Unesco launches educational chatbot for alternative learning

Top Stories Zimbabwe

Cecilia Kamuputa

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Regional Office for Southern Africa (UnescoRosa), in conjunction with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) on Monday, November 23, 2020, launched an educational chatbot to supplement the limited alternative learning modes available.

This follows the closure of schools in March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

In her remarks, UnescoRosa Regional Advisor Dr. Patricia Machawira, said 2020 has been an unusual year, with all schools, for the first time in living memory, closing on the 24th of March.

“It became clear that while the lucky few were able to continue with their education via online lessons, for the majority of Zimbabweans, particularly those in the rural areas, learning stopped, and this disparity in education was a huge concern for us at Unesco and our partners at the Ministry,” said Dr Machawira.

She added that they were approached by Trueman Hama Mabombo, an 18-year-old lower sixth St. Georges College student, who requested a partnership in creating a WhatsApp chatbot that disseminates academic resources to students across Zimbabwe who cannot afford regular internet access for online learning.

The initiative, titled Dzidzo paDen/Dzidzo paMhatso/ Imfundwe’ndlini, will use WhatsApp for academic resources distribution, creating an automated WhatsApp chatbot that will allow students to access resources on the go.

“We were concerned that very few of our learners, those with access to online learning were able to continue with their education while the majority were struggling and we saw Trueman’s idea as a more affordable way to get resources to all young people,” added Dr Machawira.

“As Unesco, this was well aligned with our April 2020 joint statement with the Secretariat where we both agreed to work together that learning does not stop even as schools were closed.”

Speaking during the launch, Hama Mabombo said he was inspired to create Dzidzo paDen/Dzidzo paMhatso/ Imfundwe’ndlini by an image circulated on social media of a girl in a rural setting  holding two water containers with a caption reading ‘We are not against online learning but what about us?’

“That was when I realised that we had a problem because here I was, learning yet a lot of students out there were not able to get the resources they needed to continue with their education,” he added.

“So I started thinking of solutions, what could have been done and what we could do to make sure that the gap was filled, that is when I decided to use WhatsApp.”

According to research done by Unesco, of all the internet used in Zimbabwe, 98% is via mobile devices and half of all internet traffic in Zimbabwe goes to WhatsApp, making it the most popular app in Zimbabwe in 2017.

“From these facts, we have inferred that the WhatsApp chatbot has potential to reach at least 80% of the student population,” said Unesco Rosa in a report.

“This can be through their personal phone or parents or even siblings.”

Initially, the chatbot will cater for the current examination classes, Grade 7, Form 4 and Form 6 and for Forms 4 and 6, the most popular subjects have been selected for the initial phase, while more will be added in the future.

In the next development phase, the chatbot will include content for all levels and all learning areas.

Zimsec will provide past exam papers and marking schemes while the Amigo Educational Portal start-up, run by young Zimbabwean coders, will provide revision notes, study guides, textbooks and revision papers.

In his solidarity message, Zimsec Representative, Mr Nyandoro said they appreciated the use of their material on this platform and hoped to support it in the future.

“As Zimsec, our mandate is to assess and measure learners’ performance. This assessment can only be meaningful if the leaners or candidates have covered expected syllabus and covered the expected curriculum including preparing for examinations. This concept, Dzidzo paDen, embraces all this,” said Mr Nyandoro.

Speaking at the same event, John Dewa from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inadequacies in the Zimbabwean education system and this has necessitated the impetus for the Ministry to develop alternative modes of learning.

Hama, the brains behind the initiative, is currently studying Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English Language and is passionate about Agriculture, Electronics and Robotics, Social Entrepreneurship and impacting change in his community.

He is an alumnus of the Star Leadership Academy and hopes to become an influential leader in Zimbabwe.

.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Regional Office for Southern Africa (UnescoRosa), in conjunction with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) on Monday, November 23, 2020, launched an educational chatbot to supplement the limited alternative learning modes available.

This follows the closure of schools in March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

In her remarks, UnescoRosa Regional Advisor Dr. Patricia Machawira, said 2020 has been an unusual year, with all schools, for the first time in living memory, closing on the 24th of March.

“It became clear that while the lucky few were able to continue with their education via online lessons, for the majority of Zimbabweans, particularly those in the rural areas, learning stopped, and this disparity in education was a huge concern for us at Unesco and our partners at the Ministry,” said Dr Machawira.

She added that they were approached by Trueman Hama Mabombo, an 18-year-old lower sixth St. Georges College student, who requested a partnership in creating a WhatsApp chatbot that disseminates academic resources to students across Zimbabwe who cannot afford regular internet access for online learning.

The initiative, titled Dzidzo paDen/Dzidzo paMhatso/ Imfundwe’ndlini, will use WhatsApp for academic resources distribution, creating an automated WhatsApp chatbot that will allow students to access resources on the go.

“We were concerned that very few of our learners, those with access to online learning were able to continue with their education while the majority were struggling and we saw Trueman’s idea as a more affordable way to get resources to all young people,” added Dr Machawira.

“As Unesco, this was well aligned with our April 2020 joint statement with the Secretariat where we both agreed to work together that learning does not stop even as schools were closed.”

Speaking during the launch, Hama Mabombo said he was inspired to create Dzidzo paDen/Dzidzo paMhatso/ Imfundwe’ndlini by an image circulated on social media of a girl in a rural setting  holding two water containers with a caption reading ‘We are not against online learning but what about us?’

“That was when I realised that we had a problem because here I was, learning yet a lot of students out there were not able to get the resources they needed to continue with their education,” he added.

“So I started thinking of solutions, what could have been done and what we could do to make sure that the gap was filled, that is when I decided to use WhatsApp.”

According to research done by Unesco, of all the internet used in Zimbabwe, 98% is via mobile devices and half of all internet traffic in Zimbabwe goes to WhatsApp, making it the most popular app in Zimbabwe in 2017.

“From these facts, we have inferred that the WhatsApp chatbot has potential to reach at least 80% of the student population,” said Unesco Rosa in a report.

“This can be through their personal phone or parents or even siblings.”

Initially, the chatbot will cater for the current examination classes, Grade 7, Form 4 and Form 6 and for Forms 4 and 6, the most popular subjects have been selected for the initial phase, while more will be added in the future.

In the next development phase, the chatbot will include content for all levels and all learning areas.

Zimsec will provide past exam papers and marking schemes while the Amigo Educational Portal start-up, run by young Zimbabwean coders, will provide revision notes, study guides, textbooks and revision papers.

In his solidarity message, Zimsec Representative, Mr Nyandoro said they appreciated the use of their material on this platform and hoped to support it in the future.

“As Zimsec, our mandate is to assess and measure learners’ performance. This assessment can only be meaningful if the leaners or candidates have covered expected syllabus and covered the expected curriculum including preparing for examinations. This concept, Dzidzo paDen, embraces all this,” said Mr Nyandoro.

Speaking at the same event, John Dewa from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inadequacies in the Zimbabwean education system and this has necessitated the impetus for the Ministry to develop alternative modes of learning.

Hama, the brains behind the initiative, is currently studying Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English Language and is passionate about Agriculture, Electronics and Robotics, Social Entrepreneurship and impacting change in his community.

He is an alumnus of the Star Leadership Academy and hopes to become an influential leader in Zimbabwe.

.