government closed the entire country, shutting down schools indefinitely. But, for many like 13-year-old Adrean Machingura, a grade seven primary school student in Harare, learning did not stop.
The teen, who is set to take his national examinations later this year, switched to social media platforms like WhatsApp to receive tutorials from his class teacher.
Social media the answer
For Machingura, a student at one of Zimbabwe’s government schools, social media has become the way to go.
“I will pass my exams, this I know. There is nothing I have missed because my class teacher, even after we closed schools due to coronavirus in March, she has not stopped sending the lessons and weekly tests for me,” Machingura told Anadolu Agency. “In fact, for all of us as a class.”
But continued lessons has come at a cost, which his mother, Miriam, a single parent, said is a lot to shoulder.
But the 39-year-old mother said that WhatsApp is the cheapest.
“The method of using WhatsApp for learning should have been adopted long back; it’s cheaper than keeping children in the classrooms where we are required to part with much sums on money in school fees,” she said.
Each month, with her son learning via WhatsApp, Machingura has to give $10 directly to her child’s teacher.
Social media platforms more a blessing than curse
For information technology specialists like Desmond Mawere, social media platforms that have often been abused, now have become positive instruments to educate students during the pandemic.
“Coronavirus has necessitated online learning in Zimbabwe, but online learning is not for the poor because they can’t afford to buy internet bundles,” said Juliet Mbiza, a school teacher doubling as a trade unionist with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the nation’s primary trade union federation.
“The poor remain at a disadvantage as they cannot afford to turn to the platforms to receive their school lessons because more often than not, they don’t even have the gadgets for use in any online form of learning,” said Mbiza.
But children like Machingura have not stopped learning thanks to social media platforms which many have embraced ahead of school examinations at the end of the year.
Smartphones now common
In fact, according to developments experts like Clayton Makuvaza, more and more people now have access to smartphones that are helping students access applications like WhatsApp to stay abreast with their schooling.
“Smartphones are very common now and almost every home has a smartphone, which means school-going children also have access to gadgets that enable them to use affordable applications like WhatsApp to continue with their learning even under the indefinite lockdown,” Makuvaza told Anadolu Agency.
But when the national lockdown began, the government warned schools that were charging exorbitant school fees for online tutorials.
Of late, however, the government has had second thoughts, especially for tertiary students.
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education is on record urging universities and colleges to develop online tutorial material to ensure learning is not disrupted.
Social media boost private school businesses
For private schools, even as the government discouraged school re-openings, business is booming a lot more than before the pandemic.
“I can tell you, business is surely doing good; parents are eager to keep their children progressing in their academic paths and so you would realize almost all parents at this school are paying the full fees to enable their children to keep receiving tutorials from our teachers,” said a principal of a top private school in Harare, who declined to give his name for fear of getting his school in trouble with authorities.
“As a school, we purchase WhatsApp bundles for our teachers who in turn start engaging with learners, sending them all the earning material via WhatsApp which is largely affordable,” said the principal.
Now, thanks to social media platforms, many students like Machingura bubble with confidence as they inch toward examinations.
“I will pass, yes, I know it. I’m ready. The phone and the WhatsApp readied me even as Covid-19 tried to disturb me,” he said.