The focus of Zimbabwean educational policies at independence in 1980 was, quite understandably, to address the pre-independence racial inequalities within the system and rid it of the racialized two-tier system that deliberately restricted academic education mainly to white students while controlling provision and consigning the majority of black students to the inferior practical subjects such as agriculture, carpentry among other ‘blue collar’ jobs aligned subjects.
The state-controlled post-independence education has rightfully sort not only to expand access but also to encourage young people down the academic routes. However, what has also been evident is the system’s lack of inclusivity; vocational skills training remains a neglected area. We have not been able to alter our pre-independence acquired ill-conceived perception of vocational training compared to academic education. Public attitude and perception of vocational training remain entrenched in the pre-independence era.
The Zimbabwean education system has failed to accommodate Matabeleland’s economic interests and people’s individual interests and talent. As Matabeleland citizens and nationals we need to play a greater role in the reshaping of the education in our region. A challenge it is, impossible it is not! Running private colleges and schools is not beyond any nation.
Our task now as Matabeleland nationals is to transform perceptions of vocational skills training; we need to draw, fund and front an educational programme that will be relevant to both our economy and local talent and/ or interests. Art in its various forms is important in our economy as are mining, tourism, animal husbandry and construction among other economic areas in the region.
Zimbabwe’s education policy of 35 years is no longer fit for purpose, we need to review the relevance of policymakers’ ‘golden formula’ of five O-levels and three A-levels in Matabeleland where many economic activities currently driving and expected to drive the region’s future economic growth do not necessarily require the traditional academic pathway. The design of Matabeleland’s educational programme needs to be influenced by this generation’s needs and our expectation for the future.
We need to address the apparent mismatch between skills and qualifications required by the local industry and skills held by our people. The reality is that present day Matabeleland is an economic environment dominated by medium and low-skilled jobs. In fact a significant proportion of jobs created is in the informal sector and many do not to require academic qualifications yet Zimbabwean policymakers continue to place greater emphasis in academic education funding over vocational skills training.
Career advice is weak in the region, most of our schools offer precious little in that direction. Many parents and teachers are unaware of the vocational qualifications and associated career opportunities; this has led to our youngsters often going through a predetermined academic route irrespective of personal interests and talent.
Vocational skills have never been objectively inferior to academic qualifications. The way forward should see us change the manner in which we present vocational education literature to the public; vocational education literature must never be subservient to academic publications; it must not form subsections of academic works but be the spine of purely independent vocational trade publications.
The importance of education cannot be over-emphasised in Matabeleland but the region also needs a change in focus with emphasis equally placed on vocational skills training as is in academic qualifications. Using academic ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels to measure everyone’s ability is wrong. We need informed career advice centres in the region and for schools and parents to take career advice more serious.