The Minister of Information, Communication, and Technology, Princess Sikhanyiso’s efforts of providing free educational digital information to all emaSwati students is being shot down by some officials within her ministry and some individuals operating in the ICT space.
It has been reliably gathered that the minister initiated what should be a game-changer in the education sector in March 2020, soon after the country was hit by the Covid-19.
Independent News has confirmed that the National Digital Resource Project, under the Eswatini National Library Services (ENLS) in partnership with peoplesgroup.org.uk/EduSoft was supposed to be launched a couple of months after the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Independent News has learned that the pending launch of the virtual library was found to be a step in the right direction towards mitigating the effects of digital division while addressing the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The resource portal is supposed to be giving groups with poor access to technologies and the internet access to digital library resources.
It has emerged that the project stalled because nobody was rigorously pushing it to come into fruition more so because the minister was not physically available after taking a special leave from office. Minister Manqoba Khumalo was appointed to hold the fort, albeit on an acting basis. Independent News can confirm that the resource center is readily available and is currently operational. With just a click of a button on your computer, laptop, tablet, or cellphone, one is exposed to an astounding new world of accessing information free of charge.
Through its well-placed sources, this publication has been made to understand that there are some officials (names deliberately withheld for ethical reasons) who are opposed to this resource being offered for free. It is further understood that the officials want this project to come at a cost so that they can clandestinely benefit from it.
It is understood that Eswatini Communications Commission (ESCCOM) worked in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), Eswatini Post, and Telecommunications Corporation (EPTC) in ensuring the whitelisting of the resource portal leading it to be zero-rated by both MNT Eswatini and Eswatini Mobile. However, despite this effort to make it zero-rated, information received by this newspaper is that some individuals are still opposed to this service being offered for free hence the push that its public launch is sabotaged.
Further compounding the allegations of sabotaging this noble project by some individuals within the ministry and their cronies outside, they are now employing suspicious delaying tactics into the launch of the project. Independent News has established that the minister sanctioned the launch of the project almost four weeks ago through a press statement. “Her Royal Highness, Princess Sikhanyiso approved the launch of the project about three weeks ago. But surprisingly, that press statement has not been taken to the media so that the public could know about the official launch of the resource center which will benefit emaSwati free of charge,” a well-placed source said.
Another source said: “I do not know why the ministry officials are delaying publicizing this resource center because it will significantly improve the level of education in Eswatini. In my opinion, they want it to be kept secret and let the minister forget about it with the intention of ‘hijacking’ it into theirs so that they can eventually turn it into a money-generating project.”
This publication has seen the press statement that was understandably endorsed by the minister but is still kept under wraps and it is understood that those who were tasked to publicize the project are giving silly excuses – the ministry does not have money to place the statement on the print media.
Acting Director of National Libraries, Lindiwe Khumalo confirmed that the resource portal is indeed up and running. She was quick to shy away from the detailing the reasons why it is not made public. “Yes it is up and running but cannot be used because the Minister has not yet launched it, reportedly through a press release,” Khumalo explained briefly.
Maxwell Masuku, ICT Ministry’s Principal Secretary could not be reached to comment on the matter as his phone rang without being answered from Wednesday till Thursday when this story was compiled. He was telephoned more than four time on each of the two day.
In the press statement, the minister said: “The Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology is pleased to announce the official launch of Eswatini National Digital Resource Project, under the Eswatini National Library Services (ENLS) and in partnership with peoplesgroup.org.uk/Edu Soft.”
She went on to say that the ICT ministry has made noteworthy progress in providing the nation with access to free digital information and education resources. According to the minister’s statement, in its first phase, this project brings digital resources and training to all chiefdoms in the country. “The implementation of the National Digital Resource Centre aims to bridge the gap between ICT, education, and library service,” she said.
According to the minister, citizens can access this information center at www.library.snls.org.sz at zero cost of data or airtime. The platform comprises digital classrooms, books, publications, research papers, a music library, and a video library. The digital library is the first of its kind in the country. It offers users overall education and entertainment services.
Browsing this center, one noted that the facility boasts of a greater range of content far beyond anything available in the physical libraries. There are numerous services available to the public including, amongst others, advanced digital classrooms, over 200 000 books, and publications, and a music library; all providing superior educational and entertaining resources for users.
There are 17 complete digital classrooms, covering Geography, French, History, Code (Web technology programming), Economics, Cosmology and Astronomy, English Grammar/Language, Literature, Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Art, Healthcare and medicine, with each containing hundreds of video lessons along with self-placed exercises and revision materials.
The Public Library Section has an extensive Children’s Section which includes the full original versions of popular classics as well as some very rare African books including Swazi tales. There is a Reference Library Section containing extensive resources to help one learn new skills or study subject matter in depth.
|Questions that begs for answers concerning the project
When was the initiative started and what motivated it?
Is it right to say that the Digital Resource Library was born as part of the One Laptop-per Child drive initiated by HRH Princess Sikhanyiso?
Why is the National Library only officially launching it now?
How will it actually work in the long run?
Has there been any resistance to the project?
Who helped make this a reality?
What would be needed to increase the effectiveness of the programme?