NGUGI wa Thiong’o through his novel Petals of Blood, first published in 1977, cynically explores the education system of independent Kenya, reducing it to a subtle organised system of perpetuating neo-colonialism both in Kenya and Africa in general.
-Dingizulu Mahlathini Moyo
The revered African author and critic vividly brings this out in his setting of a school in the village of Ilmorog where the geography students, to use his words “can with great ease sing about the Alps mountains and other geographical features in Europe, while they cannot name the fauna and flora that are just outside their classroom doors”.
This is an important lesson to Zimbabwe, which like Kenya has suffered the same fate.
It is for this very reason that President Robert Mugabe should be applauded for introducing the Ministry of State for Liaising on Psychomotor Activities in Education. According to the explanation given by Mugabe, this ministry would be responsible for mainstreaming practical education. This was long overdue.
The importance of this new ministry cannot be overstated.
To try and simplify how important this ministry is, let us look at things that we have got to joke about and accept as destiny with respect to two regions namely, in Manicaland and Matabeleland.
There is a joke in Manicaland which goes: During Christmas, five men were having drinks at Hot Springs in the Marange area.
As they got to know each other better, they decided to tell each other where they worked.
The first one said Meikles Hotel, the second one Bulawayo Sun, the third one Holiday Inn, the fourth one Jameson Hotel and finally the fifth one, who was not formally employed, just thought of a name of one company and confidently shouted: “Swift!”
The other four broke into laughter as they had in their working experience not heard of a hotel called Swift.
That could be a joke, but you cannot take away the stubborn reality that Manicaland province dominates the hotel industry.
Moving on to Matabeleland region, on any trip to rural Matabeleland by bus you are rest assured that 95% of the people on that bus would be women.
The men are in South Africa. Boys grow up waiting to be old enough to embark on that trip to eGoli where, once they settle, the lucky ones make one trip back home per year.
But come to think of it, people in Manicaland and Matabeleland went through primary education where they studied Environment and Social Studies including Living and Working Together.
Whose environment and society were the students from Manicaland made to study if their envy was to become hoteliers instead of getting to know that the pebbles they were using to shoot birds and small game were actually diamonds.
Whose environment and society do the students from Matabeleland study if their envy has remained eGoli whose trip means meandering through valleys, rivers and mountains abundant with gold deposits only to get an average wage of R1 500 per month.
On a lighter note once again, nearly all our businessmen have a rags-to-riches tale to tell.
They always tell us how their mothers laboured through pottery, making and crocheting to send them to school.
As a way of paying back to their parents they relocated them to town where they built them mansions.
While this might seem good, it is not. Why did these moguls not consider capacitating the old queens by expanding their crocheting and pottery businesses at the same time improving their living conditions?
Their relocation meant a disruption in the business activity of the very communities they resided in.
The short of it all is that the education system the business moguls went through, besides being a tool which they used to create wealth, became a sword to despise the system they grew up in.
Thirteen years after the land reform programme was launched with more than 300 000 people said to have benefited, why is it that in Zimbabwe youths fail to secure places for higher learning at our universities, nursing schools and our polytechnics?
We are yet to hear of a public demand for an increase in our agricultural institutions.
Even our government has not constructed additional agricultural institutions since 2000.
Additionally, when it has also become clear that we have abundant minerals in this country, we haven’t heard an outcry for the introduction of mining institutions offering elementary education in this field.
Let all Zimbabweans rally behind this new ministry which will go a long way in addressing some practical deficiencies that have heavily contributed to this poverty trap that we find ourselves in.
This will go a long way in harnessing the brain to understand the environ which should exist in a manner that will bring economic development.
Already I can hear the whispers from Bessie Head resonating that environment begets everything and heredity nothing.