THE Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira, hogged the limelight and drew mixed feelings from the public for announcing that ‘useless’ degrees would soon be dropped from our universities.
The media is awash with the news that Government is actively reviewing degrees offered by state universities with a view to standardising qualifications and abolishing ‘irrelevant’ programmes that are ostensibly creating ‘idle’ graduates who do not have innovative skills.
The idea is obviously to remodel university curricula to improve the competitiveness of local tertiary qualifications.
It has also been reported that the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE) has since been directed to audit all degrees at state universities.
This announcement has sent chills across several spines as both on-stream students and graduates wonder whether what they are learning or have learnt would survive the chop.
This article explains the Minister’s Education 5.0 thrust.
Perhaps what Minister Murwira said can be understood better if read together with the minister’s philosophy guiding higher education in Zimbabwe. He calls it ‘a heritage-based doctrine’. It is critical that we all understand the doctrine so as to appreciate where the minister is coming from. But before we unpack this, let us go down memory lane.
Zimbabwe was Africa’s breadbasket in the 1990s when agriculture contributed nine to 15 percent of Gross Domestic Product, 20 to 33 percent of export revenue and livelihoods to 70 percent of people.
nine to 15 percent of Gross Domestic Product, 20 to 33 percent of export revenue and livelihoods to 70 percent of people.
The 2000 Land Reform and Resettlement Programme, which is the second most important national milestone after 1980 independence led to the sabotaging of the breadbasket status as powerful Western countries (Europe and US) sympathetic to the former white farmers imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Notwithstanding, agriculture is still Zimbabwe’s economic backbone contributing 10 percent to the 2017 GDP.
Mining also remains an economic pillar. Zimbabwe has the second largest platinum and chrome deposits and is the fifth largest lithium producer in the world.
In 2017 mining revenue was US$2,3 billion, contributing 13 percent of GDP, about 70 percent export revenue.
To these, we can add digital innovation as another key economic driver.
Here is how one patriot, Dr Dennis Magaya, in his article titled ‘Digital Innovations: the Vision 2030 Real Deal’, summarises the dark vicissitudes Africa went through:
“To understand how these three economic pillars are the real deal for Zimbabwe, we first have to go back in history. Africa requires an economic model that mitigates colonisation and slavery legacy which resulted in missing development milestones. Africa missed the first industrial revolution due to slavery, then the second industrial revolution happened during colonisation (while) the third industrial revolution happened during liberation struggles for independence. However, Africa is now well-positioned to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution happening now (which) is technology and innovation-driven. Colonisation wiped out cultures and knowledge systems that built the likes of (the) Great Zimbabwe. It created national boundaries with economically and socially fragmented countries without critical mass. Colonisers stole wealth and built insurmountable competitive advantage. The Western world took more than 400 years which included genocides, cold and real wars to develop democracy. Africa has a maximum 55 years after independence, but there is pressure to replace pre-colonisation functional political systems with Western type democracy. Slavery ended 155 years ago, but Europe and the US had built some existing economic foundations. Zimbabwe, therefore, needs an economic model that leverages traditional leadership, culture and values while developing Western democracy. A model that leapfrogs the missed development cycles and historical imbalances requires a little more than agriculture and mining economic pillars alone. We propose a mining, agriculture and digital innovation economic model that uses natural resources to offer world class services thereby attracting global economies of scale as the best foot forward to vision 2030.”
People may misunderstand Vision 2030 and Minister Murwira’s timely intervention if they have no idea which rough path Africa and Zimbabwe travelled.
Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030
Zimbabwe’s Vision for an upper middle-income status by 2030 is integral to the ‘new dispensation core values’.
In his inaugural speech, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “This policy seeks to share with the international community at large, as well as domestic stakeholders, our key reform initiatives and commitments, under the new dispensation, on rebuilding and transforming Zimbabwe to become an upper middle-income economy by 2030.”
He further outlines an update of the ‘Lima Agenda’, giving milestones and progress attained so far, as well as our next steps towards a new Zimbabwe.
The new political dispensation follows more than 18 years of economic isolation and erosion of investor confidence, which has seen Zimbabwe losing phenomenal ground in terms of development.
The formation of the new Government, therefore, provides an opportunity for reconstruction and transformation of the economy to one which is capable of creating maximum opportunities for people to live a full and dignified life, taking advantage of the immense and diverse domestic resource endowments as well as tapping into investment prospects from international markets.
The transformation process will require fixing of broken relations and rebuilding bridges with co-operating partners both at home and abroad, he added.
As you can see, every sector of the economy has its unique role to play if the Vision is to see light of day. But as you may be aware, education is the most powerful catalyst for transformation, hence it must be modelled in such a way as to deliver the mandate of an upper middle-income economy by 2030.
