Science and STEM-led economic development: Part Three…language hindering ease of doing business

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IN the previous articles in this series, we highlighted the need to demystify science to facilitate a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-led development process.
We have also indicated that the use of a foreign language, such as English, as a medium of instruction for STEM and other subjects constitutes a major barrier to learning and ultimately national economic development.
There is need to unpack these issues so as to inform and guide Zimbabwe’s policymaking process.
It has dawned on me that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s persistent call that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ is not only directed at foreigners but locals as well.
To get into business, Zimbabweans must be in possession of requisite technical skills for the various sectors of the economy. We can argue science and technology (STEM) is a key area in empowering our citizens to be able to respond to the President’s call to go into business.
While the door is open for business, only those with requisite skills and qualifications can take advantage of the opportunities.
I dare say the door remains shut for the majority of Zimbabweans due to low levels of science teaching and use of English as a medium of instruction.
The requirements for five ‘O’-Level school subject passes, including English and in most technical areas, a science subject and mathematics, pours cold water on the prospects of a decent job for most high school graduates.
Many are right now at their second, even third attempt re-writing English language.
Despite passing with several As, Bs and Cs, failing English language spells doom.
It is the face of failure in Zimbabwe’s education system.
Without ‘O’-Level English, the door into business is not open for those seeking jobs.
The President has a clear policy on improving the livelihoods of the majority — creation of jobs, jobs and more jobs’.
However, if one opens the newspaper section on ‘Employment/Job Centre’, virtually all advertisements for various positions specify Ordinary Level English passes as a key requirement to get a job. Those positions in the technical STEM-related areas like engineering, manufacturing and agriculture require at least one ‘science’ subject plus English, again!
Given that little-or-no science is taught in many schools, graduates are effectively shut out of the lucrative jobs in these sectors.
In short, going by our current language and science policies in the employment sector, Zimbabwe is not open for business for many of its unemployed — not yet!
The policy requiring ‘O’-Level English in most formal employment positions must be reviewed.
Government departments and state-owned enterprises as well as private sector employers all require that prospective employees pass English with a ‘C’ grade or better.
This is despite the candidate will have passed other required subjects, all taught through the medium of English. Passing examinations in subjects taught in English demonstrates capacity to communicate in English.
It shows that the candidate can access information and also communicate the same in English.
Passing English grammar must be left for those who wish to pursue linguistic dimensions of the English language.
I have referred to my experience as a student in the US where Chinese students came and did a six-month English language proficiency course after which they joined us in regular university classes.
We graduated with the same degrees.
I had 14 years of English (from Sub-Standard A up to Form Six in Zimbabwe) and they had only a six-months quick-fix course, but we graduated with the same qualification.
English was the medium of instruction.
What is the magic in English?
Clearly, Zimbabwe needs to urgently revise the language policy requirements for Government, formal business and admission into academic programmes.
Using English language as a yardstick to measure capacity to undertake different tasks is a self-defeating colonial hangover that must be dispensed with as a matter of urgency.
This is particularly so if we mean to ease the way of doing business for locals.
When the British were in charge, in their former colonies, they imposed a language policy that elevated their own mother tongue, English, to consolidate their power and impose superiority; blacks would always come in as second class since English was not their mother tongue.
What does independent Zimbabwe want to achieve with these elitist language policies?

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