“WHEN you are mad, mad like this, you don’t know it. Reality is what you see.When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you,” — United States author Marya Hornbacher once wrote in Madness: A Bipolar Life.
Although Education minister Larazus Dokora is not mad in a clinical sense, his controversial policies are largely been as out of touch with reality — impractical and irrational.
How else can one explain the minister’s behaviour — he has consistently ignored advice to slow down and consult before making policy pronouncements? Most of his policy interventions are not only impractical, but have wreaked havoc on the country’s education system that had shown signs of recovering during the inclusive government era when David Coltart was at the helm of the ministry.
Dokora took over from Coltart credited with sourcing books and study material for pupils, as well giving the green light for teachers to receive incentives from parents and school development associations after government had failed to fulfil its contractual obligation of paying them decent salaries.
He was Coltart’s deputy during the Government of National Unity (2009-2013), but Dokora proverbially “learnt nothing” from the man he understudied. He appears to be following the path of his party colleague Aeneas Chigwedere, who had a disastrous stint as education minister. Chigwedere sought to impose his own version of Zimbabwean and African history on the curriculum and as if that was not enough, he infamously decreed that teachers should wear uniforms to work.
Chigwedere did not believe in consulting which resulted in him losing the confidence of academics.
The late University of Zimbabwe history professor, David Beach, often ridiculed Chigwedere saying he could not be taken seriously as a scholar as he eschewed internationally acceptable methods of academic inquiry relying instead on supposed visions from his ancestors.
President Robert Mugabe may have dumped him to the relative obscurity of his home province of Mashonaland East where he makes occasional headlines fighting for the lowly title of village headman, but Chigwedere’s spirit seems to have been reincarnated in the top echelons of government in the form of Dokora.
A fortnight ago, Dokora announced that government would soon be introducing a number of foreign languages, including one of Africa’s widely spoken indigenous languages, Zulu at primary school level.
This followed his announcement in May that Chinese will be made a compulsory subject alongside Portuguese, Swahili and French.
“Our primary and secondary education will now have greater emphasis on the teaching of … major languages used in the country, and in Africa like Portuguese, Swahili and Zulu,” he said.
On the face of it, there seems to be wisdom in the introduction of Chinese given the fact that Mandarin is on course to become one of the dominant language and cultural forces in the 21st Century. The Asian country is poised to overtake the United States as the world’s dominant economy in decades ahead. It is also crucial that the main Chinese dialect, Mandarin, is spoken by a billion people, hence demand for businesspeople who speak Chinese is skyrocketing.
However, Dokora’s decision is bereft of practical steps to ensure successful implementation. He could have taken a leaf from the South African government which will also be introducing Mandarin in 2016 albeit as an optional rather than compulsory subject.
According to Nonhlanhla Nduna-Watson, director for curriculum policy in South Africa’s basic education department, the Chinese embassy in Pretoria will be “responsible for making sure that teachers that will be teaching Mandarin come from China”.
She said the Chinese government will shoulder the responsibility because Mandarin was being introduced at the request of their embassy while the South African government only obliged after an application process was duly followed.
“What is going to happen is that they (Chinese government) will be sending about 100 volunteers but (will) also train our own teachers who are interested in teaching Mandarin,” said Nduna-Watson last month.
She added that 100 South African teachers will travel to China each year for the next five years for training.
But such well-thought out plans of implementing policy decisions would be an unnecessary encumbrance to Dokora whose real interest seems to be self-serving rhetoric and posturing for political expediency.
Instead of explaining how the teaching of the languages will be implemented, Dokora shocked Zimbabweans by adding Zulu to the list.
Many Zimbabweans are questioning what he is seeking to achieve by adding Zulu to the list when Zimbabwe already has Ndebele which is closely related to the language. Zimbabwean Ndebele is a Zulu derivative or one of the Nguni dialects which include Xhosa, Swati, South African Ndebele, Mfengu, Thembu, Bhaca, Phuthi, Lala, Nhlangwini and Zulu itself. Ndebele and Zulu orthography are largely the same, hence mutual intelligibility. Ironically, Dokora presides over a ministry that has made no attempt to ensure that Ndebele, Shona and other national languages are taught and understood across the country.
The introduction of Portuguese and Swahili are also hard to fathom.
Given that business and career interests often provide the main motivation for learning a foreign language, the compulsory introduction of Portuguese and Swahili cannot be justified.
There are only two Lusophone countries in Southern Africa — Angola and Mozambique. Dokora appears blissfully ignorant of the fact that Mozambique, which long considered Portuguese to be an obstacle to its development, actually joined the Commonwealth of Anglophone countries in 1995 and has been trying its best to ensure English becomes the language of business.
On the other hand, Swahili is merely a regional lingua franca of East Africa where, in any case, English is widely spoken.
How pupils are supposed to cope with Dokora’s language medley that includes English and local languages, is a mystery
Nonetheless, the language issue is just one of many aspects of Dokora’s policy roller-coaster which has been moving at breakneck speed leaving behind a trail of demotivated teachers and students struggling to cope with his demands.
Among his controversial policy announcements is his desire for Ordinary level pupils to undertake industrial attachment. Ironically, tertiary students are struggling to do the same in the ever-diminishing space of company closures and job losses.
He has banned extra lessons, teachers’ incentives and Form 1 entrance tests. Hot-seating has been prescribed for former Group A schools while the ministry wants to allow condoms in schools.
Dokora is also planning to introduce a tax for Cambridge exam pupils arguing the examinations are a luxury.
He has been jumping from one policy pronouncement to another without any discernable plan of implementation and like the proverbial hyena that tried to walk on numerous paths at the same time — disaster appears to be the final destination.
According to Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, Dokora is behaving like a trigger-happy minister bent on impressing Mugabe with policy pronouncements which are not feasible and made without consultation.
“How can policies be crafted and we only read of them in the newspapers when we are actually important stakeholders,” said Zhou. “We don’t even have competent teachers for Portuguese, Swahili, Zulu and French which we are rushing to introduce before even introducing local languages which include Tonga, Tswana, Venda, Sotho Kalanga and Nambya.”
Zhou also said Dokora’s priorities were misplaced as he had moved to introduce foreign languages as well as requirements for ‘O’ level students to obtain driver’s licences.
“Focus should be on major challenges including motivating teachers and resolving the low teacher-pupil ratio instead of ensuring pupils get driver’s licences. Whose cars will they drive when even teachers have no cars? Where exactly will these subjects fit into an already overloaded curriculum,” Zhou queried.