Minister Murwira is quite clear what role his Ministry has to play. That is why he says in his own words:
“Our vision for Zimbabwe is to become a developed upper middle-income economy by 2030. This is only possible if we develop an industry that produces quality goods and services; if we develop an education system that leads to an industry that produces quality goods and services. It is therefore, important to understand that science is the power that drives industry. Energy from science has to be captured using a particular design, just as fuel needs a strong tank for it to be useful, otherwise it just evaporates. Likewise, the education system that does not produce goods and services is not relevant at all. In order for STEM to be useful in Zimbabwe, it needs an appropriate design for its implementation. We are guided by the philosophy that we do not buy development but we have to create it through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). No matter how many STEM subjects we teach, with a wrong system design, industrialisation would not happen.”
The minister understands clearly that, currently, Zimbabwe’s knowledge sector, dominated by state universities, should be seized with the practicalities of this exciting development.
In other words, Zimbabwe’s state universities’ traditional tripartite mission of teaching, research and community service has been revised to align to the urgent national ambition to attain middle-income status by year 2030.
It is now demanded of the nation’s higher and tertiary education sector to not only: Teach, research and community serve, but innovate and industrialise Zimbabwe.
Under Education 5.0, Zimbabwe’s state universities must launch into outcomes-focussed national development activities towards a competitive, modern and industrialised Zimbabwe. It is now all about problem-solving for value-creation.
Allow me to cite at length what another patriot says about what the minister is talking about:
“To the level-headed, Education 5.0 is a bold statement to the effect that Zimbabwe’s modernisation and industrialisation champions must be state universities and with good reasons. State universities, by their nature and character, are better positioned to grasp and decipher the threatening disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced robotics, and the automation of knowledge work that continue to dramatically reshape the global business and social landscape. These institutions, by combining critical thinking, creative thinking, innovativeness and an entrepreneurial mindset to the technological know (how) can provide national economy impacting industrial solutions.
The immediate must-do for our committed Education 5.0-subscribed state universities is adopting and nurturing a job-creator (JCR) mode mindset.
The job-creator mindsets demand close interaction with their host communities to identify economic opportunities to not only inform their curriculum trajectory but, most important, innovation, research and development agenda.
In the job-creator mode, the state university’s sole fascination is exploiting the identified economic opportunities in their host communities to realise university-linked start-ups and, ultimately, companies that contribute to the national purse.
This requires that state universities take advantage of the provincial economy concept being actively promoted in the second republic.
This subject has been discussed in previous articles under the title
‘Zimbabwe state universities must also open for business’.
Another must-do for any serious Education 5.0-subscribed state university is to immediately operate in the industry solutions provider (ISP) mode. In comparison to the more lucrative JCR mode, the ISP mode is a low-hanging fruit in terms of immediate revenue generation. Here, the university reaches out to industries in their host communities, learns of their problems, works out and provides the industry solutions. Both modes involve creating economic value from knowledge packaging and offer further benefits to the state universities by way of access to successful industry CEOs to serve as student mentors, as well as industrial exposure and experience that further enrich their research and teaching staff.Another must-do is for any Education 5.0-subscribed state university to demand participation of their councils in dictating funding and incentives approaches. It is an open secret that state universities, through tuition fees, have access to very cheap funds. The traditional tripartite mission elements (teaching, research and community service) are best attended to by provisions for a Research Fund (RF) managed by an active Research Board combining academics and selected state university councillors.”
The innovate and industrialise elements demand fresh thinking, for example, the setting up of an Innovation and Industrialisation Fund (IIF) managed by an Innovation and Industrialisation Committee whose members must exclude university staff and are drawn from among the university councillors, IP lawyers, private and public sector CEOs, business organisations, to include venture capitalists with demonstrated track record in successful start-ups. University councillors should commit a percentage of the tuition fees as seed for both the RF and the IIF.
The issue of incentives for staff, students and alumni who make Education 5.0 to happen demands active participation of state university councillors.”
I am particularly touched by his concluding remarks. This is what he says:
“Lastly, state university councils must dictate key performance indicators. It is tradition, even at graduation ceremonies, to be reported on local student enrolment, graduation statistics and, very rarely, number of research publications or student employability. State university councils, in consultation with the parent ministry, could up the game via performance indicators such as international students enrolment, Masters and PhD enrolment numbers, number of internationally cited research publications, citations, invention disclosures, patents, student employability, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) ranking, Times Higher Education ranking and, most important, revenue generated from industry solution-provider contracts as well as revenue generated by the university as a job-creator via university-linked start-ups, companies and/or direct industrial investor.
University-linked start-ups and/or companies will be those formed by active research academics, current students and/or alumni.
The poignancy in this observation wears any serious thinker down.
Surely Zimbabweans cannot just throw out graduation ceremonies that do not promise food on the table.
If education cannot industrialise, then it is barren. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; rather let’s learn from those countries such as Japan, Germany and China who looked around their heritage to develop globally competitive economies.
As Booker T. Washington counsels to former slaves, there is no need to search for deliverance elsewhere:
…sink your bucket where you are. This is where Minister Murwira is coming from when he talks about ‘The doctrine’.
