ZIMBABWE is said to be highly rated in terms of literacy and education, but three events that recently occurred at the University of Zimbabwe threw into question the efficacy and completeness of our educational output. I am only using the University of Zimbabwe as an example.
The first alarming event was that the University administration (DACS) recently proposed a knocked down, unbalanced and bare survival meal plan because of financial challenges. Crisis is when the highest institution of learning can’t find solutions to rudimentary challenges like feeding itself. How do we expect our graduates to come up with national solutions if they can’t develop local ones? Imagine that our mission schools back then mastered the art of near self-sufficiency many years ago and they didn’t have professors or specialists in their employ. They did the very basic.
Just a few years back, the Japanese also had to solve a water crisis and add pumping capacity at a university with final year engineering students and professors. The second disturbing event was when the university lecturers declared incapacity to continue reporting for duty due to economic realities and financial challenges. If the university has no ecosystem that attracts paid research, corporate sponsorship, value-creation collaboration and donations, it means it has no sequential and simultaneous attraction to industry, government and non-State actors. What needs to change to be relevant to stakeholders? Some universities have entire faculties adopted by commerce and lecturers fully sponsored.
During my study at a joint MIT and IMD programme, most professors had prefixes like Daimler Chrysler Professor of Innovation and so forth. Faculty building had names like Nestle Centre and so forth. Books and lecture notes were branded. Equipment, teas and lunches had sponsors. Why is it our corporate world is not seeing value in our tertiary education? The third challenge was violence in the preparation and conduct of student executive committee elections, reportedly sponsored by third forces. If students at the highest institute of learning are externally sponsored to cause chaos and buy votes, what future holds our national elections? I then questioned a few issues or events hereunder and hope to proffer my own view of the solution matrix in my next weeks’ op-ed. Those who visited or studied at the university in the late nineties would be familiar with the pungent smell that often greeted anyone on entry to some halls of residence.
The halls had broken cisterns, unflushed toilets, and broken windows, blocked shower rooms, leaking water pipes, doors without handles, naked electrical cables and dirty walls. These halls often had final-year engineering students who could not find it necessary to do a DIY.
Some students would defecate in shower rooms and litter with reckless abandon. It bothers how these educated people have no sense of responsibility to their own living environment. Is it possible for them to be responsible for even a wider calling like taking care of their cities, villages and the nation?
This lack of a sense of care or belief that it is a government or politician problem manifests in how, as an example, residents of Harare treat their streets, bills, water bodies, wetlands, parks, lawns, alleyways and so forth. Why does our education not make us not care? Our revered academics, intellectual, thought leaders, subject matter experts who can propel and ventilate ideas to solve national challenges in the economy and society do not partake, are apprehensive and have general apathy in contributing in the political field. The country is often placed in the hands of those without ideas, but are great at chanting party slogans. Why do we have apprehensive and cowards as our educational system output? The few “educated” who dare participate are not equally voted for by the so-called educated nationals. Our councils, Parliament and Senate often end being lorded over by a pool of individuals with limited skills, knowledge and abilities required to deliver a remarkable standard of living to the people. Why is it that our education system promotes a country to be led by mediocrity and often complete failures? The sense of patriotism of our educational output seems really low and at times non-existent. We seem to be a “ nation” that still relies on archaic loyalties. It often gets to loyalty and totems.
Our educated people never willingly give back to society. It manifests in evasion of tax and municipal bills from village up to national contributions. Most of our engineers, agriculture experts, water management “gurus” and so forth have not contributed that expertise at even their village level. It bothers me why our education teaches us to rely on government and donors?
In fact, with the education we pollute the land, water and air, openly defecate, litter streets, hunt endangered species, randomly cut down trees, and fail to contribute in taking care of the elderly and the orphans and so many other vices. I would like to compare us with the children, as in real young school-going kids, of Israel. On their Independence Day they recite what each and every one of them has done to uplift the nation of Israel or uplift human spirit. All children would have done something like planting trees, painting a school, feeding old people and so forth.
We do often do nothing for our nation despite feigning our education credentials. What should be done to ensure a sense of patriotism? A university should be a centre of research and an ideas factory. It must demonstrate value innovation and be at the forefront of the commercialisation of the ideas loop. It should provide energy in the production of new products, services and solutions. It will be a miracle if for the past 40 years we have more than 20 inventions from our higher education institutions combined. I mean inventions registered with Intellectual Property offices. I wonder what should be done to foster a culture of innovation and building local solutions? We produce great employees and very few entrepreneurs, despite this fancied education 5.0 and innovation hubs that are being driven. Since the 1980s we have had most of our educated people inheriting old brands, old industries and at times old processes. In most instances, the inherited companies are on life support. As an example we had great banker employees working for world banking brands and we thought of them as leading lights. The “bankers” established their own banks, then people’s money disappeared, there were glaring corporate governance deficits, liquidity constraints and eventual collapse. Most of the indigenous banks collapsed despite the same bankers having a past of being stars as employees in international banks. The same applies to myriad industries. Why does our education produce people who perform wonders when they have payslips and fail when they have to get dividends?
The tertiary education outsiders are often the majority of our millionaires and our education outputs are struggling in a desire for payslips. The street millionaires seem to have mastered emphasis on creativity, collaboration and critical thinking than our system that seems to emphasise on stability. I think we are producing neurotics who memorise and regurgitate old theories rather than learn. In the faculty of commerce, one can easily pass by studying lecture notes of even a decade ago. And I must add that not so many graduates can pass an exam they wrote a decade ago without re-study. If one cannot re-write and pass an exam he wrote a decade ago, I doubt learning ever occurred. What exactly should be done to ensure we are actually learning? I have always thought universities should contribute in reinvention, ideation and innovation. Why is it that we are not producing absolute truths, but teaching students relevant things? We are repeating the same decade-old truths to students yet that, unfortunately, is now so widely and easily available. What is lacking is application of the knowledge and seeking new truths. Are we not risking being foisted other country truths yet it is ideal to obtain new truths ourselves. I opine that there is possibly a need to reinvent and remodel our tertiary education curriculum even further than the high-sounding education 5.0 the President recently launched. This often peddled issue of being the most educated nation is possibly a fallacy because education should come with being productive and civilised. The country faces new challenges and offers new opportunities, yet this post-1980 generation relies on adult knowledge, old models, old experiences and wisdom which is now of doubtful value and often irrelevant for solving modern challenges. There is a tendency to hold on to stability, identity and world view.
Brian Sedze is strategy consultant and president of Free Enterprise Initiative. Free Enterprise Initiative advocates for less government, free enterprise, fiscal and public policy. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org