Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has launched an application that will enable college and university students to learn remotely through the internet but many have questioned the product's feasibility, in light of Zimbabwe’s erratic power and network supply.
Econet’s educational component, EcoSchool, which is now active in some of the country’s institutions of higher learning, since its launch earlier this month; enables students to access or buy books, virtually through the internet, using android powered mobile phone or tablets.
Darlinglton Mandivenga, chief executive of Econet Services International, said they worked closely with colleges and universities to set up the app.
“The schools themselves are a critical pillar to this whole mix, and we have had to engage with the various deans, we have had to engage with the librarians,” said Mandivenga.
He said the company made sure to hear from librarians, professors, and students to find out what books should be added and what books were on demand.”
Some, like Nigel Gambanga, editor of Techzim, an information technology news blog, applauds Econet for seizing the opportunity.
“Econet managed to take advantage of the observations they made when they launched the pilot earlier this year. There was need for the chat platform because education is a lot about interaction and that is the core element of e-learning and off-line learning as well. There was the incorporation of Econet zero as well,” said Gambanga
Gambanga added it was great that Econet bundled it with the EcoSchool tablet to support their vision of their education learning platform.
David Dzatsunga, president of the College Lecturers' Association of Zimbabwe, also sees EcoSchool as a great leap forward in Zimbabwe’s education, given the shortage and high cost of learning materials.
Dzatsunga said the app puts Zimbabwe’s students at par with their counterparts around the world, who rely on the internet for learning.
“This initiative by Econet will certainly catapult the whole matrix of research and tertiary education to a higher level.”
While applauding Econet’s innovation, however, many question Zimbabwe’s ability to fully adopt such a technological leap, given the country’s struggles with power shortages, erratic network and data charges.
Mandivenga acknowledges the concerns and says Econet is working to improve this.
“We are doing the best we can to ensure that 3G network availability at the campus is strong enough to enable the students to access the books. But also this is education on the go, they do not have to be on campus to be able to access the books. It could be accessed in the comfort of their homes for those that are not resident on campus. The accessibility will be in as far as our 3G network coverage is available.”
Mandivenga added that his company has greatly contributed to Zimbabwe’s internet penetration which, at 47%, one of the highest in Africa, including Nigeria. He said this means EcoSchool offers great potential.
“With that penetration, we are saying what then is this internet being used for, are people using internet access to add value to the education, to the health and things like that. So we believe by ensuring that that internet is accessed and used to add value to how the students are studying it’s a good thing, we would have liked to do it earlier,” said Mandivenga.
GLOBAL EDUCATIONAL TRENDS
Dzatsunga agrees too, and says the kinks will be ironed out in time, and progress can’t be sacrificed due to lack of capacity.
Agency Gumbo of the University of Zimbabwe’s ZINASU, agrees.
“I know there are economic challenges in the country. We have social and political issues that we still need to iron out as a nation but matters to do with technological advancement have to be of great interest to our movement and we should never try to give excuses whenever there is an opportunity for us to level up with other nations, level up with our counterparts, level up with other students nationally,” ssays Gumbo.
He adds that students in Zimbabwe are done which school; they will still need to compete at the global level.
“Where we come from might not be a necessary consideration when we compete with other people at international level.”
It is yet to be seen how the launch of EcoSchool will assist tertiary students in Zimbabwe and if a launch at secondary and primary level will be key in assisting the revival of the education sector, but proponents of the product say is it important for Zimbabwe to continue to rebuild, while also implementing new and advanced technologies to not be left behind.
But despite the concerns about Zimbabwe’s ability to sustain Econet’s innovation, Mandivenga said it’s just a matter of time before those unfamiliar with digital learning or other skeptics are proven wrong, and eco-schools becomes just another way to learn, in Zimbabwe.
“As more and more of them come of broad and they start showing their friends, their colleagues we are seeing the up-take increasing on a daily basis. We believe that by the time we are through with this semester we will have a significant number of the students utilizing it because they will realize how convenient it is.”