Zim govt established computer labs at over 1100 schools in 2022, election season is wild

Leonard Sengere Avatar

Artificial Intelligence ( AI) is part of everyday conversation because of ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. As we discuss how AI could transform our lives and work, we sometimes forget that not everyone has access to such technology. 

Yes, currently, we don’t officially have access to ChatGPT in Zimbabwe. That may or may not change in the near future but we do have access to the Edge browser which will be somewhat powered by ChatGPT. As for Bard, I believe Zimbabwe will make it on the list.

So, as we wait for official access, or as we fiddle with VPNs and virtual phone numbers to get access, we take it for granted that we are able to do this. 

What one needs to experience this tech of the future is a computer that’s connected to the internet. Millions of Zimbabweans still don’t have that, especially in the rural areas.

It is with this in mind that I looked at the Zimbabwe government’s rural computerisation drive. The latest news on that front is that computer laboratories were commissioned at 12 rural schools in Matebeleland South yesterday. Apparently, 50 more are to be commissioned next month. This initiative is part of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1). 

There is yet another initiative, the GIGA initiative, to increase connectivity in schools that is being ‘led by the government and complemented by Unicef.’ We talked about it here

It’s not clear whether GIGA is involved with the 12 labs commissioned in rural Matebeleland. It doesn’t matter much for the schools involved. Government, Unicef, some well-wisher, it really doesn’t matter.

It does matter to the voter though. We need to know who is actually helping to build our country. Are our elected officials doing their jobs?

The pressing need

GIGA was launched in 2019 and Zimbabwe is only one of many countries in the program. Soon after GIGA was launched, the Covid pandemic hit and the importance of the program couldn’t be clearer.

Around 69% of schools in Zimbabwe do not have access to the internet. 

For a time, remote learning was the order of the day, and it was clear that some children were being left behind. Kids are back in school but some will not be able to make up for the year or so they lost.

We cannot rest on our laurels that kids are now back in classrooms. We could have another disturbance that makes meeting physically impossible. So, we have to make sure that should that happen again, no one gets left behind.

That’s an extreme scenario but we need computer and internet access in schools even if that weren’t to happen. If you have tried to help a Primary student with their homework recently, then you know that the new curriculum is nigh impossible to get through without a little Googling. 

All the information you need is one search away, and most of it is not behind any paywall, it’s free. When education ceases to be about acquiring information but about applying the information that we know is readily available, that’s when it can transform nations.

In Zimbabwe, we have another problem to solve for – electricity. It’s not enough to get computers and an internet connection, a solution to the erratic Zesa supply is needed. The national grid does not even reach some of the schools we want to computerise. Solar power is the obvious solution.

What’s been happening?

In December 2022 we found out that since the GIGA program commenced, 32 schools have been equipped with solar panels. 

To be honest, that doesn’t sound impressive. There are close to 10,000 schools in Zimbabwe and more are being established at a rate of 300 per year apparently. So, to hear that a program that commenced in 2019 has equipped 32 schools with solar panels does not sound impressive. 

However, when you consider that we are talking about thousands of students benefitting, you appreciate it a little more. Should we have done more? Probably, but it’s something I guess.

So, we haven’t made significant strides in electrifying schools. Did we at least get them the computers? 

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms of transparency on the progress we have made on NDS1.

What we know from GIGA’s 2020 research is that it would take US$36 million to reach the 6,600 or so schools that do not have connectivity. It would cost an additional US$40.8 million annually to keep them connected.

Most of these schools cannot afford to do this themselves. Hence why the government’s NDS1 and GIGA’s work is important. What is US$36 million to a nation? It’s a lot apparently.

GIGA started work in Zimbabwe in February 2020. We know that they cannot do anything without buy-in from the government and they have been engaged since 2020.

What we have from both the government’s solo efforts and GIGA’s are scattered reports of some schools getting computers and labs. Two schools get some, six get labs and free internet and other such reports.

The progress

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe then gave us the totals for 2022,

We have equipped 1 117 school laboratories this year and that includes universities which did not have gadgets. In 2021 there were very few, just above 20, because of lockdown and in 2023, our plans in terms of laboratories is around 695

That is quite the progress. Remember we saw that there were about 6600 unconnected schools in 2020. So, Potraz is saying we got to 17% of them in 2022 alone. If we get another 695 connected in 2023, we would have reached over 27% since the program began. It started out slowly but we can get behind these new figures.

Potraz also connected 955 clinics in 2022 and that’s good to hear but back to the schools.

First, we have to remind ourselves that Potraz is a government agency, so we have to take what they report with a grain of salt. They say a model computer lab has 30 computers and so we are to assume that’s what’s being equipped on the ground.

We cannot verify that Potraz did indeed equip 1100 schools with 30-computer labs in 2022. Let’s assume that is accurate for now.

The timing and the opportunity

Even if it is accurate, we have to consider the timing. We went from equipping about 20 schools in 2021 to 1117 in the year preceding the election year. There has to be a connection there. 

This all shows us that we are most powerful as citizens come election time. Work gets done when there are votes to be won. When there are progress reports to stuff.

So, should we let this power we have just go to waste or should we all demand more from our government? This power we yield expires upon voting and will only be returned to us in the year before the next election. So, we might want to use it wisely.

We knew as kids that if you ask for stuff from your parents in front of people, you would get it more often than not. Of course, you were risking a ‘talking-to’ when the company left but sometimes it was worth it. It could be worth it to push our representatives to give us what our communities need whilst we still can.

Also read:

UNICEF Zim announces initiative to increase connectivity in local schools

Ministry of Education launches digital library with free books

21 comments

What’s your take?