A doctrine is a set of principles or beliefs taught and accepted by a people in a community of practice. It is accepted as a guide to action. It is a philosophical position informing direction.
As already indicated, Professor Murwira calls his ‘heritage-based doctrine’. To achieve Vision 2030, we need a model of education that speaks to that mission. And here is how he explains the new philosophy of education:
“Our design of Education 5.0 is meant for and is expected to produce goods and services and thus is designed for the modernisation and industrialisation of this country. We are redesigning, and we have redesigned because the game is won or lost in the design stage. We have said we are going to follow within this design, the heritage-based development or philosophy which will guide the Ministry in its quest to advance science and technology for industrial development.
Our philosophy of heritage-based science and technology development uses the most cutting-edge competitive knowledge STEM; knowledge from anywhere in the world but is applied on the local environment. Great Zimbabwe was built of stone that was around. It was never built using stone that was imported. Therefore, our science has to use the local resources in order for us to advance this country. We are saying we cannot buy development.
We can (develop) based on this heritage-based philosophy. Saudi Arabia is known for being developed because of its oil heritage. Zimbabwe shall be developed using the resources that are here but using its people, science and colleges. This is the context in which we are applying our STEM; STEM on industrialisation that is based on the heritage.
We have orange juice, why not matamba juice because grapes grow wild in Italy and in the Mediterranean. Apples also grow wild in Europe. When we bring them here, we are struggling to put them in a wrong envelope. That is why production is very expensive.
We are saying our science, technology, engineering and mathematics has to look near because they almost say in teaching, sometimes fools look far for solutions when the solution is just close to them. This is what we are teaching; to say matamba can make very good juice because we do not need irrigation on matamba. Our expenses on irrigation are caused by the fact that we are growing a crop that should not be grown in the first place in this climate.
Our aim is for education to (grow) industry, not vice versa. We were used to an education system whereby a person finishes and say give me a job but then you wonder – why did we send you to school? It was a wrong design of our education system. That is what we are saying. Our STEM should be used within this context.
Science and technology will be applied to advance the delivery of goods and services aimed at industrialising and modernising Zimbabwe. We are implementing STEM at our higher and tertiary institutions using the heritage-based philosophy which basically says; use the local environment to innovate.
You cannot import in order to develop. We have to be able to make sure that we reduce the import bill by making sure that we use science, technology, engineering and mathematics properly in this country on its local resources.”
The key phrase is ‘local resources’. Japan used local resources. Germany used local resources. China used local resources. And by resources we mean both people and ‘things’.
And his point is that the education curricula (content) should not only reflect local resources but also equip students with knowledge, skills, competencies and attitudes which have a capacity to transform these local resources into ‘goods and services’.
Therein lies the import of reviewing current university offerings to ensure that degrees that do not speak to this new trajectory are either strengthened or dropped.
The curriculum is a set of skills, concepts and processes that students are expected to learn from kindergarten to university. The purposes of any curriculum review process include the following:
λ To respond to the changing needs of society at large.
λ To establish student learning expectations in each curriculum area.
λ To provide a process for continual improvement of the curriculum to meet changing educational demands.
λ To establish consistency and progression within, between and across educational levels and subjects.
λ To provide an orderly and systemic process that will avoid unnecessary duplication and
λ To provide for a responsible use of resources and materials.
When targeted reviews are conducted, the mapping process is defined by the reason for the review. Resources may or may not be changed as a result of a targeted review.
The other point to emphasise is that implementation demands that the teachers and lecturers require a great deal of re-socialisation.
It is at this stage of the process that decisions are made to define the locus of responsibility for assuring high standards of implementation.
Professional development for the staff is integral to successful implementation of any curriculum and is especially important when many changes in content are involved.
The level and nature of the professional development is planned in conjunction with the revision process.
Ongoing professional support is also provided based on input from the building administrators and related curricular support staff.
Dynamic curricula, in conjunction with skilled professionals, engaged students as well as supportive parents and community members, contribute to effective learning which results in increased goods and services.
To this end, it is quite clear that the minister means well.
The audit is for the good of the country. It is for the good of everybody. Industrialisation and modernisation of the economy is every Zimbabwean’s desire. But there is no gain without pain.
As the minister says:
“The reforms, which are part of recommendations from the Zimbabwe National Qualification Framework, are also meant to ensure that 80 percent of core courses for similar degrees offered at all universities overlap. What we are doing is, we have silently, radically reformed higher and tertiary education since last year, after our skills audit. One of the things we did was to ensure that we have the Zimbabwe National Qualification Framework, which makes sure that our degrees equip graduates with knowledge and skill. We are, therefore, streamlining our education so that it results in that goal of producing goods and services.”
What is clear from his reference to the Zimbabwe National Qualifications Framework is that the programmes audit is not going to be haphazard.
It is going to be carried out methodically by ZIMCHE.