By Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki
EVERY year we celebrate the ‘Day of the African Child’ but how many of us give much thought to its significance?
We hear a lot about children’s rights; right to education, a secure home, health, food and a host of other creature comforts.
For me the right to education is probably the most significant.
The question that arises is: What kind of education?
For most parents, the worry is about sending the child to a ‘decent school’.
In Zimbabwe, ‘a decent school’ is one where the child is taught European manners and of course – good English.
The decent school gives the child as heavy a dose of Western education as he/she can possibly absorb.
For many parents, the desire is to top-up by sending the child to the West; Europe, America or Australia.
For Zimbabweans, the best schools are not in Africa, but in white Anglophone countries.
I have attended many occasions where there are huge celebrations to send off a child to an American school, be it college or university.
The parents, relatives and former teachers of the ‘fortunate’ student never peruse the curriculum of the destination school.
There is a wholesale assumption that if it is in the Anglophone world, then it is the best.
When I attended Gwelo (Gweru) Teacher Training College, in one of the courses, Sociology of Education, I think it was, we learnt that ‘education prepares children for the future’.
Education, the theory went, prepares pupils ‘to better fit into society’.
If you examine the school curriculum right from kindergarten, it becomes clear the whole thrust of the education system was to prepare pupils to better service the European colonial system.
The white colonial masters would find it easy to communicate and pass instructions to the ‘educated’ African who would be literate and articulate in their own mother tongue, English.
So if we revisit the fundamental aims of education, we see that colonial education, which we still embrace up to now, decades after independence, did not prepare the pupils to fit into African society, but the very opposite.
Formal or school education has been one of the major weapons deployed by colonisers for the mass destruction of African culture, religion and human values.
This is clearly explained by the wholesale negative attitude of ‘the educated elite’ towards their own language, religion, culture and way of life.
Educated Africans will compete to show just how well-Anglicised they have become.
The educated shun African ceremonies.
Many now even avoid visiting their rural homes.
One of the key pillars of sustainable family life, the extended family, has been relentlessly knocked down by the individualistic thrust of Western education where the individual, not community or family success, is celebrated.
Lest we get lost in this debate, we are saying our education system does not cater for the genuine African child, but a black caricature of a whiteman in the making.
The children are bombarded left, right and centre with anti-African content.
They never taught you the virtues of sharing as emphasised by all children of the same age eating from the same plate.
No, each must have his or her own plate of food, sleep in separate beds, not share clothes and the list goes on and on.
Some will sneer at all this and raise issues of hygiene as if to imply that African ways of living are unhygienic!
Indeed some might have been so, but why abandon our ways?
All that is needed is to improve on our African ways, not wholesale rejection!
And what is my point?
It is that as we celebrate the Day of the African Child, we should think of how best to raise children who will be true Africans, not black caricatures of white people.
By aspiring to be like white people, we condemn our children to perpetual inferiority complex because the black skin that God gave us cannot be washed (to be) white.
The sad experience of an otherwise handsome black young man called Michael Jackson making futile attempts to turn into a white person illustrates the tragedy of Western education imposing white values and culture on African children.
So when we say ‘children are our future’, which future, whose future are we talking about?
Surely not the African future.
When parents allow, encourage and facilitate the adoption of Western culture and values by their children, are they finding a way to fulfil their own desires? Do they feel they are affording their children what for them were missed opportunities?
And yet the truth is that such parents are condemning their children to a future of social, cultural and spiritual insecurity.
The black child can never connect to the reality of the white world.
The white world rejects and looks down on the black child.
They call it racism and enough has been written about Africans suffering under racism even in so-called enlightened societies such as Europe and America!
The new thrust of the Zimbabwe Government, which Minister Lazarus Dokora is currently spearheading to re-focus our curriculum and base it on African values, must be applauded.
I met three young recently qualified teachers who felt that now education was moving in the right direction.
However, they raised some fundamental questions.
The programme to introduce the new curriculum appeared hurried, they felt.
The teachers needed retraining.
The lecturers in the teacher training colleges needed re-orientation.
The whole programme needed a solid ideological foundation.
The content needed to be generated.
Who will write the new textbooks?
Do these people have the right ideological orientation?
I said it was better to get started than to wait until all requirements were in place.
I likened the current programme to re-orient our school and college curricula to the struggle former Education Minister Dzingai Mutumbuka went through with the ZINTEC teacher training programme.
Many called for a five-year feasibility study, but who had five years?
The young and rapidly turning adult population emerging from the ravages of war needed teachers yesterday.
A fast-track training programme was needed, Dr Mutumbuka insisted.
With the full support of the then Prime Minister Cde Robert Mugabe and Cabinet, the ZINTEC programme was rolled out.
Hundreds of teachers were made available to educate thirsty pupils, laying the foundation for the attainment of our enviable achievement of the highest literacy rate in Africa!