Online learning a nightmare for marginalised female students
By Lubalethu Ndlovu.
Sibongile Ndlovu (20) from Southwold, a suburb in Bulawayo metropolitan province, is a second year student at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Sibongile says she is a victim of the digital divide, where some students are participating in online lectures while she is idle at home because she has no access to the internet.
The COVID-19 induced lockdown has derailed the learning environment at NUST with marginalised female students now contemplating to withdraw from their studies. Photo: Students Activists Alliance NUST
“I am on the verge of giving up on my career. The internet based learning which is the new normal way of learning is a barrier for me. I do not have access to the internet at home. Previously, I used go to town at the university library or the internet café to access online lectures. The lockdown has put a stop to that. Other students are busy learning online. I am completely in the dark as to what is happening at University,” says Sibongile.
Sibongile says besides the astronomical cost of data, she also has computer hardware problems. She says her mobile handset has challenges with connecting to mobile data.
“Buying sufficient data is out of the question because my parents do not have money to support that cost. When I manage to get money for internet, the data does not last much and I would have done nothing. My phone has challenges with connecting to the internet using mobile data,” says Sibongile.
Sibongile blames the University for failing to take into consideration the technical challenges that vulnerable students face.
“The University is not making any effort to ease the technical challenges we face as students. We cannot even access google classroom due to technical faults from their end. At times I spend more than an hour trying to log into the platform. By the time I manage to log in, the lecture would be over. I think deferring my studies is the best option right now,” says Sibongile.
Another student at NUST, Nokuthaba Sayi (22) who lives in Cowdray Park in Bulawayo metropolitan province says she has not been spared from challenges brought about by online learning. She says after spending many years in conventional lectures, she is finding it difficult to do online studies. Data and access to reliable computer hardware is a constant challenge. Nokuthaba says as a woman learning from home brings in more problems.
“Although I am in my final year at University, I feel that I am losing control. Online lectures are so frustrating. Our lecturers just schedule lessons any time they want. We are not consulted. The lecturers may just decide to have a lecture at 10 in the evening. At times they schedule a lecture but fail to run it because they also have data or computer hardware challenges,” says Nokuthaba.
The patriarchal society in Zimbabwe makes online studies particularly challenging for girls according to Nokuthaba.
“Everyone at home expects me to do the chores as long as I am at home. Whether I have a lecture or not, I am supposed to make sure that cooking and dishes are done. It is very difficult to concentrate and manage my time at home. This forces me to stay up at night and study when all chores have been completed,” says Nokuthaba.
Nokuthaba says with examinations approaching in March 2021, she is concerned. She says she received a lot of reading materials online but did not have time to study the notes.
“We have examinations approaching soon. The dates have not been confirmed but some lecturers do not even attend lectures. They just dump reading material on us and then give us due dates for assignments. There is no formal education at all. Trying to understand concepts online is strenuous,” says Nokuthaba.
Victor Shumba (40) a Lecturer at Lupane State University says online learning is a strain especially for female students.
“Female students sometime fail to balance learning and household duties due to gender roles within the families. This affects their attendance and sadly most of them are left behind. They struggle to catch up with the male students who are always punctual for lectures,” says Victor.
Victor says the costs of online learning affects women disproportionately because of their limited access to resources.
“Female learners lament the high cost of data. This limits their full participation in online learning,” says Victor.
Pride Tshuma (38) is a lecturer at one of the tertiary institutions in Bulawayo metropolitan province. He says access to resources in the biggest constrain in online learning.
“The main challenge is resources. Both lecturers and students have no data for effective online learning. This limits participation and at the end of the day we are forced to dump stuff on google class then try to explain to students via WhatsApp which is a challenge as well,” says Pride.
Pride says what is currently going on is not online learning.
“There is no online learning taking place now. The University simply instructed us to conduct online lessons without availing resources. There is no sufficient interaction between the lecturer and the student. Occasionally when I have data I may chat with some students online but not all of them,” says Pride.
The advent of online learning is creating serious challenges for women like Sibongile and Nokuthaba. Their role at home, the financial demands of online learning and access to information and communication technologies may force some women and girls to drop out from tertiary education.
This article was written as part of the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) project that seeks to strengthen the voices of women and girls, especially under the grim impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). CCCD has used the WhatsApp mobile application to train women and girls so that they express their voices on what is happening in their communities