By SYLVESTER MWALE –
WHILE the Ministry of Education’s decision to introduce ICT as a compulsory subject in secondary schools may be a step in the right direction, its implementation may prove beyond the capabilities of those involved.
This is because many schools including those in urban areas have little or no access to computers that can form a strong base on which Information and Communication Technology (ICT) will be taught in a classroom.
According to Panos, constraints such as inadequate technical infrastructure, limited human skills to use available networks and services, the relatively high cost of communications equipment, and poor policy and regulatory environments have hampered the development of ICT in Zambia.
Nevertheless, the newly-introduced ICT subject in Zambian schools provides strong evidence that policymakers in the country’s education sector have recognised the importance and value of technology for learning and teaching in primary schools.
Additionally, it is indisputable that the ICTs are increasingly important in achieving development goals and promoting citizen participation not only in Zambia but across borders.
Apparently, experts suggest that the advent of the new growth theories means that technology change has been indigenised and linked up more closely to education, health and other such inputs that enhance human development.
This could have instigated Zambia’s policymakers to introduce ICT as a compulsory subject in secondary schools.
But is this feasible? Is there enough capacity currently to implement such a policy? Does the country have enough technical infrastructure and facilities to help implement the policy? Are there adequate skilled teachers to teach ICT in schools?
These are among the questions that have been ringing in the minds of many stakeholders from the time it was announced that the ICT subject is compulsory in Zambian schools.
The Sunday Times took time during the week to talk to various stakeholders including teachers and pupils on their expectations from the new policy.
Interestingly, it should be stated from the onset that even the Ministry of Education is cognisant to the fact that the new subject faces a huge challenge to get a warm welcome from learners and teachers.
Ministry spokesperson Hillary Chipango said the ministry was aware of the problems that pupils in rural areas were currently facing in the implementation of the new policy.
“The Ministry is working hand in hand with the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) to make sure that all the schools in rural areas are electrified,” Mr Chipango told the Sunday Times in an interview.
“In this regard, the students in areas where there is no electricity will be learning theory for some time till their schools were connected to the power grid.”
Being a new subject, it will be the first time that pupils will come face to face with the ICT. There is a deepening concern and worry for those that have never laid their hands on a computer in their lives.
Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) general secretary Newman Bubala said the policy was effective because there were currently no facilities in both rural and urban schools.
“Firstly, what you should understand is that ICT cannot be done in theory because it is a practical subject,” Mr Bubala said. “And this policy will not be effective in the sense that computers in both rural and urban schools are not just there.”
Mr Bubala urged the government to provide enough funding for both computers and solar system in rural areas which still lacked power.
Apart from lack of computers and electricity in rural schools, most teachers in both rural and urban schools are equally incompetent in ICT and would need their own lessons before teaching their classes.
Abel Banda a teacher at one of the rural schools in Chipata district said the policy was welcome but would not serve the purpose without the being accompanied by adequate facilities.
“It is not a secret that many schools in rural areas have got no electricity, not even solar and one would wonder how they will teach this subject,” Mr Banda said.
“More importantly, teachers themselves have not mastered computers and they are wondering how they will be teaching a subject that they don’t know themselves.”
Mr Banda said the ICT subject should not have been compulsory at the moment until there was improved infrastructure and facilities in rural schools.
Susan Chirwa another teacher noted that the Government had rushed into implementing the policy because there were no computers in rural areas to help the pupils.
“Honestly, I support the idea because the world is changing but it is also a matter of whether such a subject can be taught in this environment. We have no electricity, no solar and no skilled teachers, so how do you expect me to teach.”
She noted that many pupils would fail if they were forced to write examinations without being exposed to computers.
Victor Chanda a headmaster at Myengele Basic School in Chembe in Luapula Province said there was no way the new subject could be taught when schools did not have facilities and electricity.
“Even the government has not brought the facilities to use when teaching this subject and there is no way we can teach,” he said.
“While this is a good idea, I can safely say that we have not started teaching the subject because we have got no electricity and the teachers have not yet been trained on how to teach.”
The implementation of the ICT policy of the Ministry of Education could serve as an important milestone in enhancing technology advancement in Zambia.
With the new subject, there is little doubt that school leaders would be able to develop, improve, and share the strategies and mechanisms that optimise the development of ICT-based teaching and learning with their pupils in their schools.
However, perhaps it is also crucial to realise the fact that many Zambian schools are currently struggling to have adequate learning and teaching materials such as books, laboratories and classrooms.
Many schools in rural areas do not have a laboratory for science subjects and pupils’ performances have not been impressive.
“We do not have a lab at school and yet we always judged like any other in town schools who have computers said a grade 11 pupil at Kasenengwa Secondary School in Chipata district.
“It is a great idea to have ICT in schools because of the changing world, but such initiative should be accompanied by enough computers and electricity in rural areas.”
Indisputably, the introduction of ICT subject is a great idea, but requires time, resources and energy in order to achieve the intended objectives.
Statistics show that access to electricity in rural areas is unprecedented low at less than five percent while urban areas is pegged at 26 percent, according to Zesco.
Both figures are not good enough to spark an ambitious policy that requires not only a computer lab at any given school, but also reliable power generation from either hydro of solar system.
It is, therefore, hoped that as the policy is being implemented, more attention would be placed not only on building the capacity in teachers, but also improving the environment through the provision of electricity and computer labs in schools.