Is Zim’s education revolution gone in a swoop?

BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE

The success of Zimbabwe’s education system is credited mainly to the First Republic. When the war ended, every community was encouraged to build schools in their areas and send their children to school free.

Thousands of schools went up all over the country. Secondary schools called Upper Tops were also constructed in every community and secondary education, which was formerly the preserve of the few who could afford it, came into everyone’s reach.

Thousands of teachers were trained, some in the formal teachers’ colleges, but thousands more in what were called Zintec colleges where teachers trained on the job. Zimbabwe achieved 98% literacy and became the best educated country on the African continent.

Although the seed of the collapse of the education system was sown during the dying days of the First Republic, its near-total demise is happening right now under the watch of the Second Republic. The reasons for this are simple to decipher. It begins with the teachers. The teaching profession, which once was the envy of all, has been decimated over the years through poor remuneration that has led to the evaporation of the prestige that went with the profession.

All those thousands of teachers trained over decades are now reluctant to teach. The full opening of schools is now uncertain, with teachers’ unions continuing to cry foul over their wages. The Covid-19 pandemic has not helped issues.

But as we celebrate 41 of Independence this weekend, the question to ask is: Can the education revolution be redeemed?

Education is now going back to being the preserve of the rich who can afford private school; mission schools, which were originally established by missionaries to educate the poor, have been allowed to go private; so all those children in the rural areas who looked up to mission schools for an education have been left with nowhere to go.

The rural secondary schools that proliferated during the first decade of Independence are now without teachers. Government, which used to give grants to schools to buy textbooks, no longer does so.

The greatest challenge facing the Second Republic is how to solve the education conundrum. Get the money to pay the teachers and retrain them on how modern education works. The old system in which the teacher stands in front of 40 pupils and feeds them old information won’t work. If the teacher issue is not rectified, teachers could become a destabilising factor (if they aren’t already).