EDITORIAL COMMENT: Zim needs relevant higher education

Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo has advised universities and colleges to stick to established enrolment qualifications for students entering their institutions. In a report in our sister publication, The Manica Post, Prof Moyo warned that enrolling for university or college programmes students with low grades at O and A-level had the effect of degrading the nation’s educational standards.

Prof Moyo lamented the fact that some authorities stooped so low as to demand bribes or sexual favours to enrol students who did not meet set criteria.

This is despicable to say the least.

“If a programme does not need someone without Mathematics, English or Science, you should stick to that,” he said “Entertaining new students with lower grades at their O and A-Level is lowering educational standards in this country.”

These remarks came only a day after Prof Moyo called for the implementation of an agreement between Government and vice chancellors of State universities that the minimum qualification to teach at these institutions should be a PhD. This would help to improve the quality of learning at tertiary institutions, he explained.

There is obvious correlation and consistency in Prof Moyo’s message.

We, however, wish point out what struck us as outmoded and slightly discordant given Zimbabwe’s desire for rapid economic development which we believe requires all of us to embrace technology, not as an option but as the real stuff of all progressive nations. There appears to be an undue emphasis on attaining high grades in the English language as a prerequisite for enrolment at university or college.

We find this anachronistic, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Prof Moyo. It is a hangover from our colonial past which we have nursed rather than cure. It is incontrovertible fact that all nations which have made an impact in global affairs have done so through technological advancement or scientific breakthroughs.

We have in mind here the so-called Asian Tigers and lately China. In most of these countries and many European nations, speaking, let alone studying, the English language is a distant option, not a career-determining requirement.

Key requirements are studies which contribute faster to factors of economic development, knowledge which makes an immediate impact to the economic value chain. Nowhere in this is the English language a decisive factor.

Most former colonies in Africa have turned mastery of the colonial powers’ language into a fetish and failed to pay attention to what is needed to develop, to reduce dependency on the former colonial power and to chart a new, solid and independent development path.

Zimbabwe has fared no better in this regard. We pay lip-service to the need to embrace the sciences, commercial subjects and artisanal skills. President Mugabe has lately been stressing these points, but overall we haven’t made a paradigm shift as a nation. And this is our point: we believe Prof Moyo has the stamina to articulate and drive this national imperative.

Yes , minister, it is time to talk science and technology development, everything else shall fall into place. That is your portfolio. We are fortunate that we already have State universities and colleges in nearly all the country’s 10 provinces. It is the content they teach which we believe is largely irrelevant, never mind its quality.

That’s what needs reorientation. We have no doubt that if Prof Moyo applied himself fully in his science and technology portfolio, he would make the desired impact. With the support of his Cabinet colleagues and Government as a whole, we believe Prof Moyo has the opportunity of a lifetime to make State universities relevant to our developmental requirements.

At the moment they are only slightly better than white elephants to the extent that they contribute precious little in practical terms to achieving the goals of Zim-Asset. Yet we believe they could do better with the correct content and a better awareness of the decisive role higher education plays in the development of any nation.

We need relevant higher education.

Prof, this is your moment.