Last week the Independent carried a story about how Zimbabwean students were inundating the South African embassy, seeking visas to go and study in that country. Most of the students interviewed said something to the effect that they were running away from the country’s rotting education system, and ‘outdated’ degrees. Not so long ago, the opposite was true; South African students and many others in the region were the ones seeking Zimbabwe’s coveted education. However when you critically assess the situation, it isn’t just degrees that are outdated, but attitudes and value systems prevailing in that sector.
When I did doing my undergrad in Media and Studies at a local state university a few years ago, I recall that the class ahead of us went ahead to do their work-related learning, popularly known as attachment, mainly in newsrooms, without having ever operated a computer. The school of journalism did not have cameras, computers and other paraphernalia necessary then for learning the profession. We never at any point learned anything to do with social media and emerging trends in new media. If any of the lecturers had ever heard about Facebook, Twitter or blogging, they either didn’t care or didn’t think it was relevant to follow or talk about in their New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) lectures.
I had a friend in the African Languages class and the ‘African languages’ they studied were Shona and Ndebele only. I was sure that those languages were only spoken in Zimbabwe, a factor that did not broaden the scope of the degree’s potential.
I also recall how accommodation woes were a nightmare at that university. You seriously needed to be highly favored by God, or know someone in the administration or perhaps sleep with someone in order to get campus accommodation. The University had vast tracts of land allocated to it, where more hostels could be built, but the issue of funds, or lack thereof, stood in the way. The administration did not seem too concerned about the plight of the majority of students who lived off campus, forking out inflated public transport fees to and from the university and paying exorbitant rentals to greedy landlords in surrounding suburbs. Just yesterday I listened to a South African news broadcast about a University of Free State (UFS) Rector, Jonathan Jansen, who has taken issue over a racist newspaper advertisement looking for ‘non-affirmative action’ female students seeking private accommodation near the university. Jansen intends to send a complaint to that country’s Human Rights Commission, after having conducted an investigation, which revealed that this accommodation was only open to white students and not their black counterparts. As I listened to that report in disbelief, I thought: nobody spiritedly fights student battles here, except the students themselves.
In 2012 I completed my Master’s degree at another local state institution, which, despite its prestigious sounding name includes the words ‘Science and Technology’, has little to show for it. Each semester, Harare-based students had to make a plan to submit typed assignments at the university’s poorly located little office on hectic intersection of Leopold Takawira and Samora Machel Avenues. Each time I needed to go there, I had to brace long and hard for parking nightmares. Add to that, we had to submit assignments to a bad tempered clerk who very often went on extended tea breaks and was generally unavailable during lunch hour; the only time that most of us working professionals could get to do this sort of thing. Her excuse was, well, your lunch hour is also my lunch hour. When you did find her in the office, she would first look down her nose at you while slowly sipping from her mug, before shifting laboredly to serve you. This was not even the worst part. Each time our results for the semester were out, we all jostled to take a peep at pieces of broadsheets pinned on the wall, displaying results alongside student number. We had a respected army Colonel coming along to jostle with us for results pinned on the wall of that little office on Samora and Leopold. While we were forking out a little over a thousand bucks per semester, we were treated like nothing but inconvenient nuisances, and the university did nothing to improve systems. It was as if the university, and its endless tea-break takers were doing us one big favor. The university of ‘science and tech’ did not at the time have e-learning facilities – something that was introduced eons ago back in ’04 at my little celebrated alma mater in Gweru. For two straight years we complained about a lot of these things, even got audience with the University Vice Chancellor at some point. After holding a public meeting with all Harare based students, we never heard from him and nothing changed. Perhaps things are different now.
Graduation was something else. Many of us had never been to the university’s official campus. When we got there on the eve of the graduation day to make graduation attire purchases and do all other necessary processes, there was no signage, direction signs or people to assist you with information on where to go, what to do. There were long and chaotic queues everywhere. The queue for paying university graduation fees was so torturous, I nearly gave up on attending the ceremony altogether. The only thing that stopped me from driving back was the concern that in all that chaos, my certificate and transcript would probably just vanish and never make it to that little corner office on Samora and Leopold.
One of my friends later remarked at a graduation photo of me with a half finished building in the background. She was genuinely shocked that the building was still unfinished after so long. Apparently it had been like that since she started her undergrad studies at that university. I was sure the university faced the usual challenges of limited funds. Or the issue may have just been easily a lack of seriousness, considering the many state of the art vehicles and furniture littering the campus.
Apart from outdated degrees that students are fleeing from, there really are many other things wrong with our educational system. There seems to be a general and very pervasive ‘don’t care’ attitude going around. Many lecturers do not themselves care to stay on top of contemporary new developments in their fields of study, so that they in turn tailor their curriculum appropriately. The world over, medical doctors are now under pressure to stay up to date in their knowledge following new requirements for ‘maintenance of certification’ where they are regularly assessed for competence in a fast changing medical world. The education sector is changing just as fast too and stakeholders in the sector should get with the programme.
Most university students in Zimbabwe are currently unable to afford the $1000 plus tuition fees per semester, in a context where the government is no longer offering student grants. It is estimated that 1 million poor Zimbabwean students will drop out of school this year alone due to the unavailability of social grants. Moreover, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development chairman, Peter Mataruse, said recently that the failure by government to build new state universities and colleges means that the difference of 13 500 students absorbed by current institutions from 40 550 ‘A’ Level students each year will have nothing to do.
In short, our current system is no longer able to absorb all the kids due for tertiary education anyway, so those who can will leave.
In the midst of all these challenges, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Joey Bimha was recently heard lamenting the fact that his ministry might fail to pay school fees for the pampered children of foreign diplomats due to insufficient funding by the Finance Minister.