Is our education system right?

Guest column: Bothwell Riside

Zimbabwe boasts of an education system that has produced very high literacy levels and respectable academics in Africa. The country has also witnessed huge strides in the construction of schools since independence.

The coming in of the upper tops, the Zintec fast-track teacher training programme, increased number of polytechnics, vocational training colleges and ballooning number of both State and private players offering primary, secondary and tertiary education is testimony of government’s seriousness in education.

Another achievement was the separation of the ministry responsible for education into two with one dealing with higher education and the other focusing on primary and secondary education.

With its population of around 14 million, Zimbabwe has a university in almost every province with Harare topping the list having five universities out of the overall 19. It seems geographical distances are no longer a major deterrent factor in the offering of tertiary education in general and university education precisely. Almost every university is trying to have a campus in every province, Harare being the prime target in terms of priorities. Zimbabwe affords Advanced Level students graduates a chance to proceed to university, while Ordinary Level graduates go to diploma-offering institutions, of course with an opportunity of proceeding for a degree after diploma completion. Thus, polytechnics, agricultural, teachers training, private and vocational training colleges are almost everywhere to make sure that every child requiring tertiary education finds it. Institutions, which have increased phenomenally, are looking for students rather than students looking for them. The scramble for university places is now a thing of the past considering that the University of Zimbabwe was the only university available in the country before and soon after independence.

In terms of primary and secondary education, the government has since independence been in a whirlwind crusade to build schools with the enrolment rising every year, according to educationists. Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe’s chain of degrees, eloquence and ability to speak well in international platforms significantly contributed in making our education an envy to many countries.
Outputs versus outcomes

The education system in our country seems to be, however, concentrating on outputs instead of outcomes. The primary schools are busy competing to score the highest number of candidates with five units and the percentage pass rate a school would have achieved. Every school is now fighting for five units as if those with 10 units or 15 would have failed. Secondary schools, whether individually-owned or private schools, government and mission-owned are joining the bandwagon. Getting a chain of A’s at Ordinary-Level or 15 or 20 points at Advanced-level is being celebrated as a major achievement. Are we not taking shortcuts, forcing the child to parrot what he or she doesn’t understand then make him or her get those five units, or those As? I remember when I was at school, I could sing how sulphuric acid is manufactured, but given all the ingredients, I would never manufacture even a drop. Aren’t we depriving our children of doing sporting and cultural activities by forcing them to produce the results? Are these children critical thinkers or they are just spoon-fed people who rehearse for an examination and then produce those good results? I sometimes also blame our universities for putting thresholds on the number of points needed for one to enrol for a course. Passion, diligence, honesty and integrity aren’t part of the required attributes by our universities. Some children may have passion for engineering and end up not taking it because the universities are looking for a certain number of points. Foreign universities, although unaffordable, welcome them. Do points at A Level determine ability and intelligence? Our universities, year in and out, are busy producing thousands of graduates, some with distinctions who later become expert job seekers. A country of educated people should never have unemployed people. We need innovators and inventors in our education system. The practical skills must dominate our education system. I wonder how many A Levels are needed for one to manufacture a car? Zimbabwe is spending millions of dollars importing cars annually and can we not invest in manufacturing not assembling other people’s cars?

Need for a holistic education

The 1999 Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Education that later got known as the Nziramasanga Commission alluded to the need for holistic education. The philosophy has never been taken seriously. It is only in trust schools that this holistic education is conspicuously being encouraged. Most of our institutions are busy chasing the academic excellence.

While academics play an important role, the overemphasis and concentration on this has become symptomatic in the parents and pupils themselves. An academically gifted mannerless social misfit is a menace even at a place of employment. Zimbabweans need vigorous education on this. A parent who goes for consultation at a school has no time to scrutinise his or her child’s talent. Parents head straight to classes and ask for exercise books, then head back home.

The children may be good at music, building, dancing or drawing, but as parents we seem interested in academics more. Parents are so obsessed with white collar-oriented education. Recently Zimbabwe had a national hero musician who started from humble beginnings. I wonder where the late Oliver Mtukudzi could have had gone if he had been exposed to music from a tender age up to university.

Was colonial education very bad.

I have always been analysing Zimbabwe’s post-colonial education system versus the colonial education of having F2 and F1 schools and thought this was politically condemned without enough research. While the implementation could have had a racial undertone, the idea was noble. Today most entrepreneurs we have are products of the F2 schools. Why do we force our children to do what they do not want? Why do we take them for extra lessons to further force the child to know or regurgitate information instead of discovering talent at a tender age and work towards it? We could be having schools that concentrate on a certain talent. USA children’s talents come into limelight at a tender age, and that’s why they even offer scholarships to talented African students. Why can’t we have a school of computers, robotics, mechanics, arts, drawing, painting from primary school to university?

Other aspects lacking in our education are values and ethics. These educational outcomes are instilled at a tender age.

When we talk of values and ethics we speak about the emphasis on behaviour and how we carry ourselves. The over-concentration on academics is failing to mould a child who is courteous, confident, honest, respectful, polite, empathetic and sympathetic. The increase in corruption, hate, violence, lack of respect is a result of a system that has emphasised much on mathematics than behaviour.

Have you ever been to public institutions and genuinely asked for something and answered in a rude manner? It’s a sign of a system that doesn’t place values at par with academics, hence, we will have a corrupt government that has a corrupt law enforcement agency within a corrupt general populace. Sadly, corruption would be a cancer that devours on the straight forward members of society.

Why are outside institutions finding a market in Zimbabwe

Despite the number of universities in our country, foreign universities are making money by taking students from our country. Some of them would have had mediocre passes, but end up excelling at jobs and get employed back in the country that rejected them.

Today, Cambridge University is becoming more popular and educational researchers need to check on why is it gaining momentum in a country like Zimbabwe. Are we not nationalising our curriculum to the extent that beyond the borders a child appears less educated? Is Cambridge not looking at areas like application, critical thinking rather than ability to regurgitate notes. Education is a dynamic sector which must adopt and adapt to the modern trends. I find it appalling that the recommendations by the Nziramasanga Commission are being implemented now instead of reviewing them.

This computer generation needs a biennial review of the educational curriculum just as what Cambridge is doing. Our children are appearing more advanced than us, hence the education system must be ahead. Programming, robotics, inventions must be started at primary level on a small scale. Our education system must not be reactive, but proactive. It’s embarrassing that most teachers are not as computer literate at this age as they must be.
Education is the heartbeat of any nation. It should be treated as a security threat to provide mediocre education that can result in a generational curse. We don’t want job-seekers, we want job creators.

This computer generation needs a biennial review of the educational curriculum just as what Cambridge is doing. Our children are appearing more advanced than us, hence the education system must be ahead. Programming, robotics, inventions must be started at primary level on a small scale. Our education system must not be reactive, but proactive. It’s embarrassing that most teachers are not as computer literate at this age as they must be.

Education is the heartbeat of any nation. It should be treated as a security threat to provide mediocre education that can result in a generational curse. We don’t want job-seekers, we want job creators.

Bothwell Riside is a social commentator cum political analyst and writes in his personal capacity

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