Some of Zimbabwe’s university and college students will soon be enjoying a whole new way of learning, thanks to Econet Wireless Zimbabwe’s innovative new product, EcoSchool, a web-based application, accessible from any android-powered mobile phone or tablet.
Econet is targeting 70 percent of local universities and colleges for its new digital education platform that will enable students to learn remotely through the internet.
The Chief Executive Officer of Econet Services International, Darlington Mandivenga, said EcoSchool, launched earlier this month, in Harare, will increase students’ access to learning materials, such as books.
“If you go to the library, the books are in short supply and students have to share the small number of books that are available. Secondly, from a cost perspective when those books are available and they have to buy them for example, most of them are considered to be expensive,” said Mandivenga.
The mobile giant’s new app, which further rubberstamps its standing as the largest tech-player in Zimbabwe, enables students to browse more than 50 websites, without using personal data. Students can also buy e-textbooks using Ecocash.
Mandivenga said the use of first class technology, serves a key purpose: to ensure that the educational content is available to them instantly, and on the go by digitalizing it and making it available on any smart device like a mobile phone or tablet.
MERGING NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Former Education Minister David Coltart said while he accepts that e-learning, mobile technologies and other such innovations are unavoidable, he says it’s important for Econet to work closely with relevant ministry’s to ensure adherence to Zimbabwe’s teaching standards.
“In general terms yes, these new technologies can enhance a child’s education; my only concern would be that one cannot impose any curriculum or syllabus on children, and its critically important that any systems like this be integrated and done with the consent and collaboration with the Ministry of Education,” said Coltart.
Econet’s Mandivenga said they have engaged schools, and jointly launched the EcoSchool pilot with the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences.
He said this was necessary to ensure student compliance with their product, and affordability.
The product costs $2 a month if you have your own phone or tablet; $6 for two years, if you want to rent an Econet issued Android tablet and $135 for those wanting to buy a tablet.
COST TO STUDENTS
Student groups like the Zimbabwe National Students Union, have welcomed the product, saying it will help them stay abreast of the global technological wave.
However, University of Zimbabwe ZINASU chapter president, Agency Gumbo, worries that the cost may be high for students, who pay for their own education.
“This is transport money for students who don’t stay on campus; this is lunch money for students who don’t stay on campus. So to then think that students are able to make their calculations during the month and come up with the six dollars to pay for the service, it’s somewhat a difficult thought for some students,” said Gumbo
Noting the financial challenges of some university students, Mandivenga defended the cost, saying it’s a bargain for students, especially on books.
“On average, let’s take medical school for example, some of the books are as high as $80, but with the negotiations that we have done with the publishers we are saving up to 80 percent of the cost of the physical textbook in certain cases.”
Despite the fear of cost, some have embraced the app, and see it as an essential tool for not only college students, all students. Nigel Gambanga is the editor of TechZim; a news blog focusing on information technology.
“Assuming that Econet follows through with a plan to introduce the EcoSchool program to high school and primary school education in the next stage, I’m assuming that the e-learning and digital learning will be open to a larger audience," said Gambanga.
He noted that Econet has introduced a product those pushing for the digital learning have been struggling with; the uptake of a product and service that a lot of people can identify and relate to.
But with Zimbabwe’s erratic power and network supply, the question remains if EcoSchool can really help Zimbabwe’s students. And Econet’s Mandivenga believes it will, adding the skeptics will soon be clammering for his company’s product.