Govt urged to invest in arts education

HARARE - Artists have generally welcomed the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) initiative but insist that a similar intervention must also be introduced to prop up the arts.

Stem, which seeks to educate students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is an inter-disciplinary and applied approach introduced by the Higher and Tertiary Education ministry.

The initiative seeks to encourage students who passed “O” Level examinations in 2015 with at least a Grade C in Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics in public schools to take up similar subjects at Lower Sixth level.

Filmmaker Elton Mjanana said the arts sector need government support which is direct and deliberately aimed at uplifting the value of arts.

“A lot of us have only ever worked in the arts, and it is very difficult because it is not recognised accordingly by policy makers in the country.

“However, hard as it may, we eat, we send our children to schools and we are building our homes and lives . . . now imagine if it was given the special attention it deserves . . . it would be the leading employer and I think it is among the leading employers as we speak anyway,” said Mjanana.

Mbira maker Albert Chimedza said the arts have been even more at a disadvantage than Stem subjects in terms of investment and resources.

“It is not a question of propping up the arts but that it is to recognise that in order to produce dynamic, culturally coherent and psychologically well-adjusted, confident, creative and inquisitive learners, there must be an initiative by government to invest in the arts.

“The creative industry is a significant contributor to economic activities in many countries. The only way Zimbabwe can fully benefit from its cultural assets is if it invests in them. The most obvious area of investment is in arts education.

“We need to have well-educated artists who are able to meet the global challenges of navigating a highly competitive and internationalised sector,” Chimedza said.

The mbira maker said one needs to nurture the creativity of learners so that even their approach to science is creative.

“Many of today’s technological exploits were first thought up by creative people such as artists and writers — science fiction, Leonardo Da Vinci . . . much science in optics, light, pigments and perception came out of great artists through the ages, probably the study of anatomy as well. Gunpowder was invented because the Chinese wanted firework displays.

“There has to be an understanding that Stem subjects and arts subjects are two arms on the same body.”

He added: “By the way, the benefits of nurturing creative minds would also benefit learners when they tackle Stem subjects!”

Guitarist Gwenya-gitare Mono said it would be very useful for the arts industry if we have training for band managers and sound engineers.”

Playwright and director Patience Gamu Tawengwa said while Stem is important so are the arts.

“Our government needs to begin to acknowledge the importance of the role of arts in a society. A child who has artistic talent will suffer in a school that only emphasises on academics.”

Poet and writer Barbra Breeze Anderson thinks it would be a step forward for government to endorse and acknowledge the arts in Zimbabwe.

“I think it’s also important for there to be secure jobs for artists. It has to formulate ways in which the arts can create employment.”

Poet Thando Sibanda said government needs to take a serious consideration at arts and general humanities.

“Our television is all foreign content and our children are being raised on foreign concepts and the government’s statements on preserving heritage and history becomes senseless rhetoric when our television is full of foreign content.

“The arts anywhere in the world are a medium that communicate a people’s culture and traditions and when we choke our arts we are deliberately altering our heritage and languages and within a couple of generations a part of our being will be lost in history,” Sibanda said.

Youth Cultural Arts Festival (Yocaf) director Leeroy Gono said the huge challenge lies in that there is no arts industry, so even if we produce then what’s next?

“We face that challenge, particularly at Yocaf, where we have groomed artists and have been exceptional in their respective talents.

“Some have gone on to study arts at university but are now jobless and some despite having a passion for arts have decided to pursue something that puts food on the table — such as sciences and accounting. Our government has to shape up and start taking arts seriously.”

Veteran actor, playwright and director Memory Kumbota hailed the initiative but emphasised that every part of education was equally important.

“Government is doing a great thing by prioritising the education of our children but if students who excelled in the sciences receive government support it can be a problem in future because every parent will want to have his or her child learn for free.

“Cultural studies, right from Early Childhood Development curriculum (ECD) up to “A” Level also deserve support. The fact of the matter is that no part of education is less important,” said Kumbota, who is currently directing a play titled The Taking that looks at the land reform programme in the country.

Visual artist Brian Kumira called on the relevant authorities to strike the right balance in the way all sectors of education are treated by the government.

“We have a government that now pays fees for students who are into this Stem programme which, in my opinion, undermines the other sectors.

“To me, the programme is biased, we can’t have a country of engineers only. We are equally important in our role in the society.

“Now there is the new digitilisation programme. Where are they are going to get graphic designers and other relevant personnel if everyone starts getting into sciences?

“What kind of a world will it be? There is need to strike a balance. In all fairness, it is demotivating to see others being given special treatment,” Kumira said.

Renowned drummer Lewis Ndlovu, however, begged to differ.

“Before we start complaining about Stem, we should as artists first establish what we want. For the government to arrive at that decision there is some form of research that was conducted because I feel we don’t have many engineers and others who are in that line of business,” Ndlovu said.

Umkhathi Theatre Works director Matesu Dube said while Stem was a brilliant project, the government could not shirk its responsibility to also promote non-science programmes.

“Stem is okay because even though I am an artist, my child may wish to be an engineer but what is important is for the government to also bring about programmes that can also benefit students who are in the creative industry,” Dube said.

Reggae musician Gabriel “Gabsfire” Nyandoro said government support should be extended across all subject areas.

“As a musician, I have to emphasise the importance of music. Interestingly, when government officials host events where they launch programmes like Stem they invite musicians to play music. This shows that the arts are equally important. We (artists) are an important industry that deserves recognition,” said Nyandoro.

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