The Zimbabwean Perspective

A look at our lives and the tech we use in them

Editorial Education Tech

So let’s talk about e-Learning bundles for a minute.

They seem good, but that’s because everything else is so bad…

You did good boys, but you could do better.
Last week Telecel finally released it’s Funda E-Learning bundles, completing the trifecta of all three mobile network providers offering cheaper internet bundles aimed at students. It’s an admirable move, one which joins two other from both Econet and NetOne and at least on paper, it solves the problem of students that need internet access during this pandemic. But well, does it? In fact , just how effective are these bundles in helping students during this pandemic and potentially afterwards? Well, we decided to take a look.
We can thank Econet for starting this( and in this case that’s a good thing)
Now E-Learning bundles were first introduced by Econet , after we had interestingly enough just published an article criticizing how those bundles were an exclusive arrangement the company had with Africa University. These pretty much set the standard by which NetOne and Telecel followed where the bundles are only available for purchase through educational institutions, who have to approach any of these network providers first, provide a list of students or just work out the specifics of a deal, then buy the airtime bundles in bulk in order to distribute them among students. Again, the initiative as a whole is admirable, and we reckon it’s already helped quite a number of students stay at the very least capable of keeping up with their schoolwork. In fact for most people, single user use for these bundles, with only one or two devices seems more than enough for the average university student, with maybe only people like me, Computer Science and other ICT students, feeling they aren’t enough because an SDK download is already over a GB in size, and you might have to do more than one. With prices ranging from ZWL $150 for 9GB on NetOne, to a maximum of $350 for 20GB on Econet, the bundles also live up to the promise of being cheaper in the current atmosphere of things, though they’re certainly not cheap. But at least they reach they’re designated goal and are still a relief for any student.
10GB(9GB For NetOne)ZW$200*ZW$150ZW$170
So why do these bundles need any scrutinization at all if they’re seemingly so great to begin with? Well, because these bundles look great in a vacuum, but don’t exist in one, unless of course you consider the life-sucking effect Zimbabwe has on people to be the vacuum. Let’s start with the procurement of these bundles. All of them are based on a bulk-buying approach from universities or educational institutions , with students having to then buy those bundles from their universities, or provide their funds and details in advance when said institution is buying the bundles. And the reasons for this are pretty clear. From a technical standpoint, it stops Econet, NetOne or Telecel from building any sort of a database that clears specifically student numbers (e.g. all UZ students using a Telecel line for example) , in order for only those lines to be able to buy said bundles. By not creating such a system they also prevent it’s abuse, even though in  the long run such an approach would likely be more beneficial and convenient for said students. The second big reason is more based on the economics behind this. The wholesale/ bulk buying approach allows network providers to basically make wholesaler type profits with this approach as well, which likely aren’t much considering the price of these bundles compared to other data services, but they likely allow these companies to make a little more money, and there’s no way they’ll say no to that. They also allow them to make even more money through simply because of the business model not being the most consumer friendly. Of course every one who really needs to buy data on a budget will take this offer, but anyone who doesn’t want the hassle waiting for the university’s daily or weekly bundle purchase drop. Hence all these companies know they can still sell their Wi-Fi bundles , night bundles or even basic WhatsApp data bundles to sufficient amounts too. It all kind of lessens the shimmer of these bundles when you think about it that way, and to be honest it at the very least partially should. After all, the need for these would likely be less pronounced if all data prices became more regulated to stay more manageable (looking at you POTRAZ), but even if that’s not the case their implementation is still a little more complicated than it should be. As much as Telecel, Econet and NetOne clearing certain numbers for specialized bundles seems like a chore for most of us, it’s likely not as hard to implement as anyone might think. After all Telecel keeps a special batch of lines cleared for their Home Wi-Fi services, which can purchase those bundles while everyone else can’t. For universities to simply give a list of everyone who wants to sign up for e-Learning bundles , and these companies clearing those lines to buy the bundle seems like a more convenient approach, but we doubt it will be implemented especially with universities going back into phased operations. Which means the bundles we have now might pretty much be here to stay, and hopefully they don’t scale up in price like everything else is.

In the end we just have to look at these bundles as an imperfect solution I guess, one made that way both by our economic situation and these companies wanting to make a quick buck. They could use some improvements, and I for one would advocate for those (seriously stop making us go through third parties to buy these, that’s chaos waiting to happen), but for now they’re all we’ve got. If you’re using them, like a lot of students are, just pray they don’t go crazy in pricing soon, and if they do, well…be ready to complain. Because at that point they’ll go from a bearable product, to a bad one.

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