By Harmony Agere
Form One boarding enrolment for 2017 is in chaos following Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Lazarus Dokora’s directive for parents to apply for places online only.
Parents and teachers say the decision has left them confused about their next step as some schools had already recruited students using Grade Seven results and entrance tests.
They described the new application system as a “last minute measure” which is complex and inaccessible to most parents, particularly those in rural areas.
Dr Dokora introduced the system, dubbed electronic Ministry Application Platform (eMAP), last week to curb corruption during the enrolment of Form One students.
“For those requiring boarding places, please note that there are only 24 000 boarding places. No parent or guardian should have unrealistic expectations for the placement of their dependent child into boarding school,” he said then.
“It is for this reason that all prospective boarding learners with a clearance letter from their last school will use the eMAP application system.”
Through this system, Dr Dokora said, parents will electronically apply for places to three schools of their choice with the replies expected within three days. He said the application process shall be conducted on December 16, 2016.
However, while the transition to e-enrolment has been applauded as progressive, stakeholders say the timing is causing unprecedented confusion.
“You get to wonder why Government is only making this announcement now that we are looking for places for our children,” said a parent who was last week turned away from a boarding school in Marondera.
“They had the whole year to make these changes and teach parents about it but they want to introduce it at a time when there is pressure and panic. What if the system fails?”
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president, Dr Takavafira Zhou said the ministry did not consult stakeholders before making the decision, thereby resulting in confusion.
“Time and again, we have said that the minister should consult before introducing some of these reforms so that everyone involved, from parents to teachers and even the pupils, can have an input,” he said.
“The ministry is earning itself a very bad reputation by doing things without consulting.
“The headmasters who run the school were not even consulted on this matter. ln fact, most of them are not even sure what they are supposed to do.”
As such, Dr Zhou said some defiant schools have gone ahead with the enrolment despite the Government directive.
“What is wrong with using the Grade Seven results, why should we be introducing new things every time?
“Actually, what the minister is trying to introduce has not been effected because some schools had already recruited through entrance tests.
“Some are going ahead with Grade Seven results.”
Parents’ representative, Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations secretary-general, Mr Everisto Jongwe said education should be inclusive and warned that the new recruitment system could be a disadvantage to those in rural areas.
“The motive is really good if you consider that we are in the information age where technology leads but we have to appreciate the fact that the environment we are operating in is not ready for that system,” he said.
“Maybe the ministry should have introduced this system gradually because to introduce it now when some parents had already paid money in entrance fees has just created confusion.”
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts doubt the ministry’s ability to run such a vast network. ICT expert, Chris Musodza says the access to internet in the country may not be sufficient for the new system to work effectively.
“I have concerns on the application process, especially considering the internet penetration rate in our country which is still at 51 percent according to the latest Potraz report,” he says.
“At least 98 percent of the total population using the internet in Zimbabwe are accessing it through their mobile phones, primarily using it to access WhatsApp and Facebook.
“I think the internet penetration needs to be around 80 percent for us to expect a smooth implementation of such an idea.
“Our internet also has to be geographically distributed across the country in a convincing manner because as things stand, the system favours those in urban areas.”
Nevertheless, Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister, Professor Paul Mavima defended the system saying it is high time the country fully adopts the e-learning system.
“This new application method will come to rationalise the whole Form One enrolment process. The situation had gone bad with some headmasters going as far as selling places to desperate parents,” he said.
Professor Mavima said the decision was arrived at after his ministry received complaints from parents who had been made to pay various amounts for their children to get places.
On accessibility, Prof Mavima said the system is accessible on smart-phones and is simple in that almost any literate person can operate it. He said for those who do not have access to computers and smart-phones, they can use information centres around the country.
Observers are nonetheless still afraid that thousands of pupils may be without places when schools open in 2017, thereby affecting classes.
While the introduction of e-enrolment and its ultimate full-scale adoption, though ambitious, is a commendable effort by Government, its major flaw in this instance has been the timing and how it was communicated to stakeholders.
Adopted on a smooth running scale, the advantages of e-learning can outweigh its disadvantages. For example, corruption, pressure at schools during enrolment days as well as expenses to parents and schools will be eliminated.
Research shows that in South Africa, e-Learning has done well in some instances and badly in remote areas. The Sunday Mail