By Dr Ireen Mahamba
“It would have been a tragedy for freedom fighters who were prepared to give up their lives to liberate the country from the ruthless fascist regime of Ian Smith to perpetuate the colonial system of education unwittingly through inadequate analysis of the system and content of colonial education.”
IN ZANU, the analysis of the colonial education system was carried out by the Research Unit whose mandate was to analyse the colonial education system and come up with strategies to combat it. Inevitably this analysis revealed that colonial education had to be thrown out wholesale, and that the education department had to come up with new curricula, new teaching and learning strategies.
Comrade Dzingai Mutumbuka aptly summarised the findings of the Research Unit when he said: “Most colonial textbooks are full of falsifications and pernicious ideas we would never like our youths to grow up with” (Zimbabwe News 1978).
Consequently, the Research Unit, which was composed of veteran teachers, graduates and researchers embarked on an extensive programme to produce revolutionary syllabi and teaching and learning materials for all levels from kindergarten to ‘A’ Level and to teacher training.
The efforts of the Research Unit saw the production of classic texts such as Zimbabwe Is Our Country books 1-5, Svinurai, books 1-5, creative writing works such as Woman in Struggle, and plays about the liberation struggle such as The People are Invincible which was performed before delegates to a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1979, in Maputo.
The unit also produced a political economy basic textbook in Shona, and teacher training materials grounded in liberation education philosophy, which materials have since been bound into a book titled The New Teacher and published by the Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production (ZIMFEP).
They also produced materials for geography, history and kindergarten.
The materials were easily understood by the learners though they contained many difficult words and concepts because they were intrinsically relevant to their lives.
“Caught up as they were in a cruel and frightening situation, these young children struggled to make sense of their experiences.
It was in such a context that the curriculum developed at Matenje illuminated the children’s understanding of the situation of their country, Zimbabwe, caught up in the fiercest liberation struggle against fascism and settler domination.”(Schools in the Struggle: 1991)
The Research Unit also produced research papers on the following topics: ‘Agricultural Resettlement after Independence’; ‘A Blue Print for Establishing Schools in the Liberated Zones’; and ‘How to Tackle the Shortage of Qualified Teachers after Independence’.
In addition, the unit was also involved in productive activities in agriculture, art and craft, carpentry and uniform making.
Apart from these specific activities, each syllabus was developed such that both the theoretical and practical/productive aspects would be developed in the teaching and learning process.
We did not have the capacity to print our books in the bush, so we relied very heavily on our excellent secretarial service.
As soon as a manuscript was ready, it was typed onto a stencil and duplicated thus we were able to provide sufficient teaching and learning materials for teachers, lecturers and pupils.
What should be clear from the foregoing is that the Research Unit was set up to spearhead the development of an education that would serve the needs of a liberation army that was poised to transform education in an independent Zimbabwe.
If it were that we wanted to perpetuate the colonial education after independence, there would have been no need for a Research Unit.
In ZAPU, the story is the same.
They grappled with the contradiction posed by Rhodesian education and came up with revolutionary syllabi that would “address the socio-economic transformation required in the future independent Zimbabwe as we saw it at that time.” (Schools in the Struggle: 1991) Because there were no resources to back up the new revolutionary syllabi, they too decided to write their own teaching and learning materials just as was the case with their counterparts in ZANU.
The bias of this new curricula was polytechnical, focusing on education with production for self reliance.
The subjects in the main included integrated science, agriculture, metalwork, woodwork and building.
The academic subjects too were systematically related to productive activities.
What is instructive in this narration is that both liberation movements found it necessary to design their own curricula and produce their own teaching and learning materials.
They did so because they wanted an education that would assist in the achievement of the goals of the liberation struggle, during the struggle and after independence.
What does this mean about teaching young Zimbabweans today to be heirs of Zimbabwe?
During the liberation struggle it was very clear that education was another form of the struggle for liberation, so the liberation movements took curriculum into their own hands.
Today we cannot be rest assured that our young will turn out to be heirs of Zimbabwe if curriculum development is not firmly in our hands.
Government is the supreme instrument of the ruling party, the party in which the two parties which championed the liberation struggle are merged into one to pursue the goals for which the struggle was fought.
The responsibility therefore falls on Government to take the nation’s curriculum into its hands in order to ensure that each child in Zimbabwe is nurtured in an education that helps them to understand and appreciate that they are the people who have the birthright to own and develop Zimbabwe for the benefit of all its people; that their material and spiritual welfare is in no-one’s hands, but theirs.
Today Government is responsible for syllabus development only while materials production is left in the hands of commercial publishers.
Such a situation is not ideal because we have not yet won the battle for the hearts and minds of our children.
The fact the majority of the ‘learned’ in our land still identify with the enemies of Zimbabwe means that it is not yet time to put down our arms.
Dr Mahamba is a war veteran and holds a PhD from Havard University. She is currently doing consultancy work.