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Miseducating our future in Zimbabwe

We need to deeply rethink our national attitude to primary and secondary education in Zimbabwe. I use the term ‘attitude’ because formal education is fundamentally about how we approach and value it.

It is both personal and collective given the fact that it is about our children and the futures that we invariably desire for them (I will come back to this point later).

You may ask, ‘why a deep rethink on education?’ The answer lies in the history of formal education in Zimbabwe. One which remains very much straightforward. It may not be a palatable historical fact for some but formal education is a direct result of the onset of us being colonized. Even if initially a greater number of our forbearers rejected it.

Many of us with rural roots will invariably remember fireside conversations around an uncle or aunt who instead of going to school would hide in the hills in abstract resistance to the classroom or ‘kwa fata’ as it was referred to in those early days of the entrenching of the colonial political economy.

With ahistorical hindsight we would find humour in this but the reality of the matter was that the introduction of formal education to young Africans via initially mainly missionaries was about disruption of African knowledge production systems.

And also our forced co option into a colonial political economy that promoted not only capitalist inequality but also the racist narratives that came with it.

What became contradictory however for us as Africans was the fact that education in itself expanded our consciousness. It is a fact that a majority of our liberation leaders came from missionary education backgrounds. Including those that would eventually be most militant.

Upon attainment of national independence and liberation the end effects of formal education and its contradictions were to become more apparent. While we pursued ‘education for all’ we failed to dismantle an unequal education system as pre-defined by the colonial settler state.

We retained an unfair ‘class’ approach to education based on our desires to have our children occupy those schools that historically had been the best for white pupils and students. And in this, we were far from revolutionary.

Again, this is as contradictory as it is ironic. Together with how it now applies in the contemporary. And I will explain how this is so. The assumption that is given is that every parent wants what is best for their children is an important one. Particularly where it comes to education. Hence in most cases and in conversation with a decent number of cdes, where we discuss our children the most quotable quote is that, “Whatever happens, my children should have a better education than I did.”

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And this is a completely understandable expectation of any well meaning parent. Except for the fact that the future of all Zimbabwean children are our collective national responsibility. And here lies the rub.

There is a tragic assumption that the best primary and secondary education should be the preserve of those that can afford it. Or even if they cannot, they should pay through the skin of their teeth to get their children to private schools that reflect more the societal reputation of parents than academic progress for the children.

This is what sometimes crosses my mind when considering the key differences between public and private education schools in Zimbabwe. Differences that can be honed in around whether or not a student writes a Cambridge syllabus or a Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZimSec) one.

Even if it is established fact that the Cambridge or ZimSec syllabi equally make students eligible to a majority of international high schools or universities.

It then becomes a matter of preference via tragic inferiority complexes. As informed by a colonial education system and its attendant long duree political economy.

And this is where I return to the point of the parents desire for their children that I mentioned . In desiring the best education for our children we must remain aware of the reality of the whole of our society. No matter which school we send them to, our children will come back to the mix and cauldron that is Zimbabwean society.

Even where we may assume that a specific school grooms a child for departure to the global north, the truth of the matter, again, is that departure should never be preferable for young Zimbabweans. Especially because it cannot be defined as an organic career aspiration.

In order to avoid the miseducation of our future generations we need to focus on at least three things.

The first being that education will never be an isolated experience for our children. They will eventually meet and mingle in general Zimbabwean society. It therefore becomes a collective societal responsibility to make education equal for all. Without the false pretenses of writing Cambridge or ZimSec (after all there are no major end effect differences between the two).

Secondly, all parents need to come to terms with the fact that their personal aspirations and experiences within the primary and secondary education system should not translate entirely into their own personal ambitions on their children.

Even if they had a hard time of getting educated their former schools are not pariah. Never mind the fact that they helped them to be as successful as they now are to want rapture.

Finally, we should be cautious about how “education as a business” has eased its way into our national consciousness. While people are free to set up private or even missionary schools the government has an obligation to ensure an equitable framework for providing education for all.

That means prioritizing and expanding government/public schools at all levels and in all areas of the country. And ensuring that ZimSec is more efficient in its work beyond inferiority and departure complex comparisons with Cambridge.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)