Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has launched a digital library programme that will enable pupils to access books online as part of a key strategy of ensuring continuity during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

The digital platform known as Odilo Digital Library, which will allow pupils to borrow virtual books, will be accessed through a link on the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education website.

Odilo is the leading ecosystem for unlimited and collaborative learning and it is considered by many as the “Netflix for Education” as it offers a Netflix-styled and highly engaging digital library experience.

It also offers a virtual book club and infinite learning possibilities with access to over 2 million digital titles from over 5 000 publishers.

In an interview, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela, said the introduction of Odilo digital library is part of an alternative strategy to ensure continuity in education.

“We have just introduced Odilo digital library, an online library which is going to be done through our website. We want to make sure that children can actually borrow books online and continue reading,” she said.

“However, our major challenge is the limitation in terms of the online reach for those children who don’t have access to connectivity, especially in the rural areas.”

Mrs Thabela said the ministry is working on ensuring that school libraries, especially in the remote rural areas are well stocked.

“We have noted that during this time when Covid-19 has forced us to close schools all our resources remain in the physical school.

“What we have been highlighting is the issue of having well stocked libraries, especially in schools in rural centres where a majority of children are not benefiting,” she said.

“We also have, through some of our partners, modules and textbooks that we are actually delivering especially in the remote rural schools where radio programme is inaccessible.”

Mrs Thabela said her ministry is in the process of strengthening schools across the country in terms of equipping them with learning materials as well as assessing their state of preparedness ahead of reopening, which will be done in phases.

“What is important is that education should continue through other alternative strategies like radio, internet and WhatsApp platforms so that children don’t lose whatever they had gained. We are aware that this online thing is likely to advantage only a few, but now we have to strengthen our strategies and we are working partners to address those challenges in rural and remote schools where the libraries for hard copies will be equipped as well as having internet connectivity,” she said.

Mrs Thabela said her ministry will utilise the lockdown period to lobby for more resources to cater for rural schools.

“When we return to school, we will assess our children and make sure we bridge the gap. We also have schools that are offering online teaching, especially in the private area and we are saying bring your product and we evaluate it,” she said.

“If we evaluate it and find that it is edifying and good for the children, we can then certify that you can actually offer that as an alternative schooling and obviously after that it could be possible to then propose how much expense you need to cover that. This is still open for discussion, but it would have to be a different regime all together.”

Last month Government deferred the re-opening of schools to a later date from the initial 28 July citing the rising number of local transmissions.

Mrs Thabela said they were monitoring the Covid-19 pandemic trends in the country ahead of reopening of schools, which will be done in a phased approach. – @mashnets.