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The other side of Rhodesia’s education system

by Rejoice Ngwenya
24 May 2019 | 3513 Views
One of, if not the only critical aspect of the Rhodesian educational system was that it was inspired with skills. Of course, there is tons of empirical evidence on the vices of institutionalised racial, political, social and economic segregation. This made it difficult for young African blacks to make it to so-called elite schools and colleges. Nevertheless, every tragedy has a good side. I cannot recall whether it was the Garfield Todd influence. By the time, Ian Smith took over the country, Rhodesia's sophisticated education system was already set for greater things.

Those of my generation who were lucky to be born just about the era of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence UDI, we experienced life in one of the most industrialised countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Moreover, this was not by coincidence. Rhodesia's racial laws completely isolated her from the rest of the civilised world because of 'crippling' sanctions. Actually people who talk about current 'sanctions' against Zimbabwe have no idea what the United Nations and Europe had against the Rhodesians. However, Ian Smith was smarter than the Mugabe-Mnangagwa junta because he and his team did not wallow in self-pity. They, with the help of apartheid South Africa and a committed band of sanctions busters embarked on an orgy of large-scale import substitution. Where politics failed him, education and training took control.

By the time I entered primary school in 1967, the education conveyor belt was churning out some of the most skilled black Africans on the continent. Sarcastic historians could 'argue' that the reason why white Rhodesians wanted a large stock of skilled blacks was so we would run their farms, factories and shops while they enjoyed extended golf holidays in Vumba! I mean the educational system back then was so good that when someone went through 'Standard Six' i.e. six or seven years of primary school education, the villagers would boast: "Apedza chikoro.” In other words, this 'qualification' was a euphemism of having 'completed school', why because after Standard 6, even if one did not opt for further education, they would be skilled enough to start life of formal work.

My late father and the rest of his forties and fifties generation of teachers, were beneficiaries of a highly technical primary school education system able to give them a basis of 'college entry'. According to a document entitled The Zimbabwe Bulletin of Teacher Education, Volume 13, Issues 2, November 2006 edited by Attwell Mamvuto, that generation trained under the PTL and PTH programmes. "In the Primary Teachers' Low (PTL) and Primary Teachers' High (PTH), programmes of 1962, the entry requirements were Standard six and Form 2 respectively.” In other words, a mere six to eight years of primary school education was good enough to turn one into a prospective 'college graduate'. There are various theories advanced about this state of affairs, one being that by the time our parents started school, their cognitive and motor skills were 'mature' enough to grasp skills training. For reasons known to modern-day systems, children start school at the age of six, even five. I mean, seriously!

The 'employable black stock theory' is partially true because according to Viola Machingura writing in the same bulletin, "The apparent intention of the colonial, administration was not to educate the African in a meaningful way but to…” then she quoted Atkinson 1972:91. "Give them such training as would enable them to become more efficient workers in in agriculture and industry and render more efficient service to European employers.” You can therefore argue all day whether it is good or bad for an education system to be based on employability, but I look at this 'problem' in a more enlightened way.





Well before formal education fell into place, clergymen at institutions like Solusi, Inyathi, Bondolfe and Waddilove missions had already factored 'arts and crafts' into everyday education. This system carried on for generations so much that by the time I entered primary school, woodcarving, clay moulding, knitting and sewing were an integral aspect of the syllabus. We used to take pride in our artistic work. School Prize Giving Day was eagerly waited to see which students displayed the best arts and crafts. School administrators organised 'show days' where scores of schools in the provinces would converge to show off their artistic and musical skills. Even if one dropped out of school at Grade 7 or Form 2 level, they would be equipped enough to look after themselves in the 'industry'.


One of the most potent aspects of colonial education was the apprenticeship system. My golden generation of the 1970s will remember how Ian Smith introduced the 'F2 System' that allowed 'non-academic oriented' students to focus on handiwork. This conveyor belt – for want of a better term – was responsible for injecting thousands of skilled black Africans into the sectors of mining, manufacturing and agriculture. Although 'academic oriented' youngsters were later incorporated from 'F1' i.e. GCE Ordinary Level graduates, places like Rhodesia Railways, Zisco Steel, Rio Tinto, Shurugwi Chrome Mines, Zeco and National Breweries were teeming with highly skilled F2 apprentices. Even Teacher Training Colleges like UCE, Hillside, Mkoba and GTC absorbed highly capable students with a mere four years of secondary school education.


I recall when I returned from exile in the mid-1980s, my twin brother, only in his early 20s, was such an accomplished railway artisan. He is that generation of railwaymen who turned National Railways Zimbabwe into one of the best transport systems in Africa. Therefore, my point is that we might now boast how Zimbabwe has dozens of universities that churn out ten thousand graduates every year, but how 'employable' are they? Never mind employability, but what survival skills do they have? If anything, at a time when our economy is only one third of what Rhodesia's was, our schools, colleges and universities should be producing 'graduates' skilled enough to invent and innovate own livelihoods. An education system that produces graduates of theory cannot help a country not only in recession but desperate for industrialisation, let alone 'suffering from illegal Western sanctions' – to borrow from overused political parlance. I rest my case.




Ian Smith Rhodesia Nkomo


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