I salute former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe’s efforts to bring about quality education during his tenure as president.
There is no doubt that after independence, Mugabe’s regime inherited an education system that favoured white Zimbabwean students.
Before 1980, few black children had access to education. Those who had access to education found themselves in schools that were poorly funded and with limited resources, coupled with a separate curriculum from that offered in white schools. In short, there were two systems of education before 1980.
The colonial government had made education compulsory for white children and they spent 20 times more per white student than the black student. Over the first decade of independence, the reforms in the education system focused on making them suitable for Zimbabwe in line with the principle of “Education for all” adopted at independence.
The government expanded the education system by building schools in marginalised areas and disadvantaged urban centres, accelerating the training of teachers, providing teaching and learning materials to schools.
The need and supply of teachers was met by increasing the number of untrained teachers at primary level.
The government involved local communities to support schools with labour and other resources.
In 1988, the government formed a separate Ministry of Higher Education to be responsible for tertiary education, including teacher training colleges, universities and vocational colleges.
More trained teachers were supplied into the education system and this reduced the proportion of untrained teachers. Government strategies helped boost the number of teachers from 18483 in 1979 to 60886 by the end of the decade.
One big mistake made by the democratic state in South Africa was to take away the authority for education from the churches as they believed the churches were misleading black children with ideals for liberal education.
Mugabe did not take the authority away from the Anglicans and the Catholics. They ran the schools and the culture of teaching and learning was rooted in Christian values.
The government made basic education accessible through policies of free education, compulsory education and upholding children’s right to education. With a socialist philosophy, primary education was made free and this resulted in admission rates expanded.
In 1980, the proportion of female students in primary schools was 47.6% compared to 52.4% males.
By 1999, the proportion of females had increased to 49.1% and that of males had gone down to 50.9%.
In 1980, 43.3% of students were females and 56.7% were males in secondary education. In 1999, the proportion of females had increased to 46.9% and that of males decreased to 53.1%.
Today Zimbabwe has thousands of teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals working in neighbouring countries and overseas.
However, some poor economic policies by the government created a hostile environment, resulting in a “brain drain” of the country’s professionals.
Although Mugabe did his best to provide quality education, his reforms on the economy ruined a country once regarded as the African food basket, which is why many regarded him as a villain. May his soul rest in peace.
Hendrick Makaneta is an education activist and a postgraduate student at the University of Pretoria. He writes in his personal capacity.