Open letter to our new President

HARARE – Let me start by congratulating you on your assumption of the vitally important position of chief executive of our beautiful country.

Indeed, all eyes in our country, in our region and around the world are fixed on you as both citizens and the global community alike hope and pray for things to change for the better in Zimbabwe.

By way of introduction, I do not know whether you still recall the interesting one-on-one discussion on the importance of education that we had in Harare about eight years ago.

At the time, I was the chairman of the Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Trust, which had awarded one of your sons a university scholarship.

I have to say that I was most impressed by your views then on the key role and importance of quality education in society — and you were most appreciative and complementary about the work of the Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Trust.

But I’m digressing.

I am writing this open letter to you with a heavy heart, in connection with the declining quality of both basic and tertiary education in our country.

I’m doing so in the fervent hope of persuading you and your administration to give the utmost priority to the sector, as we all work to rebuild Zimbabwe.

Indeed, one of Africa’s most famous sons once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” — and he was so right.

As you may remember from our conversation of eight years ago, I have been involved with higher education in our country and region for more than three decades, and I can state without any doubt or equivocation that the quality of our education has declined alarmingly over the past few years for a number of reasons.

One of the major reasons, in my view, for this decline emanates from the less than ideal governance of our institutions of higher learning. For example, the State president has traditionally been the chancellor of all our public universities — with, at best, debatable benefits.

In addition, vice chancellors have also often been political appointees, resulting in their work and thinking being significantly suffocated and constrained — even as almost all of them have had worthy academic credentials.

To that extent, I am confident that I represent the views of many other concerned patriots as I appeal to you and your good offices to revisit these twin challenges, which are widely seen as impacting negatively on the quality of learning and teaching, as well as on research at our institutions of higher learning.

Indeed, I would also like to believe that you have enough taxing work as it is as our executive president, without the added — and entirely unnecessary — burden of also being the chancellor of all our public universities.

The second major reason, which is negatively affecting the quality of our education, is the increase in student enrolments, which has taken place without the requisite national investment in teaching capacity and infrastructure.

Coupled with this is the worsening poor quality of students who are being admitted to our institutions of higher learning, which adds to the cocktail of toxic factors bedevilling the system.

The important point to be made here Your Excellency is that while the goal of “Education for All” is very noble, it has unfortunately had the terrible result of disadvantaging the very poor people it was supposed to lift up in the first place — which all demands an urgent review of targets, vis-à-vis the resources available and the situation on the ground, as well as their implications on education quality from primary school to colleges and universities.

This brings me to my third major point, which is the serious disconnect in our country between basic and tertiary education — which are managed by separate ministries, even as they are supposed to work synergistically.

I firmly believe that the time has come for Zimbabwe to rethink having these two ministries. A single and merged ministry of Education, Science and Technology will not only save unnecessary ministerial and bureaucratic costs that are being duplicated needlessly, it will also crucially eliminate the current confusion and competition between the two ministries — and also streamline and better serve the country’s education policies, curricula and quality of learning across the board.

I could go on and on, but space constraints dictate that I must conclude my letter. I look forward to the day that we will hear that you are considering some of the issues that I’ve mentioned, as well as many others that fellow Zimbabweans would like you to look into urgently.

Yours sincerely,

Prof Norman Nyazema.