Science and STEM-led economic development: Part Two…time we used mother languages in education


I HAVE watched so-called technocrats spend hours in workshops arguing the precise meaning of English terms.
Some readers may recall the near-acrimonious situations that arise as technocrats argue the meanings of technical words like ‘outcome’ and ‘output’ during Results-Based Management (RBM) planning sessions.
So much wasted energy!
And what chances do we have of converting poorly understood and vaguely-framed development plans into successful practical projects?
Zimbabweans in general are struggling with the English language all the way from the school examination room to the corporate boardroom.
When will we get up and do the actual work?
Will we ever be able to convert bookish science into goods and services?
And yet we are talking about science students confronted by complex concepts, expressed in books written in a foreign language that we hardly can comprehend.
We struggle to understand the basic language.
When will they start thinking and conceptualising new scientific inventions.
Learning science becomes a vocabulary accumulating exercise — useless for driving development!
One teacher said these days, school science largely consists of memorising written science texts.
Most teachers at both Ordinary and Advanced Level concentrate on grooming students for the examinations.
Past question papers and model answers are thoroughly perused and memorised by the few who dare to take up science subjects.
Most schools who purport to teach science, and there are very few, have poorly equipped laboratories.
There is a new trend of paying lip-service to science practical exercises.
The few schools that can afford it bus their ‘A’-Level students to local universities for a few hours of real science practical sessions.
The few hours spent at the university can never make up for the lack of proper science teaching in most schools.
And the pupils who so benefit are not sufficiently well-groomed to deploy their scientific knowledge for development.
Even former all-white schools in some urban areas, the so-called Group ‘A’ schools, have lost most of their capacity to teach science.
They also send their students for a few practical science lessons at some universities.
No wonder Zimbabweans generally have limited capacity for scientific innovation. We would rather import ready-made goods than design and produce our own.
Our science is weak!
Despite a huge population of bright young people, we cannot find enough applicants for science degrees at universities.
In one university, scholarships advertised for students to study for STEM science degrees failed to attract applicants.
While it is true that the numerous universities are competing for science students, the truth is that there are just too few to meet even our modest enrolment requirements.
Our thoroughly colonised academics believe that the standards of English have deteriorated.
The solution for them is to improve the standard and quality of teaching English.
You could almost hear them calling for the training of more English teachers so that more students can pass English and hence other subjects like, Science that are taught in English.
But is teaching our children more English the answer to our slow if not static development?
Zimbabweans must recognise our tragedy!
We are trying to force all Zimbabweans to pass through the ‘eye of a needle’.
We are saying every Zimbabwean worth his/her salt must pass ‘O’-Level English!
Only then can we allow them to participate in the modern economic activities of the country.
That cuts out 70-to-80 percent of the population.
Can the 20 percent educated elite pull the rest all the way to the economic promised land?
It has not worked anywhere!
Before we can recruit the citizens of Zimbabwe and Africa to the STEM bandwagon for development, we need to demystify science and make it accessible to all classes of citizens.
We must be able to communicate.
Are Zimbabweans ready to communicate with each other without using language discrimination?
We shall explore language attitudes in the next episode of our series.


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