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A student’s lament

None of us has ever been this old, neither will we keep on this young. It is vital to maximise the contribution of each irreplaceable moment of our lives to the best of our productive capacities.

Guest Column: Lemuel Bulawayo

None of us has ever been this old, neither will we keep on this young. It is vital to maximise the contribution of each irreplaceable moment of our lives to the best of our productive capacities. There is no better time to use our many hands, hearts and minds and greatly contribute to everyone’s notable achievements than when people are young.

Youth is a very important time in everyone’s existence. Dear Chancellor, and it is becoming increasingly popular for many youths to undertake college education. A good reason for this decision may be the desire to develop themselves for a career in specific fields in which they could possess both talent and passion.

Another may be that there is probably nothing worthwhile to engage in besides to flow with the current, just like dead fish and fill up places at institutions of higher learning. The urge is particularly high where students have decent Ordinary and Advanced Level certificates. Whatever the reason may be, it is a huge milestone in the world of academia to reach the stage where the brightest of minds collide.

It is the thrust of this article to bring to your attention, mainly to you dear Chancellor and all other relevant stakeholders in Zimbabwe’s tertiary education sector, of some of the struggles that students go through on a daily basis to make their paths clear for graduation and possibly open avenues for specialisation in their chosen areas of study. Large numbers of students enrol for programmes annually, but for most of them, if they ever complete these programmes, the finishing is poor.

We ought to understand here, that it is not because people lack the intelligence demanded at that level or that the infrastructure at our institutions are some of the poorest.

I believe that everyone is born both a winner, a leader and that at the commencement of anything, we are all the same. So surely, there must be underlying reasons why a lot of potential is lost at each transition along the educational pyramid. The question of whether or not the college degree is still relevant today is best resolved at an individual level as both the optimist and pessimist can be right — it all weighs around which of the two you would rather be!

Indeed, we are living in diverse and trying economic times where it is quite difficult to predict the future with certainty and accuracy.

We would all be failures, however, if we did not plan or at least have a pre-conceived idea of how things must be with respect to where they are. These challenges have not spared the students who strive both day and night to improve our national way of life, primarily through their participation and contribution in schemes of social, scientific, economic or cultural development.

Most of them, especially in the capital and surrounding areas, are from poorest neighbourhoods and must board at least two buses to and from college at exorbitant fares to be able to attend lectures or tutorials on time.

In order to cut costs on already squeezed budgets, some walk long distances or use cheap and at times even dangerous modes of transport to get to campus and back home daily. In recent times, the government has to be commended for its part in providing high quality public transport at very affordable prices. Yet, students themselves feel that a lot has to be done to improve their welfare. Shuttle service has proved to be highly efficient and convenient at some of the leading tertiary institutes and the University of Cape Town is no less a perfect example.

The provision of reasonable meals at affordable prices, in the same line of thought, could also be a benchmark in assuring that students are well fed. At present, it is disheartening to note that tertiary institutions only seem to care and cater for their workforce who they feed, transport and ultimately pay at the end of each month. Less regard is given to the students who always struggle, but somehow manage to pay them.

The wish is that some of the benefits accorded to staff members are also afforded to the learners as it is by the performance of these students that these institutions are measured. Many students fail to attend classes because they cannot contend with the high costs of food and transport available on campuses. So terrible is the situation, dear Chancellor, that many have found it less stressful to rent rooms in nearby suburbs at high rentals usually paid for in foreign currency. The high cost of accommodation makes it the preserve of the wealthy, yet most of the students are of little means as they have to grapple with walking long distances and spending entire days on empty stomachs.

These, among many other contributing factors, have effected and affected a great and intense educational migration to countries such as China, Cyprus, South Africa and Canada, among others. At this juncture, we are not going to expand on how that has negatively spiralled to the rest of the economy or how it has corroded a patriotism in a lot of qualified young Zimbabwean professionals abroad.

The evil is that these problems inspire negativities and non-constructive behaviours among students, which may be evidenced by behavioural changes and poor grades in the end.

Moreso, with reference to results from studies conducted by the late researcher Dr Emoto from Japan in experiments on frequencies, energies, and vibrations involving clean water crystals, it was noted that positivity or negativity, once engrained into mind-sets, can influence greatly the outcome of events and can be transmitted to other people as well. Emoto established that how we think and speak has a tremendous effect on us as well as on our respective environments-for-good and for bad.

Hence, it is of utmost importance to nurture learning environments that create positivity in all aspects and try to do away with negative thoughts and feelings. Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans and all who live in it. Therefore, the way we portray problems at any level taints the disposition of the international community comprising of students, diplomats and even potential investors who come into the country with a positive mentality.

Challenges affecting university and college students’ learning and post-learning avenues alike are also linked to a paucity of proper career guidance and orientation. Most of these students never understand exactly what they are committing to or exactly where these respective programmes would take them. Local experts never show up to at least motivate those that took the paths they traversed and show people exactly what it takes to reach such goals. This leaves an impression in students that it is upon them to break the ice.

A key problem is that no one ever talks about the things that are at the core of learning. Matters to do with money, careers, drugs, sex and even marriage are seldom talked about and always left to personal experience or the internet at best.

It is this silence which creates rifts between what students do versus what is expected of them. There are professionals in all these fields and I believe that it should be a part of companies’ corporate social responsibilities to inculcate in students what they are signing up for when they enrol for tertiary education.

Evidence of the void between expectation and reality is the outcry by employers that students are failing to meet job requirements. It is further enlarged by an increase in sexual gore which is rife at our tertiary institutions. Thus, it is not always correct to blame the economic woes in our country whenever we find unemployed graduates loitering the streets, unable to reap the benefits meant for them.

Of course, we have traditional difficulties which involve students failing to pay fees on time and perhaps failing to pursue their studies altogether.

The Chancellor is, therefore, being asked to allay the troubles of the many students who may not be able to afford paying tuition on time and in full. Given the high unemployment rates in the country, the onus is upon government as well as corporate organisations to assist students from very poor and marginalised backgrounds. I believe that most people that make it to university or college may not be the brightest in the country.

Many people-from all the corners of our country wish they could also enrol and have the necessary resources, but their financial muscles cannot withstand the durations of study. If current trends continue, the rich would have massive dominance over the poor and it would be increasingly hard for those of limited means to improve their statuses and standards of living.

 Lemuel Bulawayo is an economics student at the University of Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity.