Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon extending beyond financial income to education among other socioeconomic and political factors. The earlier Matabeleland engages with the reality of our academic performance problem, the better. We need to acknowledge that we have a problem of academic attainment, involvement and motivation among young people in the region.
Zimbabwean systems are built on ethnic Shona traditions, customs and interests; the state was never built for Matabeleland; if anything, it purposely acts against Matabeleland people’s interests. The system has often proved incapable of addressing Matabeleland social challenges, including educational attainment. Matabeleland of our time must derive her peace not from shamefully escaping problems but through confronting them courageously. If Matabeleland is to invent tomorrow, we need to break out of the Zimbabwean socioeconomic and political enclosure.
An inadequate curriculum is significantly linked to Matabeleland’s socioeconomic and political decline. A rigid curriculum based on the needs and customs other than our own cannot be trusted to advance our interests now and for the next generation. Matabeleland needs to find ways of breaking off the monopoly of the evidently locally inefficient, if not insufficient, Zimbabwean public school system. Matabeleland children must be brought up to be competent citizens of Matabeleland first.
We need to prepare our young people for a high-tech world of constant change and the outdated poorly funded Zimbabwean education system is not the right platform for Matabeleland empowerment.
We acknowledge that formal education is essential for our children yet we know too that the Zimbabwean education has turned into an indoctrination programme that teaches our children what to think as opposed to how to think, and then allowing them space to educate themselves. Our focus should be an investment in institutions and facilities that increase access to opportunities for young people to read independently; well resourced libraries are key to the self-education.
The Zimbabwean education system has a bias towards academic studies; individuals who underachieve in academic subjects have very little to choose from except to embrace a life of perpetual struggle. The value of academic education cannot be underestimated; we need to reverse the poor performances across the territory. If things are to change on the ground, Matabeleland parents have to start actively participating in the education of their children and improvement of school infrastructure.
Poor infrastructure is impacting the retention of teaching staff and performances of our children. Various suggestions, including plans for holiday studies for gifted children have been raised and I have no objections to those initiatives. However, my concern is: what happens to the child who is less academically gifted?
As a society we must be wary of consigning to the educational dustbin young people who have been filtered out of the Zimbabwean education system because they are dysfunctional to its institutions. These are young people who may have failed academic examinations and find themselves unable to advance to A’levels yet highly gifted in other educational areas.
While caring about the academically gifted is commendable, it must not come at the expense of the less academic young people. We need to invest in and expand the scope of choices available to talented young people who fail to attain the 5 O’levels including English and Mathematics. We have to consider re-designing our post 16 (post O’Level) education programme to prioritise an extensive programme of vocational qualifications.
The programmes will include vocational subjects related to a broad employment area, e.g. business, engineering, farming, information technology, health and social care among others. Equally essential will be vocational courses that lead to specific jobs such as hairdressing, accounting, professional cooking, plumbing, animal husbandry, etc. Significantly, apprenticeships should be part and parcel of our curriculum.
Devising a system that gives the majority of our young people the chance to be useful to Matabeleland is essential. Young people need career advice from an early age for them to make objective decisions about career paths as opposed to just targeting university or college entry. Matabeleland needs to design a system and processes that will not only degrade and eventually make the Zimbabwean system obsolete in the region but also empower Matabeleland.