EDUCATION is regarded as one of the most essential issues in life. And this is so in Zimbabwe. Both parents and students; government and ordinary people, the highly educated as well as the least educated, all regard education as critically important.
Zimbabweans are prepared to pay high tuition fees, sometimes all their savings, to give their children good education. Zimbabwe’s thousands of schools were built by parents and communities, with the help of central government, provincial government, local district councils and religious organisations.
Why do Zimbabweans consider education to be so crucial and decisive? What is education about, and why is it so critical?
Education is broadly about bringing developing the knowledge, skills and character that are inborn, but which may not become fully developed if a person does not have the opportunity for these knowledge and skills to be nurtured. A person also develops values and character through education.
In brief, education is about developing the mind, heart and values of a person. In addition, education prepares the learner for his or her future career and life.
After the imposition of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) and Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) the primary percentage enrolment has dropped to 96%.
This amounts to about a quarter of a million children not in primary school. One factor appears to be the imposition of Grade 7 Examination fees, with a considerable percentage of children unable to pay for this examination.
This is because of the return of teacher marked exams instead of the totally computer marked no-fee system in the first 30 years of Independence.
After Independence, Zimbabwe attained a record enrolment in lower secondary up to Form 4 or “O” levels. There was a 12-fold increase. Today 49% of the age group attend secondary schooling in over 2 300 secondary schools.
Many of these schools only have classrooms and do not have workshops and laboratories. They do not have boarding facilities. Many do not have electricity or computers. Some do not even have classrooms. Many lack sufficient teachers housing. Less than 5% have 6th form.
It is nevertheless essential for Zimbabwe to increase enrolment at both primary and lower secondary levels to boost economic development. Infrastructure and equipment, in addition to salaries, definitely require State assistance: the tremendous achievements of the 1980s and 1990s were due to the partnership between government and local communities. The removal of this partnership has made school expansion difficult and, in many cases, impossible.
Government is unable to construct and support such an expansion. Community and private partnership are absolutely essential, and account for the success of university expansion compared to lack of expansion of agricultural colleges and polytechnics.
Zimbabwe decided to retain the Cambridge Examination “O” and “A” levels. They were later replaced by the Zimbabwean equivalent examinations. The 2019 “O” levels examinations show that about a third of candidates pass five “O” levels, which opens the path for them to enter “A” levels, college and polytechnics. This means 70% fail.
The “O” levels need to be urgently re-examined in the light of the high failure rate. In addition millions of youths who have attained five “O” levels remain unemployed: there is a marked lack of relevance between the curriculum and job creation.
Secondary school examinations worldwide have been readjusted over the last three decades. The traditional “O” and “A” levels examinations were originally established to differentiate between the 30 – 35% of students who would qualify to enter university. It still serves this purpose in Zimbabwe.
Today purely academic results, based on examinations, do not form the only criteria for university entrance, with other qualities such as social, practical, character and leadership skills now playing a more important role.
Changes that are required include a greater diversity of knowledge and skills so as to cater for the needs of the larger secondary education enrolment including the development of a strong understanding of shared Zimbabwean history and values; and achieving a middle level of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) at selected secondary schools.
A minority of students do enrol in agricultural colleges and polytechnics, as these have not increased in number since Independence. In contrast Zimbabwe has increased from one to 20 universities.
The greater emphasis on TVET at both secondary school and tertiary levels has received policy focus over the last year. Linking up secondary schools to agricultural, commercial and industrials units, can link up job opportunities to training requirements more closely.
This will enable schools and colleges to respond to training needs of companies: presently private enterprise complain that much of the training provided is irrelevant to their needs.
There is also need for ministries of education to link up with planning and policy institutions and organisations, such as ministries and professional associations working on plans for present and future economic development. This will ensure that educational institutions are closely in touch with economic planning institutions.
Time allocation for TVET at secondary level is of critical importance. More time should be devoted to practical subjects. An increased per capita grant for schools which embark on establishing TVET secondary streams will be required as TVET is more expensive than subjects, which do not require specialist equipment and infrastructure.
Upgrading the facilities and capacities in a limited number of secondary schools to undertake medium level TVET is an important and practical approach for the immediate future.
Concerted effort is needed to enhance agriculture and TVET at secondary and tertiary institutions. A plan was made by a joint workshop of the two ministries of education in 2016 in Chimanimani but was never accepted or implemented.
This would have allowed 400 secondary schools (one out of six secondary schools) to be upgraded to Technical Vocational (TVET) secondary schools: these could have provided TVET training to neighbouring schools as well as part-time weekend and holiday courses for the 70% who fail to obtain full “O” levels.
Such a practical implementation plan is still needed, as it is impossible to improve the staffing the construction of all 2 300 secondary schools overnight.
These agricultural and TVET schools could service specific district schools. The amounts, sometimes, to even three full days a week. This means the number of subjects should be limited to about seven, instead of the more than 10 presently superficially undertaken today.
Practical subjects do not necessarily require expensive machinery or equipment, although computerisation is an important complement, especially internet access, which can provide both practical information and markets.
The “A” level schools provide an excellent academic grounding, and are responsible for the high level attainment of Zimbabwean students in neighbouring and overseas universities.
However, in line with the rest of the Education system, it emphasises academic learning and neglects practical, agricultural and TVET learning and skills.
The British highly academic model for “A” levels needs to be complemented by providing agricultural and TVET education and skills as well.
Some of this can be done in existing institutions.
The level of such training will need to be carefully negotiated with the Ministries of Agriculture, Higher Education and Youth training. Presently there are more than two million communal and small scale farmers, an extremely large sector, and they are not able to obtain much pre-training and in-service training.
The same is true of the huge informal economy industrial and commercial sectors of 5,7 million workers: they receive little training, and are mainly self-taught. Boosting their managerial and practical skills will improve their product quality and markets.
There are a number of suitable models to complement the narrow British model which Zimbabwe has inherited. The Swedish model is highly successful.
It provides three years of lower secondary education for all after which students can enter more than 25 junior colleges for education and training.
These include academic institutions similar to 6th Form schools. They also include specialised schools such as for building, woodwork, refrigeration and air conditioning.
Zimbabwe needs special emphasis on the increase and reform of agricultural colleges and polytechnics. As before Independence, there are 13 agricultural colleges and 14 polytechnics: this is still the number today.
In addition to the proposed 400 TVET secondary schools for lower middle level knowledge and skills, the establishment of either an agricultural college or a polytechnic in each district would be valuable.
Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and universities; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle; civil servant and UN civil servant and minister of Primary and Secondary education. These weekly column New Horizon is published in the Zimbabwe Independent and coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past-president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators in Zimbabwe. — firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile: +263 772 382 852.