If there is anything that avid ‘career’ critics of President Robert Mugabe want to avoid, it is showering him with accolades on how in the early years of his rule he injected critical traction in Zimbabwe’s education system by making it accessible to just about every child of school going age.
By Welshman Ncube
Primary schools sprouted in virtually every ward of the country while secondary schools became available in fair numbers in all districts of the country. The ‘residual symptoms’ of his obsession with education are not only noticed around his own personal qualifications, but also that Zimbabwe still boasts one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.
It is almost impossible to encounter a Zimbabwean who cannot read or write, even in the most backward rural outposts. Wherever one goes – day and night – you encounter a Zimbabwean carrying books or ‘going to school or college’. Most urban schools in the country practice ‘hot seating’ in order to cater for large numbers of students.
Three ironies on this. All tragic. Firstly, President Mugabe’s vociferous propaganda machinery trumpets this literacy success, but when it comes to elections; they claim ‘ownership’ over substantial ‘illiterate assisted voters’!
Secondly, the 1980s education expansion has just about cancelled itself out due to two factors- one we have graduates, some with First class Masters degrees who have never held a job since graduating, some more than a decade ago, begging the question, of what value is education if it cannot secure a job and a livelihood- two, the education infrastructure and system so painstakingly expanded and built up in the 1980s has all but decayed and collapsed.
It is in a sorry state today. Thirdly while parents do and sacrifice so much to get an education for their children we often get told in the political arena that education does not matter as we are foisted with clueless politicians seeking high office.
It is then said what is the value of education when those who have destroyed this country have seven degrees and presided over the decay and rot of the country together with some of the most educated ministers in the world. Why not then try those with little education we are asked. This is Zimbabwe- the land of the incomprehensible!
Barring the current furore over Grade seven examination fees, for decades, primary school in Zimbabwe has been universal with public schools charging a pittance to attract as many underprivileged pupils as possible. Social academic Mary Ndlovu has researched extensively on Zimbabwe education.
She noted that just before independence (for more reasons other than war), school enrollment was under a million. By the mid-1980s, it was a case of “total number of primary schools increasing from 2,400 in 1979 to 4,530 in 1990.” (Some government documents say the primary sector doubled in enrolments, from 1.219 million in 1980 to 2.2 million in 1989.
The number of primary schools increased from 3161, in 1980, to 4779 in 2004.) This upward surge was proportionately reflected in teacher training and curriculum development, unfortunately, too academic. Mary Ndlovu’s problem with literacy figures was to what extent they took into account school dropouts, but that is the least of my worry for now.
This education ‘conveyor belt’ churned millions into secondary schools and thousands into colleges. Even today, Zimbabwe’s human capital is highly regarded in all corners of the world and like an international convertible currency, our citizens fit in any system.
Compared to neighbours Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa, Zimbabweans emerge from four years of education slightly ‘enlightened’ than their SADC compatriots. Had the 1999 Nziramasanga Commission findings been implemented, our country’s institutions would have by now been operating at Harvard, Oxford, UCT and MIT level.
Between 1991 and 2001, percentage of education expenditure as a percentage of gross national product ranged between 4- 9%, this according to a paper entailed “Current performance of the education sector in Zimbabwe – key policy challenges facing the sector” by Louis Masuko, 2003.
He also adds: “There has been an increase in university enrolments following the opening of new universities in Zimbabwe.” A document entiltled: “National action plan of Zimbabwe – education for all towards 2015” says that “Since independence, the education sector has received, on average, above 20% of the national budget in a bid to increase access and participation.”
Yet if one keeps tracking – or extrapolating – the Ndlovu research trajectory, one is confronted with ‘meteoric’ decline in quality post 2000. That is why she concludes: “However, we do ourselves and Zimbabwe no favour if we simply praise the expansion and make questionable claims for its great success, without examining the legacy of problems which it bequeathed to future generations. It is difficult to deny that the system served the few very well, while failing to provide an adequate preparation for life for the many… Politics trumped realism, leaving the legacy of failure which we must struggle today to overcome.”
This is my point. In his 35 years of rule, President Mugabe has always ‘stocked’ his cabinet with highly ‘educated’ ministers. Ironically, at a time when Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) had ‘uneducated; policy makers, the country’s industry was considered the second best in Africa.
By 2000, each parastatal, government department, cabinet, politburo, embassy was staffed with highly educated citizens, yet the economy broke hyperinflation records. It is the same period that the country experienced the worst human rights violations, the worst food shortages, the highest unemployment and the worst electoral cheating. Do you wonder then why the cynics even as they go without food and failing to raise money for school fees for their children then tell us to elect as political leaders those that are like the Rhodesian political leadership.
Millions of registered voters have been trooping to polling stations since year 2000 and, while I am in no way insinuating that their voting for MDC would have reflected enlightenment, my point is that democracy and constitutionalism are a form of modern-day englightment.
‘Educated’ people must discern propaganda from reality; pragmatic from false promises. ‘Educated’ people are not bought with beer, packs of mealie meal and ‘free’ transport to political rallies. I do not think if we were ‘really’ educated, we would have allowed ZANU PF leaders to ‘give’ us noose like pieces of ‘land’ withdrawable at any time we fall out with them and flood us with presidential inputs just to make us vote for them.
How is it that ‘educated’ Zimbabweans have watched with bemused envy as neighbours Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa change presidents ‘like shoes’ while we are stuck with one ‘strong man’ for thirty five years?
Almost three years after the New Constitution was promulgated, ‘educated’ Zimbabweans either know very little of its content or have no idea when laws will be aligned. Educated as we are, we are still compelled to attend ZANU PF rallies, allow ZBC to be (ab)used as State instead of Public broadcaster. We still stand powerless as ZANU PF (‘educated’) cronies obliterate the National Railways, ZESA, GMB, TelOne and other state-run entities.
If literacy rates are above 90%; and unemployment is above 90%, with millions in the country ‘surviving’ from the informal sector, it means Zimbabwe boasts an unenviable record of having the most educated poor people in the world. Education is an investment, but cannot automatically be equated to wealth.
It is time we enjoyed the full benefits of ‘applied education’. An MDC government will ensure this happens by improving the learning environment of pupils and students and the conditions of teachers in schools and ensuring that all education institutions in the country design relevant education curricula and offer training programmes that are pertinent to industry and society and to the overall sustainable development of the Zimbabwean economy.
We will stimulate accelerated economic growth through widespread access to information with new information technologies so as to come up with practical solutions and identify opportunities. We will close the gap between theoretical and technical skills by expanding vocational and technical institutions so as to afford training opportunities to all Zimbabweans so that every single job in all industries is done by a competent professional and this will continue to improve literacy levels at the workplace and to increase productivity.