“Unqualified” Zimbabwean teacher created a top tutoring academy on WhatsApp

Maxwell Chimedza is an “unqualified” teacher from Zimbabwe. While he doesn’t have a formal degree, Chimedza uses his cellphone to tutor students. “Honestly, I don’t know how to operate a computer. I’m a WhatsApp exam-refiner,” said Maxwell Chimedza. The tool of his trade is a Samsung Galaxy A10S cellphone with a modest 32GB of storage.

Chimedza operates from Mbare, which is the oldest township in the capital Harare, and one of the country’s poorest. “I’ll be clear,” he said, “I’m an unqualified teacher.” 

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Chimedza received 14 A-Level examination distinctions in 2012, but his family didn’t have the money to send him to university. He then began his WhatsApp “student-polishing” endeavors in 2019. He created WhatsApp class timetables and added audiovisual material for students in WhatsApp classrooms where he runs mock tests and grades their assignments. 

It’s very easy to set up a WhatsApp group for your students. First you open the app and go to the Chats screen and tap the New Group button at the top. Next, you add the group participants by selecting or typing the name of the contact. Then you add an icon for the group by tapping on the empty photo box. Finally, add a name for the group and tap Create.

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When the Covid-19 pandemic caused schools to close in Zimbabwe, it increased the demand for Chimedza’s WhatsApp classrooms.

In 2021, Chimedza captured attention locally after his class of 64 WhatsApp students obtained 41 A-grade marks. This allegedly placed them in the same league with students from Zimbabwe’s expensive elite boarding schools. 

Chimedza’s skills are reserved for the “last-mile” preparation of students. “Three months before exams, I can polish a student to get A-mark distinctions,” he said

Chimedza said he’d like Zimbabwe’s government to incorporate WhatsApp school curriculums to broaden the legacy education framework. 

Josiphat Gwezhira, research secretary for the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, has disagreed. “Even in Zimbabwe’s cities, zones exist where WhatsApp signals are very difficult,” said Gwezhira.

As a unionist, Gwezhira encounters teachers who can’t afford WhatsApp data bundles, and believes WhatsApp lessons can only make sense if internet reach is extended. “I teach 80 A-level students in the city,” he said. 

“Half of them don’t have cellular phones. Those that have mobile phones are not regularly online unless they have a benefactor.”

Zimbabwe’s mobile internet is quite expensive compared with many sub-Saharan African countries, but WhatsApp-specific bundles are fairly affordable. Chimedza needed roughly 25GB of monthly data (which costs $40) to host a WhatsApp classroom.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay