By Takura Zhangazha*
The government of Zimbabwe has changed its education curriculum. There was no public debate prior to this far reaching policy change. Arguably because these changes were recommendations from a government commission of inquiry into higher and tertiary education which is referred to as the Nziramasanga Commission (among other government sponsored reviews)
Essentially the most significant changes to the curriculum are intended to sort of ’nationalise’ education by making it more contextual. That is to say, a lot more time in classrooms will be given to Zimbabwean (patriotic) history, recognition of languages including teaching in local languages and exploring to a greater extent, Zimbabwean culture and norms than in the past. Of course there are some things that you cannot ‘nationalise’ such as Mathematics or Science. Even in how you teach them.
The teachers unions, at least two of them (the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe) have gone apoplectic over this new curriculum. They argue and correctly so that it is not only a rash decision but also elitist and arbitrary conduct on the part of education minister Lazarus Dokora. They also tellingly revveal that the teachers they represent have not had adequate training or preparation on the new curriculum to be able to discharge of their new delivery of knowledge tasks.
Parents of school-going children are however not clear on the matter. Mainly because they do not quite understand the new curriculum and its potential effect on their children’s education. Or because those that would have been most vocal about such issues have children that are in private or mission schools that have generally always managed to offer alternative syllabi or function with a greater degree of independence from regular ministerial interference.
Those parents with children in public/government schools, have all of a sudden found themselves having to ensure their children get to school earlier as well as listen to them recite the national pledge. But beyond the new inconveniences, there is reluctant acceptance from a majority of parents that comes from a sense of powerlessness over what government does with the curriculum as well as general assumptions that because they are not educationists, they are not in a position to argue. Besides, it already hard enough coming up with the school fees. What more arguing about something as technical as an education curriculum?
And this is why the ministry of education is proceeding with its 'in character arrogance'. From issues to do with allocation of form 1 places, national pledge and now the new curriculum the ones who matter the most in all of this, the parents, have not acted in national unison. And it is least likely that they will.
The bigger questions however do not relate to the reactions and counteractions over the new curriculum. What is most important is that we view governments education policy holistically. Even if it is fractured by the very fact that there are three ministers that deal with education (Messrs Dokora for basic education, Moyo for higher education and Hungwe for psychomotor education).
While education must be primed to suit a nations context and development needs, it does not occur in isolation from the rest of the world. To emphasise one component over another, as is the case with government’s STEM programme or the ‘nationalisation’ of the curriculum does not mean we will compete better on the world stage of invention or nationalist education.
Nor will politicising education, not thinking beyond ones own ministerial tenure assist us to resolve our long term challenges in education. This particular point is made because it is clear that save for Josiah Hungwe the other two cabinet ministers directing governments education policy are clearly trying to leave their personal imprints on the sector. And largely for political gain and while they still can.
That is why in part, the new curriculum does not fit neatly into the stem programme. Or why the Stem programme prioritises mathematics over for example history and in the process creates feelings of general inadequacy in students who are struggling with the natural sciences but are excelling in social subjects.
The ambiguity of the public responses to the education question does not mean it is not as important as say bio-metric voter registration. It points to a public pre-occupation with the social, economic and political immediate. This is motivate by the livelihood hardships that many parents and citizens are suffering. But regrettably such an approach is not enough to guarantee a better future for our children. Even if the primary challenge many of us face is paying the school fees and putting food on the table. We need to do better by asking more questions about government’s real intentions and what they mean for the future of Zimbabwe’s children beyond ministerial tenures. Where we fail, we fail not only ourselves but the future and generations that will inhabit it as adults.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)