Government has made a breakthrough in its negotiations with mobile network operators who have agreed to provide free access to online learning platforms for university students.
Econet, the largest mobile network service provider by market share and its subsidiary Liquid Telecommunications, have acceded to a Government request to assist institutions in their blended learning approach.
There had been concerns by student unions that remote learning was going to be out of reach for most students with normal data charges.
In a recent letter to Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Permanent Secretary Professor Fanuel Tagwira, Liquid Telecommunications said they were ready to immediately begin providing subsidized service to students and lecturers.
“Students will be able to access free and fast Wifi installed at all Edu-zones found in institutions across the country,” said Liquid Telecommunications in the letter.
Forty-eight public and private universities, colleges have this facility.
“All university websites will be accessed zero rated and we have requested your IT department that it compiles a list of these sites so that the function is effected,” Liquid Telecommunications said.
This means connection to university websites, which will act as the source platform for online learning will be free of charge.
There also will be discounted home internet for students and lecturers who are Econet and Liquid subscribers.
In an interview, Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira confirmed the development.
“We have been engaging with telecommunication companies seeking partnerships of this nature,” he said. “This is a result of our good relations as a ministry with stakeholders.”
As universities start on-line learning today, the undertaking becomes a shot in the arm for Government as it allows inclusive implementation of blended learning which will see the majority learning off campus.
“We do not want to leave anyone behind,” Professor Murwira said.
“We want to make sure everyone has access to content which our universities have been expeditiously compiling.
“Colleges have given feedback, they are ready to continue with their semester and we expect more mobile network players to come on board.”
The Herald understands that the ministry is in conversation with TelOne and NetOne over a similar facility on their networks.