If you want to make friends quickly just utter the words “the Zimbabwean education system makes good employees” and chances are you’ll make some good ones. People have long lamented the quality of Zimbabwean education in spite of its reach and proliferation. Yes, we have one of the highest adult literacy rates in Africa but it’s not counting for much is it? Why?
There’s more to it than creating good employees. In fact, I would argue that creating good employees is exactly what the economy needs the education system to do. A look in the developed world where jobs are much less of a problem will show you that entrepreneurship and business is largely a preserve of those who have done their 10000 hours as employees elsewhere then through insight have gone on to start their businesses. So I don’t think making good employees is the problem here. Then what is you ask? Here’s my take.
Well primarily we are learning a lot of dated ideas. Only a few years ago there was a story about the O level commerce syllabus containing information on Cheques. For those who don’t know, we used to sign pieces of paper and hand them over to people and those people would take those pieces of paper to the bank to claim money against our account. That sentence is about all the education a non banker needs on cheques. To be teaching an entire section on it is unjustifiable.
While we are busy teaching the young about cheques they feel disenfranchised because these cheque things just don’t link to the Internet of things. It does not integrate with their daily lives. Which brings me to the next point.
There was a joke in the hyperinflation period (2008) that questioned why we were teaching children 1 + 1 when they were more likely to encounter 1 trillion + 1 trillion when they went to buy bread. Sure my retelling of the joke is poor but it’s an important question. Dr Dokora’s syllabus update though welcome (not by all but is anything ever?) was the first change to our syllabus in perhaps 37 years. Now in those 37 years we have witnessed among other things the personal computer, the internet, the eBook, the smartphone, the tablet and more. That’s just technology that has had a broad impact on the approach to education. Of course these things haven’t fully penetrated in Zimbabwe (save the mobile phone) but surely if our education doesn’t deal with these things children will only learn of them as devices on which to view the kanjiva dance or 50 magate challenge.
Not solving any problems
I’ve spoken about primary and secondary education up to now but the issues are not limited to them. Our tertiary education too leaves a lot to be desired. I read a lot and I’m always fascinated by how I come across statements such as “a 2017 CSU Berkeley study found that…” or “Research conducted by the Oxford University school of Humanities suggests…”. Now of course this research is more often than not backed by big industry but the fact remains that our universities are more of places teaching the same old things than making groundbreaking studies. Not all research is costly though, one of my favourite studies from behavioral finance, the Trevsky Jam study wasn’t a huge undertaking but supported a theory we all use today; the more options we have the less likely we are to choose. I believe it would be great for our industry and education among other sectors to have relevant research on our needs. Perhaps Dokora’s syllabus would’ve done better if it had been research backed? Just a thought.
Lack of practical approach
The times are changing. And they are changing faster and faster. That means what you learn today can quickly become irrelevant. Strive Masiyiwa pointed out that the industries and occupations which are the biggest today did not exist 25 years ago. We need a practical approach towards our education if we ever want it to mean more. A look at the Shona language will best illustrate my point. There is no word in the Shona language for things such as computer and where there are words for things they are not the easiest dande-mutande versus internet is a battle internet wins every time. People bemoan how our language is inadequate for business and education but how can it be when we don’t make it so. The guys at Oxford are updating the English language dictionary annually and as of 1 January 2019 TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday) is officially a dictionary word. While Ndebele has that little trick of putting the “i” prefix before words to adopt them it’s also inadequate to be honest.
Things are measured by how useful they are. The value of education is how useful it is to people. Many often complain about how they’ve never had to use Pythagoras theorem in life, I have though. The fact remains people need education that impacts their existence, education that is practical.
Lack of reward
I was bound to play devils advocate sooner or later so let’s just get into it. Education is not well rewarded in our environment. We are in an economic crisis and of those grateful who have jobs fewer still are well remunerated. And really who wants to invest in a quality education that does not help the bottom line. Now this certainly doesn’t justify but it surely goes a way into explaining the approach to education in our country.
There has been talk by recruiters and employers in Zimbabwe complaining about graduates being unemployable. Their argument stems from the fact that the amount of on the job training a Zimbabwean graduate requires to meet the workplace requirement is far more than they are able to invest. That’s a damning indictment of our tertiary education. Industries perspective is valid though, the point of universities and colleges should be to bring someone to certain performance standard; but they are not getting that standard from the graduates. We can’t blame the graduates, they fulfilled what the institution required of them yet they bear the cross of unemployment.
Perhaps that’s just the way it is
Perhaps we are asking for too much? Surely not everyone can be excellent. For if excellence were everywhere then it is no longer excellence but satisfactory. We cannot expect every Zimbabwean student from every institution to be excellent. Even when our education was relevant and up to date not every student was excellent. This doesn’t negate the failings of our syllabus but perhaps we should temper our expectations a little and understand that the top is only meant for a few.
What we need to change
My father said to me “The point of school is to learn how to learn” and his words grow truer day by day. I was perhaps fortunate to choose finance from early on and it’s something that works well for me. I know many cases though of people who today are involved in vocations that have little to nothing to do with what they studied.. In my case, my fathers advice helped me harness the lessons from learning Finance to use them in learning web development or social media management. Learning how to learn was more important than my recollection of the events leading up to the Second World War from high school history.
We need to learn what to hold constant and what to change. Simply put we must adapt or die. It’s no coincidence that we have an economy in the doldrums as we lament the quality of our education systems. While we drill students through algebraic formulae they will never use they sorely lack knowledge on how to use spreadsheet software. We need to start thinking about developing conscious competence as opposed to in depth understanding of some things. You don’t need to know how the internet works in order to receive this article on your chosen device. Valuable time saved on not going overly in depth in certain areas gives the student an opportunity to have a working knowledge of more areas. The more employable graduate who captures the Japanese philosophy “know everything about something and something about everything else”.