'Overhaul education sector'

HARARE - Zimbabwe's education sector has suffered a massive crisis and requires an overhaul in order to address the challenges it is facing, experts have warned.

Seasoned educationist John Charema said unless the school system is restored to the success levels of the 1980s and 1990s, the schools, tertiary institutions, teachers, students and the whole educational sector will continue to decline.

“The problems that education is experiencing can be overcome with adequate funding, restoring the battered image of the teaching profession and reconstructing the run-down infrastructure in schools, colleges and universities,” he said.

Charema noted that government must implement investor-friendly policies to revive the economy and reverse skills flight among teachers and lecturers.

“In Zimbabwe, one necessary precondition for sustained economic recovery is popular trust in government and its regulatory institutions.

“The policy implication of developing trust is that the chances of attracting skills back into the country are high, if political and economic stability is achieved,” he said.

Studies in most countries have revealed that skilled migrants are more likely to return home unlike the unskilled migrants if the country creates better employment prospects and attractive remuneration for those who left for the Diaspora.

Other experts, however, feel that the country’s ongoing school curriculum review exercise will reflect the new paradigm shift and equip students with entrepreneurial skills.

Launched last year, the curriculum review exercise is aimed at curbing the high unemployment rate and contributing to the country’s economic turnaround through enhanced skills development as well as poverty alleviation.

This comes as at least 30 000 graduates are churned out from universities and tertiary colleges every year, but most of them fail to secure employment due to the declining job opportunities in the formal job market, a situation that has constantly recurred in the past 10 years.

Researcher John Erlwanger said Zimbabwe’s curriculum falls short in granting pupils education relevant to life after school and called for the establishment citizenship curriculum that includes aspects of entrepreneurial training.

“This way, the pupils may start their own businesses after school, instead of relying on the shrinking job market,” he said adding that there should be more emphasis on human rights and other citizenship education related topics in the examinations at all levels.

“Even if it is not a full curriculum change, it could help alert pupils on these issues and pave the way for wider change,” added Erlwanger.

According to the Nziramasanga Commission, Zimbabwe’s education curriculum was designed to train employees rather than employers or entrepreneurs.

The Commission, which was set up in 1999 to evaluate Zimbabwe’s educational requirements, observed that the national curriculum was inclined towards academics and recommended the introduction of vocational skills training in secondary schools.

This was after the country had realised that there was need to prioritise vocational skills as there were many pupils who were not academically gifted.

Critics contend that following independence in 1980, government adopted a system designed to train pupils to be employees and this has, in the last two decades, become irrelevant due to diminishing employment opportunities.

Educationist Edward Shizha concurs with Erlwanger and said the way forward for Zimbabwean education is to introduce citizenship education as part of the school curriculum.

Though there are many different interpretations of what citizenship education is, it is based on the idea that becoming a citizen requires more than just acquiring civil status.

It needs schools to train the youth to exercise social contribution and responsibility, which means acting in a way that serves the interests of the society and does not adversely affect the people around them.

This would empower the youth with the knowledge of the working of their country and the ability to make decisions on their own future.

“By empowering the citizenry this way, it is reasoned, Zimbabwe would not only become more democratic, it would also enjoy improved economic development,” Shizha added.

Former Education minister David Coltart recently noted that one of the mistakes made by Zimbabwe at independence was to embark on an almost exclusively academic educational curriculum — at the expense of vocational training.

“While we will aim at educating every child, the nature of their education must be altered to ensure that it is relevant for economic development; especially within their own communities. Children must learn skills that are needed by the economy or can enable them to create their own work,” he said.

Coltart noted that an important curricular theme must be available to teach survival techniques — at the personal, family, societal and global levels.

“Children must learn individually and collectively to survive — this means practical learning in areas of productivity for food security and employment, health, care for the environment, strategic thinking and planning, adaptability, co-operation and imagination.

“Good ‘survival teaching’ should take place in a specific physical environment and education must help children to relate to that environment rather than dreaming about being somewhere else,” he added.

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