Guest Post: Make Education Ministry a Stand Alone Department by @ZimInvestor

Posted on 06/02/2013

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OPINION (Zimbabwe Investor) – The Ordinary Level education results released this week where only a paltry 18% of students registered managed to pass with at least five subjects are a sad indictment on a nation which, if other recent news headlines mean anything, seems to be sinking into social and economic abyss.

According to Zimbabwe Education Council director, Esau Nhandara, only 31,767 pupils out of 172,698 countrywide passed five subjects with a Grade C or better. Key subjects which are considered must haves on a student’s result sheet, Mathematics and English, had pass rates of 13% and 20% respectively. Perhaps most surprising is only 18 per cent of students who Shona language managed a Grade C or better.

As the news spread to stations across the globe where Zimbabweans scattered, mostly during the period now known as the “lost decade” between 1999 and 2008, an air of anger followed. A popular weekly Twitter discussion platform for Zimbabweans, run by blogger and social entrepreneur Nigel Mugamu, had to change the week’s topic from the scheduled on Environment to focus on Education. The discussion forum which operates under #263Chat was awash with posts ranging from disappointment to outright anger.

Who is to blame?

Education, Sports and Culture Minister David Coltart in an interview pointed to a number of factors contributing to the appalling pass rate one of which was that Zimbabwe had lost more than 20,000 fully trained teachers between 2004 and 2009 during the economic crisis. It is no coincidence that the children who received their results this week would have started school at Grade One level in the early years of the economic crisis in 2002.

d_coltart

Minister Coltart also blamed the government for failing to make the education sector a priority and choosing to channel resources towards the defence ministry. This is too is a valid argument especially when the country is not at war or facing any imminent threat. Coltart wants the government to cut expenditure on other sectors and invest in education.

Zimbabwe, which has prided itself over the years for having one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, clearly is in an education crisis, and the Minister acknowledges this. The Ordinary Level results have left a nation deflated and searching for answers. Where did it all go wrong? Why has the situation been allowed to deteriorate? Trying to draw a list of who did or did not do what and when will be a futile exercise. What the country needs right now is to seize itself with the crisis at hand and come up with comprehensive plan of action to undo the damage of the last decade or so to an education system which once was admired worldwide.

Top priority

That plan of action should start with the country fully recognising education as a top priority worthy of being ring-fenced from partisan politics. The country must establish a standalone Ministry of Education with a dedicated Minister. The portfolios of Sports and Culture should be shifted to other departments to allow the Minister responsible to focus solely on this bedrock of Zimbabwe’s future. It is not that sporting and cultural matters are not important, but they can be attended to elsewhere.

Recent events in the sporting world demonstrate the importance or making education a standalone government department. When as Minister of Education, Sports and Culture Coltart issued a directive to Zimbabwe Cricket through the Sports Commission on the composition of the national team’s selectors’ panel, he ended up spending a better part of January seized with defending what others had interpreted as a racist move. Coltart also spend nearly another full month between July and August of 2012 as he headed the country’s delegation to the London Olympics. In the same year, the nation’s most popular sport soccer was dealing with a match fixing scandal which would have required the minister to be appraised of throughout the investigations. These are a few non-education related but important issues where the Minister’s time would have been spent away from education matters.

Zimbabwe needs to wake up to realities which have been exposed by the dismal pass rate. There is no point in pursuing an indigenisation policy of transferring economic assets into the hands of the blacks when a nation is not producing people who have the education and skills to run and operate the same. Zimbabwe can no longer afford to relegate education to the side-lines while focusing on those issues that deliver instant political mileage. It is now time for politics of the next generation not just the next election.

Hillary M Chindodo is the publisher and consulting editor of Zimbabwe Investor. He can be contacted on hillary@zimbabweinvestor.com

This article was originally published here

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