Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo has stirred a hornet’s nest by declaring that secondary school students who fail maths and science will not be allowed to enrol at local universities.
Moyo made the announcement in Masvingo last week during one of his consultative meetings with tertiary institutions in the country, declaring that soon learners would not be allowed to proceed to A’ Level as long as they did not pass mathematics and science at O’Level.
He said the education curriculum should emphasise on mathematics and science from an early level.
Moyo said the curriculum should be anchored on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, if Zimbabwe was to transform its economy.
The pronouncements sparked heated debate on social media, with most critics accusing Moyo of trying to exclude disadvantaged Zimbabweans from tertiary education.
Former Education minister David Coltart said while the idea was noble, the Zanu (PF) government had no capacity to transform the education sector because of its misplaced priorities.
He said the government was underfunding education as it prioritised institutions that entrenched President Robert Mugabe’s power.
“The root cause can only be addressed if resources are shifted away from defence, the Central Intelligence Organisation, police, the size of Cabinet, the President’s Office and the allocation of the money saved to education,” said Coltart.
“Countries with the strongest economies have children with very high maths and science knowledge.
“However, the problem lies in the fact that we have grave shortages of good maths and science teachers, so unless that issue is addressed, this will place impossible requirements on children.”
Coltart said Moyo’s proposals would address the symptoms instead of the real problems facing Zimbabwe’s education sector.
“At the bottom of this is that Zanu PF has got its funding priorities wrong,” he said.
“We have to start with a huge increase in our investment in primary and secondary education, including the payment of teachers so that we can attract good maths and science teachers.
“But this process won’t happen overnight, it has taken Finland five decades to get their education system where it is and we have lost two decades, save for the GNU [government of national unity] period.
“If this policy is implemented in this vacuum, it will have catastrophic consequences because there simply will not be sufficient numbers of children who have a sound knowledge of maths and science.”
United Kingdom-based lawyer Alex Magaisa, said most rural schools in Zimbabwe were poorly equipped to teach science subjects.
“Trouble is most rural schools don’t even have a beaker or Bunsen burner,” Magaisa said on Twitter.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said the government wanted to punish Zimbabweans for its mistakes as the policy Moyo was proposing existed in the past.
“It is nothing new,” Mandaza said. “The thing is government must explain whose mischief it was to scrap it in the first place.
“In my time, both as a learner and teacher, one would have to repeat if they failed mathematics or science.
“You would never proceed to A’ Level without the two subjects.
“It is a British system that is still in place in England under the General Certificate of Education [GCE].
David Dzatsunga, the Zimbabwe College Lecturers’ Association president, said the government had no capacity to enforce the proposed policy, which he said was wrongly premised.
“It is a pipe dream given government’s well-documented capacity issues,” he said.
“We need to interrogate the theory that academia is a matter of natural inclination.
“Some students might naturally be brilliant in mathematics and science but very poor in social sciences and vice-versa. There should not be an attitude that the arts are not essential.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer Fred Zindi was more scathing, saying the government was relapsing into the Rhodesian thinking where access to education was a privilege of the elite.
“It is like going back to the Rhodesian era where education becomes a privilege for the selected,” he said.
“It becomes selective because while I think maths and science are essential subjects, not everybody is oriented towards them.
“The fact that there are other alternatives then means people will have a career choice on what to follow without necessarily being bottle-necked into a particular area.”
Veteran educationist Caiphas Nziramasanga, who inspired the government’s latest curriculum review, refused to comment, saying he first wanted to see an official document on Moyo’s proposals.
Nziramasanga has recommended that the government scrap Grade 7 and O’Level examinations, arguing that the school leaving tests were introduced by the colonial regime to prevent blacks from reaching tertiary education.
Moyo also revealed that from 2017, Zimbabwean universities would not hire lecturers without Doctor of Philosophy Degrees (PhD) to help improve standards.
However, Coltart said although the intervention was noble, it would be hard to implement in a depressed economy.
“The issue of college lecturers having PhDs did not start with Moyo. It is something that has always been there and at the University of Zimbabwe, there are certain programmes we are not offering now because there has been an unwritten rule from authorities that they can only be taught by people who hold PhDs,” he said.
“The fear is that those who will fail to gain the PhDs might be forced to migrate to countries or institutions that will allow people of their experience to teach without PHDs, which means another form of brain drain that we should be working hard to contain,” he said.
“In theory, it is a good idea but he clearly either hasn’t thought it through, or doesn’t understand the difficulties in implementing such a policy. PhDs — proper ones that is — take at least 18 months to two years to acquire,” Coltart added.
“They are expensive to get. Lecturers will need time off from their current jobs; universities themselves will need additional qualified staff to oversee the PhD programmes.
“The question then is, who is going to pay for all of this? Who is going to provide the lecturers with the scholarships they will need to undertake PhDs?
“Who is going to provide our universities [which are already short of qualified staff] with the money needed to hire highly qualified staff who can supervise the PhDs?
“Moyo needs to get a grip on reality,” said Coltart.
The government has been accused of eroding gains made in the education sector after independence through chronic underfunding of the sector, leading to a brain drain and a high school dropout rate.