Toni Monteiro, LUV’s CTO, recently returned from a three-week trip to Southern Africa where he met with Zimbabwe’s Secretary of Education, as well as with forward-thinking school leaders whose schools are joining Level Up Village’s rapidly expanding global network.
By Toni Monteiro, CTO for Level Up Village
During my recent trip to Zimbabwe, the country of my birth, I drove through the Bvumba Mountains, a remote region south of Mutare along the Mozambique border to visit my former school.
While there, I met Newton, a teacher at Gwidza Secondary School outside of Rusape. He told me that at his school, there is just one laptop for nine teachers and 190 students. The kids have no access to any technology. The connection to the internet is very poor and sometimes it is down for a week at a time.
His answer somehow did not surprise me and reflects the situation of the vast majority of schools in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, like most countries with a post-colonial history, has a complicated past that still has an influence on society today. Nonetheless, it is the country’s young people who are at the center of Zimbabwe’s future. They will decide how Zimbabwe navigates today’s technology-driven world. This generation of students is demanding the 21st century tools, skills and education – and ultimately the jobs of the future. But it’s not clear whether the country’s economy will be able to adapt and absorb workers with these new skills. If it does not, the best and brightest will find employment elsewhere.
For many years, Zimbabwe has had one of the leading education systems in Africa. Zimbabweans are proud of their education system and take it very seriously. While driving around the country, I saw schools of all sorts. Religious institutions are leading the way in establishing and running schools in the most rural of regions in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. It is also impressive to see the commitment of parents to educate their children. It is very common in the early morning to see groups of kids walking five to 10 km along the sides of major roads to get to school. The roots of this passion come from when they were children in the 70’s and the country had a poor school attendance rate.
The education system today is divided in many different ways: urban schools vs rural schools, the haves vs. the have-nots, forward-thinking faculty vs. those who maintain the status quo, and technology-rich vs. technology-poor. Access to laptops and tablets (locally referred to as “gadgets”) in the classroom is limited. While some schools have an obligatory Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy and others have computer labs for students to use, access to the internet is still limited on campus and many schools are now seriously thinking about improving their infrastructure.
During my trip, I met with headmasters, teachers and students at several schools and introduced them to the concepts of Global Education and, specifically, how Level Up Village empowers this concept. I also trained them to use the mobile-friendly global communication platform I developed for Level Up Village. Very few of these kids had spoken to people outside of their immediate community previously, but when they first watched video letters from students in other countries, their eyes lit up and they soon realized they had much in common and shared similar aspirations.
Leadership in education comes in many forms, but what is consistent in Zimbabwe is the deep understanding that the future of the country depends upon it. In many ways, Zimbabwe and its schools line up with the overall objectives of Level Up Village and the partners we’re looking for. Indeed, I was very fortunate to meet a few individuals leading the charge for pushing advancements in Zimbabwean education.
One such leader, the Headmaster at Tynwald Primary School Sevias Mujere explained to me his core belief: “I have always believed my major task here is to prepare an international citizen – a child who is able to compete with everyone, from everywhere, for everything. Using Level Up Village to be able to share fun and knowledge with their partners in the USA is what education should be all about.”
In another conversation, Caxton Mukasvanga, Headmaster at Anderson Adventist High School, told me, “Technology which has made life easier for mankind in many areas is undoubtedly making education a lot easier for the present and future generations. ”
While meeting with Secretary of Education Dr. Utete-Masango, she made it clear that some of the guiding principles of the government’s new education curriculum include the hallmarks of 21st Century Education: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity. The department is looking to implement a communications network (mainly via satellite) that will connect all the schools in the country.
While there is more work to do in Zimbabwe, there is comfort in knowing that there are leaders on the ground that are doing what they can to take advantage of technology and programs, including those offered by Level Up Village, to elevate education in Zimbabwe and provide its students with greater access to the world beyond. I want to thank some of those leaders, including the team at eLearning – Itai Masimirembwa, Isaac Chafera, Lawrence Mwerenga and Ronald Nyamukuwa – for making this trip possible and providing invaluable help and support. The team at Level Up Village looks forward to working together with these forward-thinking educators and others to help move Zimbabwe schools into the future.