Jehovah’s Witnesses’ contribution to literacy

Vuso Mhlanga Review Correspondent
Zimbabwe is about to implement a new education curriculum which will, among its core objectives, facilitate development and empower students to be self-reliant.

At this point, an education curriculum model spearheaded by Jehovah’s Witnesses, with traceable and measurable results, becomes pertinent. The Witnesses print socially relevant evangelical and educational material in many Zimbabwean languages.

Few people are acquainted with the educational work undertaken by Jehovah’s Witnesses possibly because of the prejudices people circulate about the religious organisation.

The Witnesses are known as a fairly widespread organisation with their main Zimbabwean branch in Westgate.

They are active in the area of Bible educational work, but it is also insightful to note that they have sponsored a comprehensive education programme aimed at educating the whole person.

The education is tailor-made for the learner’s specific needs and a student can learn at his or her own pace, free of charge.

An individual can learn using the language he is comfortable with, as materials are printed in virtually all the languages spoken in Zimbabwe, including English , Shona and Ndebele.

Marginalised languages such as Chichewa, sign language, Chitonga, Ndau, braille are also used in the evangelistic and educational materials.

They have practical and accessible literature for the youths, married couples , the old, and address virtually all aspects of being ; physical , spiritual and emotional.

The Witnesses believe that education should help a person to acquire work skills and habits such as honesty and industriousness, and help one to benefit emotionally, and to find meaning and purpose in life.

They also subscribe to the notion that education should not be merely theoretical, but help one for day-to-day living.

The approach taken by the Witnesses toward education and the values they attach to Education is aptly captured in one of their publications, “Jehovah’s Witnesses And Education” wherein they quote “The World Book Encyclopaedia”: ‘’Education should help people become useful members of society.

It should also help them develop an appreciation of their cultural heritage and live more satisfying lives’’

The Witnesses have endeavoured to do so. Among their ranks are young ones who have benefited from the education offered in the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their places of worship are fondly known.

Simple in design, but efficient , the Kingdom Halls serve as centres of Education and reference because of their comeliness, in sprawling communities where dozens of these centres are erected.

The mainstay education component that has helped many youths is The School Programme that has helped many in honing skills in public speaking and heartfelt , clear and fluent reading.

Every week the school is conducted and a qualified teacher gives helpful, balanced and progressive counsel to the learners.

The learning include theory in the different aspects of reading and writing, fluency, modulation , use and observance of diacritics (that is punctuation elements that include use of the period, exclamation marks, parenthesis, and other elements of punctuation)doing research, posture, dress and grooming, use of gestures and others; but much of the curriculum is hands-on practical education.

The student on the school programme is given an aspect to work on, say, reading with warmth and feeling, he practices beforehand and comes and present the assigned material before the audience.

Many who were apprehensive of public speaking have benefited through constant practise. Others also have battled with stuttering and shyness. They have learnt to be natural and the environment does not nurture competition, but learners do encourage each other.

Without the skills of fluent reading and good study habits, school may be a nightmare for many students, but the school curriculum has helped many to take a positive view toward their learning as evidenced by this observation in “Questions Young People Ask , Answers That Work”: ‘’It’s hard to be motivated to do well in school if you have a negative view of learning.

“So try to see the big picture. Seeing the value of ploughing through certain subjects may not be easy. Why? Because not everything in your curriculum may seem relevant — at least now. Still, an education in a variety of subjects will enrich your understanding of the world around you,” the book says.

That may resonate with the New Curriculum blue Print that will shape the education landscape of the nation from 2016 onward.

In primary school, more subjects were introduced that include science and technology, sport and Heritage studies. That is a comprehensive package of beneficial education.

The Witnesses though have long been doing that. They have long stressed on the need for inculcating skills among youths, especially the skills of a practical trade on which to subsist , such as carpentry, Para-legal studies, construction, painting and so on, taking cognisance of an ever-shifting job market constantly affected by new technological trends.

The Witnesses have taken great pains in endeavouring to do so, using every method to that end; radio broadcasting, television, and the prominent and rich website called

In the realm of culture, the youths have a lot to learn. For one thing, they are taught to cultivate a positive self image of themselves and to appreciate their roots and their heritage that may be reflected in a multiplicity of ways such as, dress and grooming , mannerisms , song and dress.

Since the Witnesses stream from a multitude of cultures, everyone including youths is taught to be inclusive, while cognisant of his or her unique being, and to build the fact that no race is superior to the other.

It is common cause that at the International Convention of the Witnesses held in August 2014, in Harare, where delegates came from lands afar , including Europe and The Americas , the unity which obtained there was outstanding, especially in a world which attaches undue importance to exclusivity.

The national educational blueprint also attaches importance to youths to undergo a specific period of learning and acquiring life skills, where learners are expected to go for attachment.

This gives learners a feel of what the real world looks like. The other objective is to imbue among learners a sense of pride and accomplishment, which is a special ingredient in a youth if he or she is to develop a balanced emotional make up, and if he is to build a sense of responsibility and well-being.

The Witnesses have long stressed the importance of involving youths in reasonable but fulfilling work. So parents of Witnesses have been urged to involve their young ones in the cleaning of the Kingdom Halls, at home and in Bible education for which they are also beneficiaries.

The education Programme undertaken by the Witnesses has also focused on parents. Yes, parents have homework too. They have a role to play in the education of their kids and are reservoirs of much needed emotional insight and support. They also have material prepared for them that help them to take care of their needs and equip them with knowledge that enables them to understand their children.

For instance, parents are urged to work with the teachers of their children and create synergies of symbiosis.

A case in point is the instruction for parents to regularly commend their children. They should commend the whole person and avoid flattering comments like,’’ You are a natural genius.’’

This kind of comment may stroke their vanity and make them believe that they are better than others and that they do not need to put any effort in order to succeed. That poisonous mentality works to no good for the learners.

So far this article has focused much on the youths, but the Witnesses have also educated married couples.

In a land where divorce is on the gallop, they have material that touch on the heart of many issues leading to divorce that include; financial matters incompatibility, emotional problems and imbalances, according respect to the other mate, and dealing with the extended family.

A seasoned lawyer, Mr Obert Gutu with over 25 years of legal practise writing in The Herald of Monday December 28, 2015, blamed alarming divorce figures on the declining role of religious institutions.

Among the Witnesses though divorce is not so widespread. True, Witnesses are people with their own follies, but the education they receive strengthen their marriages especially when they take to heart to the admonition to be unselfish and generous and dealing with each other.

The education system advocated by the Witnesses is over-arching and holistic; as they have helped many to repair their lives and to shed off destructive habits and dispositions such as, alcoholism, smoking, envy, jealousy and consuming hatred.

They have also visited prisoners and helped them to see a better future beyond stealing and to acquire a positive work ethic even when they are still behind bars and chains.

As the nation stand poised to experience a new education blueprint, the example of the Witnesses education which seeks to educate the whole person is a beacon of inspiration.

Vuso Mhlanga, the writer, writes in his own capacity and his ideas do not represent those of any organisation. Feedback ; [email protected]

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