In Conversation with Trevor: Fay Chung: Zim’s education system is outdated

The Zanu PF member spoke candidly about what she believes has gone wrong in Zimbabwe over the years and what needs to be done to remedy the situation.

Former Education minister Fay Chung says Zimbabwe’s education system was designed to last for at least 20 years, but now has been in use for over 40 years, rendering it outdated.

Chung (FC), who is highly regarded for helping transform the country’s education system from the one that served a minority to catering for  Zimbabwe’s majority black population, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube on the platform In Conversation With Trevor that the education system has become more unsuitable for global trends.

The Zanu PF member spoke candidly about what she believes has gone wrong in Zimbabwe over the years and what needs to be done to remedy the situation.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Dr Fay Chung, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.

FC: Thank you.

TN: I always look forward to talking to people of your generation, because there is so much that you have given to this country, and there is so much for the younger generation to learn from you.

So I do not take your coming here for granted, so thank you very much for that.

When I look at you Fay, I am reminded of the promise that our education system had at independence and up to 1990.

When I read your name all the time, I am reminded of the great work that you put into what our education policy was, from I think 1980 at independence up to 1995 or so.

Tell me when you look at where our education is right now, there is this state of the schools, the teachers, the teacher training colleges and indeed the product of that system, what goes through your mind?

FC: I think the problem is we set up a system which was very suitable for the first 20 years of independence, but now it has lasted 40 years.

So it became more and more unsuited to the changes which have taken place in Zimbabwe and which have taken place in the world.

In 1980, we have to remember that one-third of the African teachers in primary schools only had Grade 7, and another one-third only had Form 2, and the final one-third were unqualified.

We had to form a primary school curriculum which suited their ability, though at the same time we had to upgrade them, which we did.

I think for secondary school we were also constrained in that everybody, rich or poor, black or white wanted Cambridge O’Levels, and we adjusted a whole lot of Cambridge, and Cambridge was very operative, but more or less Cambridge was to prepare a third of the British students for university, and that is what we did.

Even with the many adjustments we made, still was preparation for university.

Yet only 10% of our students went to university.

So it meant the education system became more and more unsuited to the majority of students.

TN: So it was meant for 20 years, it went on for 40?

FC: I think it was meant for 20 years, yes.

TN: Why did we not press the pause button and plan after the 20 years had elapsed? What do you think happened there?

FC: I think the problem is within Zanu PF in that in the liberation struggle, and until the executive presidency was formed, there was a strong intellectual baseline. As we went forward, however, that baseline was weakened.

I think in the 1990s.

Probably you remember, we removed all the top civil servants under the (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) ESAP.

They were given golden handshakes and they left happily because they got a lot of money, but the problem really was that our best bureaucrats left and Zanu PF was able to put in its favourites.

Now it’s favourites were younger, maybe 10 or 15 years younger than the ones who left.

Also they felt they owed their positions to the politicians, and that their job was to obey, so the bureaucracy changed and it meant there was more obedience and less independent management.

TN: There was no longer the rigour, the analysis, the intellectual capacity to say we had created this thing to last 20 years, let us revisit to see how we can rebuild it for another 20 or 40 years?

FC: I think an education system needs renewal every five or sixyears, because so many things are changing.

For example, internet was not a part of education in 1980, but now the internet is essential.

The way we teach today, even the way we hold meetings is different from the way we did it in the 1980s where we had face to face meetings.

Now we really have to depend on Zoom.

Then the jobs have changed.

In the 1980s anyone who had O’ Levels got a job, but now we have hundreds of thousands of young people with 5 O’Levels who have had to go to neighbouring countries and the UK to get jobs where they are welcomed, but here in Zimbabwe they have no jobs.

TN: So we really ought to be focusing on how do we fine tune the education policy to meet the needs of the new society?

To meet the needs of the new workplace but we have not done that?

FC: Absolutely essential.

The attempts to renew education by (former Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus) Dokora in 2016 in a way failed because it made it more academic.

Already the O’ Levels were too academic, training 10% of the students to do well, but now it is even more difficult because it has become more academic because due to lack of funds and the way it was organised, teachers were not involved in the reform of the education system.

So whilst you can say the University was very involved, it became more university orientated, when again 90% of students are not going to go to university.

TN: Looking at the things that you did, I find myself asking the question, what was the philosophical underpinning of saying education for all?

Of essentially remaking society using education and the success that eventually had round about 1990 thereabout.

What was the philosophical underpinning to the whole policy?

FC: Well, I have spent my whole life in education.

From the time I was a student until now I have worked in education.

So I think I know a bit about education.

I spent five years in the townships teaching secondary school education.

So I received a very important grounding in African education during those five years.

Before independence only 35% of African children went to primary school, and mostly young  girls and women did not go.

Only 4% of those who completed Grade 7 went to secondary school, and only half of those were allowed to do O’ Levels, the others did something called F2, which was a low level of technical education which was meant to be suited to Africans so they would not compete with white technicians and artisans.

So that is what we inherited.

Now we knew, those of us who were in education, that we had to have primary education for all, and we managed it.

In the 1980s and 1990s everybody was in primary school.

Now it is 96% in primary school of the age group, which is still quite good, but I think as I mentioned earlier, the education system was suited to the 1980s particularly and to some extent to the 1990s.

So it is out of date.

TN: Looking at some of the building blocks when you came in, was teacher education using Zintech, which is a very quick way of insuring that there was a high output of quality teachers.

Talk to me about what inspired that? And what challenges and successes you faced?

FC: Zintech was very important because at independence 30% of the primary school teachers only had Grade 7, 30% had Form 2 and 30% were unqualified.

So it was very essential to upgrade our primary school teachers.

Then we were going to move from 35% of children in primary school to 100%, and we managed it.

That is what made Zintech essential.

Zintech was very brief in a way, because the initial course was like 20 weeks, and it was very long.

The final training took 4 four years, so the issue is how do you train teachers for 20 weeks and what can they do in 20 weeks.

We inspired they had textbooks, they had teaching and learning materials so they knew what to do in the classroom.

However, their training took four years, and during those four years they were placed in schools in groups of three, and we instituted training programmes.

Every 15 students had a district tutor who ran weekend courses and holiday courses for these trainees.

We trained all the heads, all the students were in groups of three in specific schools.

We trained also all the education officers, and all the provincial officers and all the heads.

So the whole system was trained and the programme was published so every school had a copy.

A head was told to train his teachers, many males and very few females.

These heads had the training manuals in their schools and they were able to institute one and a half training for all the teachers.

So all the teachers were upgraded in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

So it meant we had a very good primary school system based on the 20 week training we did in Mozambique.

So a teacher trained for 20 weeks can do basics if they have the textbooks and learning materials, if they are supervised in the school, which they were, by the head and deputy head.

If the students were also evaluated, and we did (ensure) they went through the Grade 7 exam.

Through the 1980’s and 1990’s we had a 75% pass rate in  four subjects.

  • “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel. The conversations are sponsored by Nyaradzo Group.

Related Topics