EDUCATION minister Lazarus Dokora’s education revolution, which seems to have more detractors than supporters judging by public reaction, continues to gather steam with the latest milestone being syllabic changes to introduce compulsory languages, among other measures.
On Monday Zimbabweans woke up to the news Dokora’s ministry had completed a draft curriculum framework that would see agriculture examinable at primary school, while French, Portuguese, Swahili and Chinese would strangely be compulsory subjects in all government schools.
Only last week the minister set tongues wagging, as he has constantly done since his appointment in 2013, when he revealed ‘O’ Level school leavers would go on industrial attachment before proceeding to ‘A’ Level or tertiary institutions as part of imminent reforms.
It is befuddling why all these languages would be compulsory. While perhaps not immediately obvious beyond political expediency, there are probably benefits to studying Chinese given the Asian giant’s growing global influence, particularly on the economic front. Chinese is on course to become the dominant language and cultural force for the 21st century. The country is poised to overtake the United States as the world’s dominant economy and, what’s more, the main Chinese dialect of Mandarin is spoken by a billion people, hence demand for business people who speak Chinese is skyrocketing.
The same cannot be said of Portuguese or Swahili, while many schools already offer French which shares with English the distinction of being taught as a foreign language around the world, with most French speakers actually in Africa due to colonial influences.
As business and career interests rank high among the chief motives for learning a foreign tongue, the reasons for introducing compulsory Portuguese and Swahili are hard to fathom. Portuguese is mostly spoken in Angola and Mozambique in the region, rendering the two countries rather isolated in that respect. Actually in 1995 Mozambique joined the Commonwealth, becoming the only member to have never had a constitutional link with the UK or another Commonwealth member to do so.
As for Swahili it is merely a regional lingua franca of east Africa where, in any case, English is widely spoken. And just how are pupils supposed to cope with this language medley that includes English and local languages?
The potpourri of changes Dokora has effected or proposed at breakneck speed includes banning of extra lessons at public institutions; cancellation of teachers’ incentives and Form One entrance tests; introduction of hot seating; announcing parents are free to pack condoms for their children in schoolbags; Grade 7 exam fees; allowing cellphones use at schools; and plans to levy schools service providers and suppliers.
Not so fast! before adding to this cocktail of changes some of which parents and stakeholders deem harebrained, Dokora should channel his zeal towards ensuring schools have basics such as textbooks and chairs, and less children drop out of school early because their parents cannot afford to pay for their now costly education.