Leroy Dzenga Correspondent
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora has attracted the most attention in the first three months of 2017. His vision for the local education sector has received mixed views across Zimbabwe. The leap of faith he and his ministry took in implementing the new curriculum has earned him names, some far from flattering. To some, he is an overambitious idealist who is bringing costly changes to the country while ignoring its fiscal standing.
Some sections see him as a man set to revolutionise the local education sector by equipping learners with pragmatic life skills needed for survival in a fast-paced world. Whether or not the new curriculum will achieve the intended result, the general sentiment of most parents is that their children are being led astray.
Sadly, most of them have their arguments fuelled by pedestrian debates and uninformed positions influenced by social media. One of the reasons why many are against the new curriculum is that “the minister is trying to smuggle Islamic studies into the country’s education system”.
This unfortunate assumption was premised on the minister’s presumed religion; Islam — maybe inspired by his image, keeping a long beard.
Despite the fact that Minister Dokora tried to clear the air last year and is on record saying that he is Catholic, some still want to believe trending WhatsApp threads because it suits their contrarian stance against Government policies, a trait that has become fashionable in recent times. People now choose to attack the person, not the principle.
On multiple occasions, it has been explained that Zimbabwe has freedom of worship and forcing any religion on learners is not permissible regardless of whether it is Christianity or any other religion. This disqualifies the religious line in the criticism of the new curriculum, the trump card most have been using in ignorance.
To think that a whole legislator cleared their throat and made requisite salutations before asking Minister Dokora whether he is Muslim or not because they “read somewhere on the Internet”, should be a worrying factor.
There is a limit to how far hearsay and WhatsApp threads should be taken. With its emphasis on education, the new curriculum has been criticised also for reducing priority on core academic activities and giving undue prominence to extra-curricular activities.
Physical education, which used to be a peripheral subject is now commanding equal space with any other subject. Parents and critics have criticise this emphasis, opting for the bookish approach to learning.
These are citizens of the same country that is facing an increase in the rate of incommunicable diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Expert advice suggests that constant exercise is the best way to possibly avoid these, coupled with a healthy diet. When the same healthy lifestyles are being conscripted into the learning, the culture of healthy living is cultivated in the minds of future generations, there is a chance the problematic health bill can go lower in years to come.
Teachers’ unions and critics alike have decried the absence of teaching texts as their main concern against the new guiding principles. Subjects or rather in the new terminology, “teaching areas”, like Heritage Studies and Agriculture do not have adequate texts at the moment in schools. The ministry has said that the aggregation of content is underway and schools will be well equipped before much time elapses.
Books may not be abundant in supply at the moment, but that cannot halt the implementation of an idea.
It would have been unrealistic to imagine that in the elementary stages of effecting of the new curriculum, every piece will be in its rightful place.
Obsolete is the word that aptly describes the curriculum Zimbabwe is leaving behind; every extra year it was going to be in taught was going to present a liability to the nation.
In the old curriculum, there was an unsustainable focus on academic ability, the art of writing and passing examinations. Very little attention was given to those who possessed other skills or talents which cannot be examined in a single laboratory sitting.
These pupils were being left in the cold, maybe this is why Zimbabwe is still struggling in other talent-based fraternities like arts and sports, despite its impressive literacy record.
Through continuous assessment brought forward by the new curriculum, tutors will identify the skills and talents that the child has and they will be guided accordingly towards that end.
Forcing learners gifted in different ways to follow a narrow academic line is the reason why some companies are having to bear the brunt of an unmotivated workforce.
Some individuals have been forced out of an educational system that does not identify their peculiarity.
Book-smart graduates who have little to offer in the real world are being produced annually and this is because they are growing up in a system that does not offer much freedom of choice and exploration. Learners have to settle for programmes and ideas they do not identify with for the sake of progress.
The new curriculum, though imperfect, seeks to address that disparity.
Whether it succeeds or not remains to be seen, but Zimbabwe could not afford to maintain an old education system because the new one is not yet watertight. It is not different from a couple fearing to have children because there is a possibility that they may fall sick after their birth. With that logic, the world would be an empty space.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, sometimes it is a stumble but what matters is the positive motion.
The country needed a new lease of life in the education sector, the new curriculum can be rectified with time. It is less dangerous than sticking with an archaic method in the 21st century.