Unemployable graduates

Thandekile Moyo

MY parents mapped out my life for me way before I was even born, I believe. This is the order in which I was supposed to achieve their goals: pre-school,  primary school, secondary school, high school, first degree,  Masters degree, Doctorate and finally professorship. 

Unfortunately, I have always hated school, for some reason, the idea of sitting for hours listening to someone droning on and on about some topic or the other has never been my cup of tea. I was once caught bunking from pre-school and my parents were completely shocked that a three-year-old could run away from school.

I remember being dragged back with stern words and not so subtle threats about what would happen if I didn’t follow the path prescribed. In high school, I bunked most of my classes as I preferred to spend my time hiding in my room, reading for pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, it was not learning which I was against, it was the boring manner in which education was delivered to us.

Regardless of all my negative feelings towards the classroom setup, I knew there was no escape from the well laid out plan. I therefore made sure that I passed all my exams. That was an easy thing for me to do as our education curriculum has always been based more on one’s ability to memorise than on the ability to understand and apply concepts to real life situations.  I remember I once got a 100 percent in a History exam and almost caused a scandal. My teacher had to defend how that was possible and proved how I had written every point there was to the questions asked.

I had memorised the entire textbook and the term’s history notes just before the exam. I learnt this strategy at an early age, to memorise all my notes just before the exams and it worked for me my entire school life. This makes me wonder how many people took that route and thus exactly what calibre of graduates do we have out there. Our entire education system was based on theory and little emphasis was put on encouraging children to be creative and practical.

In a continent that churns out thousands of research projects from the numerous universities sprawled across the landscape, one thing has always boggled my mind. Why aren’t Africa’s day to day problems being solved? Exactly what are our fundis researching on if simple , everyday struggles like lighting in the rural areas, water shortages, long distances walked by children to schools everyday, haven’t been solved? Exactly whose problems are we solving with our one year long dissertations and 100 paged thesis?

In Zimbabwe, most rural areas in Mashonaland have wells in every homestead. What my mind can’t understand is that our esteemed engineers with mothers and homes in the rural areas, when they visit home each Christmas, see no problem in throwing a bucket into the well and dragging it back up with a rope. An old, laborious method used by our ancestors in the 19th century.

Is it not embarrassing, that one graduated with a first class degree in engineering but cannot devise or create a simple machine to help his family draw water in the rural areas. We are busy praying to get jobs laying pipes to improve agriculture in foreign nations but we cannot think of ways to pump water from our grandmother’s wells into their small gardens and install taps in their homes. There is a serious disconnect between what we learn at school and go on to apply at work and how we live our lives at home. We seem to leave our school and work brains behind the moment we go home.

I always wonder what goes through the mind of a PhD graduate or a professor when they are sitting on a Blair toilet or squatting on a pit latrine. Does it not click that their vast education must bring development  back home? Basics, like flush toilets and showers can be built in African rural areas.

Why should we accept that standard of life? Is it because we know we are only there temporarily? Education in Africa seems to be a ticket out of the rural areas or resident country and once educated it’s as if we leave our poor lifestyles behind for “greener pastures” instead of upgrading and developing our home areas. In Zimbabwe, 36 years after Independence,  our reserves remain exactly that, reserves, with the “educated” black Zimbabwean safely ensconced in the sububs leaving their parents and siblings suffering in the reserves.

Is it not pathetic that while you and your wife are dining in luxury and style on meals cooked on your glass cooker your mother/grandmother is teary eyed in a smoke-filled kitchen boiling kapenta in a dimly candlelit kitchen? Something is wrong somewhere if we have African architecture students winning awards for designing state of the art skyscrapers yet on holiday they sleep in tumbling down, cracked huts with leaking roofs. Instead of designing simple, affordable,  comfortable housing for the African environment our students design igloos and skyscrapers.  Again I ask, whose problems are we solving with the billions spent on education each year in Africa.

There is a serious disassociation between the things that we train for at school and the way we live our lives. Is education not supposed to improve our standards of living? Not as individuals but the living standards of the country as a whole? It seems when an African is comfortable in his personal right we cannot extend that to our environment.

Our parliamentarians cry for all terrain vehicles when they should be fighting to change the terrain to suit all vehicles. I am struck by the futility of churning out graduates whose education does absolutely nothing for their people and continent. Everyday Zimbabwe brags of having a 92 percent literacy rate but it seems we got it right only up to the point of teaching our people to read and write.

We need an education system that does more than just raise literacy rates. When I look at my “useless” university degree, it is clear to me that my parents and many others who had a similar plan for their children, are victims of bad investments, as education through the current system, is unlikely to ever pay off. This makes me realise, not only are our graduates unemployed, they are unemployable!

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