Zimbabwean students contest e-learning in courts

Denford Halimani

HARARE – University students failing to participate in the virtual classrooms during lockdown due to lack of smartphones, laptops and unavailability of Internet services in some parts of the country, have contested the introduction of e-learning at the High Court.

According to the State media, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) filed an urgent chamber application after complaints by Midlands State University (MSU) students that virtual learning was not feasible.

They argued in the application that their rights to administrative justice was violated as MSU unilaterally made the decision without consulting relevant stakeholders.

According to the court challenge, the decision would violate the students’ right to education as well as the right to be treated fairly without discrimination.

The students said they are failing to participate in the virtual classrooms due to the cocktail of challenges including lack of smart devices as laptops and smartphones or the Internet.

The students cited MSU and Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Amon Murwira as first and second respondents respectively.

Harare lawyer Mr Denford Halimani of Wintertons Legal Practitioners represented the students in the urgent chamber application.

The application is yet to be set down for hearing.

According to a certificate of urgency signed by the students’ lawyer, Zivanai Makwanya, the students right to proper education is under threat in that they are presently unable to access e-learning.

“This is because many students come from rural areas where there is poor or no cellular coverage or network to enable them to access e-learning. Many students also come from underprivileged backgrounds and are unable to afford the increased cost of data to enable them to access e-learning material.

“Many of the students reside in areas where there is no electricity supply at all to enable them to charge their cellphones and laptops (for those with such gadgets).

“This is grossly unfair to the affected students and clearly the students right to education has been violated and continues to be violated as long as this is not stopped,” read the court papers.

According to the court papers, the students said e-learning must be suspended.

“It is ordered that the students of the first respondent(MSU) are entitled to be heard on the efficacy of e-learning accordingly the unilateral decision to resume lessons through e-learning during the lockdown period is hereby suspended pending consultation with the students’ representatives,” reads the order being sought for.

Alternatively, the students said in the event that the court upholds the current e-learning initiative, MSU should open its e-learning platforms to its students during the lockdown irrespective of payment of fees and any other financial regimens demanded by the institution as a prerequisite.

According to the supporting founding affidavit of zinasu president, Allan Moyo, he said that investigations done before the filing of the application showed that out of 25 000 students enrolled at MSU, only 9 000 were actually registered before the closure of the university.