Heritage-based teaching and learning: Part Three …false comfort of Zimbabwe’s elitists education

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IN this third episode of our discussion, we continue to expose the shortcomings of the colonial Education 3.0, which most Zimbabwean Africans have embraced as the route to socio-economic ‘Canaan’ or ‘the promised land’. 

The heritage base of Zimbabwe’s education system throughout the colonial period and the first 40 years of political independence to date has been Eurocentric. 

In terms of heritage, the content has been distinctly European, with particular emphasis on the British Anglo-Saxon culture. 

We shall first explore the language heritage. 

We note that the language or medium of instruction in all Zimbabwean schools has been English throughout the 39 years of political independence. 

Mastering the English language, both written and spoken, is considered by blacks to be the greatest achievement in the education system. 

Working from an inferiority complex, the black colonial mentality seems to be that the more English one imbibes, the less inferior one is to a white person. 

Certainly, the white community have encouraged this perception by being more accommodative of blacks who can speak or write in English.

So, language is the first battle-line as black Zimbabweans seek to re-assert their authority and control over their God-given natural tangible and intangible resources and to work to achieve Vision 2030. 

The education system must be re-configured to give ascendancy to local languages over English. 

This effort will require the exorcising of the ghost of language inferiority complex bedevilling many of our mentally colonised academics and intellectuals. 

Easing the English language barrier in the education system will allow the majority of educated Zimbabweans to participate in the economy. 

It will enable thousands of bright students, with excellent ‘O’-Level grades but low English passes, to fully participate in growing the economy. 

Let English be for communication, not discrimination or leaving others behind!

Even then, there is work to do. 

Our academics, in close consultation with local communities, are best placed to develop our local languages in terms of mobilising vocabularies for different spheres of knowledge, including the sciences and writing books to collate the socio-cultural heritage of the people. 

Language is a key component of expressing our independence and sovereignty. 

So, as we roll out Education 5.0, language must be a top priority as it capacitates us to steer our ship clear of foreign colonising heritages.

So, we shall start by looking at the deep colonial English heritage roots that have marginalised virtually all our African languages. The English language has become the yardstick for measuring inequality between black and white and between so-called educated and less educated Africans. 

Failure to pass the English Language paper at ‘O’-Level spells doom for Zimbabwean school pupils because they are then automatically cut off from formal tertiary education as well as formal employment in most public and private sector enterprises. 

In Zimbabwe, every year, the hopes and aspirations of thousands to advance their academic careers are dashed, as only 20-to-30 percent of candidates manage the proverbial Grade ‘C’ or better in English. 

Vision 2030 can become a bridge too far if this situation persists, where we leave the majority behind using the criterion of a foreign language.

Virtually all advertisements for tertiary training and formal employment require that candidates pass five ‘O’-Level Certificate subjects, including English. 

Even brilliant students with ‘A’ grade passes in other relevant subjects, like natural sciences, will not be allowed to register for college or university diploma or degree programmes without passing English language with a Grade ‘C’ or better. 

Such is the ‘power’ of the English heritage for you. 

Ironically, students only encounter English during formal instruction at school and in the work place. 

It is outside the mainstream culture and heritage of the black population.

The educated elites pride themselves in speaking exclusively in English, even in circumstances where native Zimbabweans are gathered together. 

Some Zimbabwean parents even forbid their children from learning the mother tongue, preferring that they learn to write and speak in English only. 

The poor children live an ‘isolated’ life as they cannot readily connect with the mainstream society around them because they cannot speak their mother tongue. 

Sadly, they cannot communicate effectively with grandparents and other relatives. 

The socio-cultural damage is incalculable. 

And they never assimilate enough English language and culture to become black Englishmen and women. 

They become social outcasts as they cannot readily enjoy the socio-cultural heritage embodied in the local languages.

It is common to find the educated (English-speaking blacks) laughing at those who struggle with or are unable to speak colonial languages. 

A huge element of inferiority complex affects the non-English-speaking Africans. 

Parents will first check that a crèche teaches infants English before enrolling their children. 

Another sad dimension of using foreign language as a medium of teaching is that both students and teachers struggle to understand the English contexts of the passages that they may read. 

Virtually all reading materials are authored by non-African English native speakers. 

The experiences described in the English texts are completely strange to the learners who then adopt a ‘cut and paste’ approach to learning.

Cutting and pasting means memorising passages and then regurgitating these as they are, during examinations. 

There is very little or no understanding of the content of the material students are supposed to be learning. 

This superficial learning means students quickly forget what they have ‘learned’. 

Unfortunately, this has become the mode of learning in our examination-oriented curricula. 

Pupils memorise model answers to past examination questions. If a similar question appears in the examination, they simply reproduce the memorised answers. 

Some students entering university with very high points struggle with undergraduate degree courses where memorising without understanding concepts does not pay.

In ‘cut and paste’ learning, the students cannot disaggregate the knowledge and use it to explain new phenomena or to solve problems. 

The usual response, when asked to explain to an audience in the local language, is: “I cannot explain in the local language,” but only in English! 

Such a graduate is considered ‘useless’ in the village!

For someone whose education cost so many cattle, goats, chickens and bags of agricultural produce to say he/she cannot explain things in the mother tongue demonstrates clearly the lack of a heritage focus in Zimbabwe’s education system. 

The people will ask: “Saka akafundei?” (What did he learn at school if he cannot explain anything to us in our own language)? 

Can one become too educated to be unable to communicate with the local community he grew up in? 

That can only happen in a system where local heritage such as language, has been totally marginalised. 

Zimbabwe has a long way to walk back to our language heritage.

Bookish learning, premised on mastering the colonisers’ language, English, is clearly useless for advancing the welfare of the local people. 

The situation is characterised by technocrats who give presentations strictly in a European language or politicians who always deliver speeches to villagers in English. 

The audience will clap hands and ululate, awed by the eloquence, but learn and understand nothing. 

The educated official will feel proud as he displays his prowess in English, even if his visit yields no ‘development’ to the villagers.

How do we train our scientists in Zimbabwe? 

Do we ever require them to give seminar presentations in the local languages? 

Do we ever envisage them addressing real Zimbabwean audiences or will it always be those who passed ‘O’-Level English? 

Or is our education system preparing the graduates to go and work in the English-speaking world?

Our discussion of the language heritage in not complete if we do not look at reading materials. 

Most books written in English reflect English/European culture. We have rhymes like ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ that black pre-school children are taught while thousands of English books are donated to remote African schools to re-inforce the Euro-centric heritage. 

It has been said that of all the information written about Africa, only five percent is written by Africans themselves. 

The other 95 percent is written by Westerners to reflect their own perceptions and views about Africa. 

Can the real Africans please speak out!

The challenge is for Zimbabweans, and Africans in general, to generate as much reading material as possible in local languages. 

The availability of locally produced reading materials will make it possible to infuse an Afro-centric heritage into the curriculum. 

The next battle is to develop science texts in local languages. African scholars must take the bull by the horns. 

Colonial education has made Africans ‘too lazy’ to work hard to develop their own wheels. 

The argument that Africa need not re-invent the wheel is false. Africa must learn to make its own wheels otherwise it will permanently import them at great cost in foreign currency. 

For Zimbabwe, that is where Education 5.0 comes in.

We must speak and develop our own languages!

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