PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has assured the nation that his government will starting next year push for a phased approach to free education that will be wholly funded by the State, after noting a number of bottlenecks that were causing learners to drop out of school.
In his weekly article published in full in this paper, the President said he is going to ensure universal access to education against a background of challenges posed by the shift from face-to-face type of delivery to digital or online learning that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 new normal.
The President said the unequal socio-economic footing and the need to move in the tide of technological advancement in the education sector in the face of other pressing issues has seen a worrying trend where a number of learners were dropping out of school.
This, he said, has raised questions on the accessibility and availability of gadgets, data and electricity, prompting the government to intervene with a solution of having everything set to ensure primary education is made free by next year and that learning gadgets and online books are provided through line ministries.
“The gadgets which have become key platforms for the learner, are hard to come by; data is expensive; electricity is either unavailable or unaffordable.
Not many families afford solar panels. Yet learners have to enrol daily into virtual classes which require a totally new living and learning milieu. It is thus not surprising that we are experiencing many dropouts from our educational system,” said President in his article.
He said government was not divorced from that reality and was concerned about the negative development, which requires urgent solutions.
“Against the foregoing and starting next year, government will push for a phased access to universal free education wholly funded by the State.
We must make primary education free and universal next year, in 2023. This entails more than government just taking over payment of school fees for all pupils in primary school.
“It means meeting the full costs of transiting to a new dispensation where technology mediates learning. Each primary school-going child has to have access to a tablet at government expense.
Equally, primary schools will have to have access to electricity and electronic signals for online teaching. This is a huge public intervention we no longer can postpone anymore,” said President Mnangagwa.
He said while learning materials will continue to be availed in hard copy, a transition to electronic textbooks must be accelerated.
“This new direction and responsibility to government means all ministries, facilitated by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, must weigh in with supportive infrastructure to realise this educational goal which is in line with our Vision 2030.
I will develop a particular interest in checking the pace at which rural schools in historically depressed areas are assisted to make this vital transition.
This will be a key marker for the success of our programme. Our private sector should, as much as it can, complement government in its quest to deliver on this programme,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said he was going to direct the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry to rework and adjust the ICT Policy so that data for essential services, principally education, is availed at affordable tariffs.
“The same holds for our Energy Policy which must ensure electricity services and manageable tariffs for all our schools, starting with primary schools where education will be free, starting next year. Both conventional and green power should be harnessed towards this goal.
“Our rural electrification programme must be intensified to bring power to the classroom where learning takes place. Hard behind this must be ICT services so our thrust is seamless,” he said, adding that funding models were going to be explored although they are going to be largely local. – Sunday News