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  1. Anonymous

    I was doing my Alevels last year and I can confirm they did equip a very large number of schools. In my district each and every school had already computer labs but received at least 20 refurbished laptops.

    1. D.K.

      Refurbished laptops are ok if they are a donation which was made to government. They are more like retired laptops, which are spruiced up and made to look like new. Just like the retired people who are brought back into working, these can do the job. Government should identify the minimum specifications for computers to be used in schools. It would be cheaper, in the long run, if government bought brand new laptops which will be having guarantee and/or warranty. Government should first evaluate the laptops which are being made locally by TelOne before looking outside.

      1. Leonard Sengere

        Yes, I agree. We should not be looking to provide state of the art computers. A slow computer is better than no computer. Let’s get refurbished where we can and speed up the process of connecting these schools. Maybe if we get the cheaper computers we can even increase the number of computers per lab too.

    2. Leonard Sengere

      That’s good to hear. The report we are getting might be mostly true.

  2. Anonymous

    “applying the information that we know” – as Zimbos we really need to start doing this and keep it up if you are already doing it, statement of my day.
    Another thing, when it comes to keeping the schools linked to the internet perhaps we can teach the kids about internet business and we make enough money to keep our heads above the water. For example some agric classes in schools grow food for the scholl dining. The chinese teach their kids to make products at such an early age.
    Lastly, you are right; in our country things seems to happen before the elections.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      That has to be part of the curriculum, the kids have to know that the internet is not just a tool to watch memes and write emails, they can start businesses and take other opportunities to earn money.

  3. Anonymous

    How is this really helping with the type of pass rates we are seeing?

    1. Leonard Sengere

      I don’t think the computers have gotten any meaningful use yet. I’m also sure many teachers need training themselves to be able to utilise these computers and to teach kids how to.

      1. DockerZW

        “Yes, currently, we don’t officially have access to ChatGPT in Zimbabwe. That may or may not change in the near future but we do have access to the Edge browser which will be somewhat powered by ChatGPT”
        Access is now available to Zim since 11 Feb but only the ChatGPT Plus

  4. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    These are positive developments.

    But, how come we still have students learning in mud huts, sitting on mud benches and writing on mud tables?

    They are already relegated to a different league and will also never benefit from these schemes as their mud computer lab has no security at all.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      That’s the problem with this all. When we look at the school system as a whole, there is still a lot that needs to be done, and quick. We are definitely falling short of ‘leaving no one behind.’
      When calculating the cost of computerising schools we should account for electricity (solar if the grid is not yet available in some areas), training for teachers and the one you brought up, buildings and chairs and desks. Not every school will require all three.

  5. Tuop

    You are Right about one thing, crazy things do happen when its election season.. i have just been offered a 3 hector piece of land under the youth program which i don’t even know apparently moms yangu yakandinyoresa zita kumusangano kwawanoenda

    1. Leonard Sengere

      🤣🤣 Endai munorima Toup. I believe in you. I hear there is a ready market for Zimbabwean potatoes and peas. Election season is wild.

    2. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

      Mombe yekuronzera. If you know, you know.

      1. Leonard Sengere

        They will take that land back even with your crops on it as soon as it’s expedient.

  6. Ted Farai Mandoreba

    The move should be learn with computers not Learn computers. And it should be everyones responsibility to give back to their schools that educated them. I have developed a website for my primary school and i am working with my grade 1 teacher to develop a learning platform for my primary school. For free. They educated me and now its my responsibility to give back to my former school. Everyone sholud mets do it Zimbabwe. Give back to your former schools.

    1. Anonymous

      We are unemployed and don’t even have money to give back to our parents and guardians who took care of us and sent us to school and paid for everything. We don’t just give back. What am I giving back for? I paid school fees to the school and I wouldn’t be surprised these headmasters just use the money for their own personal benefit. There’s a reason why school fees is paid. The school must develop through that instead of relying on donations. It makes this country look stupid

    2. Leonard Sengere

      We don’t like hearing this but it needs to be said. We may be in financial troubles but we can do something to give back to the community. It can be money and it could be our time and skills.

      1. Ted Farai Ted Mandoreba

        Exactly thats what i was saying. Its not money always. But skills also. I am surprised by anonymous.. in the developed countries they do that… they have comitties of former students and assist with whatever they can .. so that the school goes forward.

        and the first law about being successful is : you must learn to save…. if you save you will be able to give….its not a matter of being rich. Its principle then an art…. find a book called …. THE ART OF DELAYED PERSONAL GRATIFICATION…maybe you can learn anonymous

        1. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

          I understand where Anonymous is coming from. There’s a tendency that the more “third party” help that is provided, the less the official channels pull their weight.

          If you offer to paint classrooms, instead of that freeing up part of the school maintenance budget, for other important things, nothing changes.

          The Avondale Primary headmistress once mentioned that it’s incredible how many people try to apply for BEAM, yet eat bacon for breakfast.

          I’m all for helping out each other, as society, but not just to make it easier for others to wiggle out of their obligations and responsibilities.

          I commend the efforts of your teacher, but also give due credit to your parents or guardians. In my book, they educated you. Your teacher may have gone over and above too, which does deserve some thanks, but ultimately your parents did it without pay.

  7. Paul

    It’s plausible. In December last year, Mwenezi Post Office received 2 laptop deliveries from Ministry of ICT ( < 10 Original HP Pavilions) & POTRAZ (<= 10 Non Original Pavilions imported from China – later sent to another Post Office somewhere else) for the Rural CIC program.

    Remember that all CICs & most schools have access to free internet (from POTRAZ / LIQUIDS) as instructed by HE.

    I really wish elections were held after every 2 years