The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted social class divisions in the society between those who have and those who do not have. The pandemic has further widened the gap between the developed Western and developing Third World countries. The debates surrounding COVID-19 vaccines revealed the evidence. Technologically, Africa has always been left behind and has been depending on Western innovations for years. This has exposed how Africa needs to develop itself as a continent.
In Zimbabwe, for instance, the pandemic weighed down the education sector. The increase in the number of COVID-19 infections as early as three months after the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic forced schools to close. In November 2019, the Zimbabwean government relaxed national lockdown measures which enabled schools to open and conduct lessons, while candidates write their ZIMSEC and Cambridge examinations. However, within a short time, the population of infected cases increased abruptly, and the country was forced into a nation lockdown once again.
The education sector was forced to adjust to the changing environment which led to the use of new media technologies in teaching and learning. This initiative gave school students new learning platforms, from radio lessons, google classrooms to WhatsApp group learning; these were innovations that schools introduced to curb further negative impact on the education system. However, in as much online learning can be applauded as an excellent motive, there is a need to understand the challenges that students and school teachers are facing. The pandemic revealed that the education systems in Third world countries were ill-prepared to handle the risk posed by the pandemic, including the adoption of online learning solutions.
The pandemic has exposed the need for the Third world governments to fund projects on developing Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in schools. It has further highlighted the social class division between those who can afford and those who cannot afford the expenses of online learning, especially the rural population. An investigation carried out regarding accessibility and affordability between those in the rural areas and those in the urban areas, and those in private school and those in government schools revealed serious challenges being faced by the less privileged population. Experts assessed online learning across these arguments regarding both students and teachers:
- Who can afford the costs of purchasing data or Wi-Fi regularly?
- Who own e-learning gadgets (laptops, smartphones, iPods, tablets, radios) to access lessons online?
- Who can use technology to access information?
- Who has access to network connectivity?
Most governments overlooked these issues. In the rural areas, in more cases, one per ten families may have access to smartphones but still requires the know-how of using the smartphone to access information on the email or google classroom. COVID-19 hit the developing countries unexpectedly, exposing the weaknesses deeply rooted in the developing education sectors. There is a need for a thorough assessment of strategies that can be implemented to accommodate every citizen.
The pandemic has highlighted the unending struggle for gender equity and empowerment. Girls seem to be affected severely by Covid-19 compared to boys. Unequal distribution of house chores leads to this discrepancy. As labelled by society, girls have to carry the burden of performing house chores as their “duty”. In most cases, it has proven difficult for most girls to juggle between online lessons and house chores. Most families overlook the fact that girls deserve an equal time of study as boys when there is a lockdown. The lockdown has raised alertness in early child marriages. Most small-scale enterprises have shut down, and families are finding it hard to make ends meet because of lockdown restrictions. This has not only promoted child marriages as families seek means of survival but also increased gender-based violence statistics. COVID-19 brought psychological effects on families who have to endure living together. In some families, violence has become an output source of anger and frustration.
COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the education sector to evaluate its scheme, plan and implement strategies for future use. The pandemic has proven the need for Third world countries, Africa in particular, to take a stand on technological innovations. The governments need to:
- Prioritize teaching general computer skills to both teachers and students
- Prioritizing the needs of the girl child
- Channel resources towards provision of ICT to underprivileged families, especially in the rural areas
- Offer incentives for Telecommunication companies to install network infrastructure in rural and peri-urban areas, to curb the future challenges of online learning.