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How Zimbabwe’s ‘WhatsApp classrooms’ are helping pupils learn during the pandemic

30 June 2021 - 06:30 By Sharon Mazingaizo
Maxwell Chimedza teaches using WhatsApp at his home in Mbare, one of oldest townships in Harare.
Maxwell Chimedza teaches using WhatsApp at his home in Mbare, one of oldest townships in Harare.
Image: Sharon Mazingaizo

After finding out the challenges students were facing during the coronavirus pandemic, a young man from Zimbabwe started “WhatsApp Classrooms” to tutor pupils from home.

Maxwell Chimedza, 27, from Mbare, one of the oldest townships in Harare, started the WhatsApp classrooms for pupils who are sitting for Zimbabwe’s high school exams — the A-Levels. Chimedza is a top achiever, with 14 A-Level examination distinctions, but his family didn’t have the money to send him to university.

“As someone who could not get to university for lack of funds, I was confident I had the capacity and knowledge to help other students earn top grades in their examinations. I started the WhatsApp Classrooms in 2019, but it started gaining momentum in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

“At the moment I have a class of 45 WhatsApp students; I created class timetables and added audiovisual materials. At the same time I run mock tests and grade assignment,” said Chimedza.

WhatsApp is the most popular and affordable messaging app in Zimbabwe, with an estimated 5.2 million users. Zimbabwean schools spent the greater part of last year closed due to the pandemic, affecting the learning of millions of pupils. The country is facing a third wave and it has followed a phased approach to school closing and reopening.

“Tutoring the WhatsApp classrooms has its challenges. Some of the parents can’t afford to pay the tutorial fee. I charge US$10 per subject each month, and I need 25GB of monthly data to host a WhatsApp classroom. But because I am passionate about education and my previous students got a 100% pass rate, I will not stop even if I face challenges,” he said.

Zimbabwe has postponed schools’ reopening for the second term by two weeks, as it’s facing a fast-surging third wave of Covid-19.