Zimbabwe’s highly regarded recording artiste Oliver Mtukudzi established Pakare Paye Arts Centre in 2003, partly in response to the underestimation of the expressive arts in the country’s education system.His biographer, Shepherd Mutamba, gives insight into the superstar’s educational philosophy in the book, “Tuku Backstage”.
Mtukudzi protests that instead of nurturing what students inherently possess, the education system has a predetermined emphasis on certain disciplines at the expense of the expressive arts.
“If the arts, or music specifically, is organised, it has the potential to turn an ordinary child into an extraordinary person. Tuku is a perfect example,” Mutamba points out.
“What Zimbabwe’s education and the community social sector has failed to do for learners and budding artists, Tuku now tries to do at community level at his arts academy called Pakare Paye, in Norton, near Harare, regardless of poor funding for the institute,” he writes.
Zimbabwe’s arts sector has not reached the level of global competitiveness, with rare exceptions like Mtukudzi and a few sculptors, and is not professionally organised to the level of a self-sustaining industry.
The film industry is struggling to make its mark, even at a local level, though Zimbabwean actors have crossed borders to be become shining examples on the global stage.
Educationists and culture critics argue that the sector has not performed to capacity, largely because artistic talent is not being adequately nurtured in schools, being a peripheral extracurricular activity in most cases.
Lately, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has been moving to expand the scope of arts education with the new curriculum which is currently at the review stage, giving a nod to the arts and looking to develop the study of literature in indigenous languages into stand-alone subjects.
Highly regarded educationist Dr Caiphas Nziramasanga was instrumental in the inception of a stand-alone Art Department at the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT), with special emphasis on visual arts.
The University of Zimbabwe (UZ), Africa University (AU) and the Midlands State University (MSU) are championing the creative domain with programmes such as music, film and theatre.
Harare Polytechnic also offers visual arts, the Zimbabwe College of Music is consecrated to the music sector while the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) is currently the only institution teaching publishing.
Dr Nziramasanga lamented that enough was not being done to prime students for the arts industry from the level of basic education but spoke warmly of the strides being made at tertiary level, emphasising that there was still work to be done.
The educationist told The Herald Review that the underestimation of arts education dates back to colonialism when the Rhodesian establishment created separate types of education for Europeans, Asians and Mixed Race and Africans.
“The racist philosophy is documented in the Fox Commission report which recommended that literary skills (including expressive arts) and business oriented education be a preserve of the white students,” said Dr Nziramasanga.
“The blacks were supposed to be merely literate in order to sustain the interests of their colonial bosses. The whites did not see a need to educate Africans beyond a level which would qualify them to look for work so writing and arithmetic were the basic emphasis,” he said.
Dr Nziramasanga said the expressive arts were exclusively taught by white schools and had the same status with other subjects.
“To show that arts education was taken seriously, they were taken seriously, disciplines like music were examinable and competent students were awarded certificates,” Dr Nziramasanga said.
“On the other hand, these were just extracurricular activities in black schools. They were not timetabled, they were not examinable. They were not taught in theory like they were in white schools,” he said.
In 1980, the Zimbabwean Government officially deracialised the education system but Dr Nziramasanga maintains that there remained traces of the colonial legacy and the arts are still to recover from the colonially engineered prejudice.
He commended the enterprising arts education initiatives by tertiary institutions like the art department at CUT.
“A lot of jobs are coming out of these disciplines. Retail companies like OK Bazaar employ art graduates from these institutions, the advertising sector is also running on these skills,” Dr Nziramasanga said.
“Others are going into graphics, textiles and cosmetics and running their own businesses. Zimbabwean sculpture is world renowned and arts education plays an important part in nurturing this talent,” he said.
Academic, author and literary critic Memory Chirere lamented that arts education is just a way to keep students out of mischief at the basic education level and not taken seriously beyond that.
“Arts are regarded as extracurricular activities at the basic education level which shapes students’ attitude towards them from an early age,” Chirere said.
“Education is career-oriented in a way that is biased to other disciplines and there is no indication that art can be a profession given the way basic education is currently structured,” he added.
“If we are to professionalise the arts sector, which has not even reached the level of an industry in Zimbabwe, it has to start from the earliest level of education,” he said.
He also shared enterprising developments in that respect at UZ where he teaches. “We are catching up with international practice whereby creative disciplines are taught as programmes in their own right at universities.”
Previously, creative writing was just a course of the English programme but the English department is setting up creative writing as a stand-alone degree programme.
“This will go a long way in professionalising the art. Writing a novel, writing a short story, a play, poetry, writing for the screen, editing and other aspects of creative writing are going to be taught as separate courses thereby getting the attention they all deserve,” Chirere said.
“Players in the current book sector are mainly self-taught, therefore spontaneous and independent in their work. This is bound to compromise professionalism across the book value chain,” he said.
“Under the new programme, we will be teaching creative writing as a business rather than just a passion. We are also teaching entrepreneurship so that artists can make business out of their talents,” he added.
“Right now we have people editing books who have not been properly trained for the job and some mistakes are feeding into the market, giving a bad impression of the sector.
“Artists need to know how they can sell, how they can cross borders, how they can make a living by doing what they can do best,” Chirere said.
Dr Barbara Manyarara who majors in Education and Curriculum Development said even with progressive developments at tertiary level, the arts were still backgrounded and suffer the baggage of prejudice.
“Consider, for example, the new thrust in higher education where an apparent hierarchy of disciplines is being developed which trivialises the arts.
“The arts are in the defensive, at a position where they have to demonstrate their very relevance,” Dr Manyarara said.
“Yet, all disciplines should be standing side by side, complementing each other. Remember the sciences are mechanical but the arts humanise,” she said.
Dr Manyarara said the world is battling with some disease epidemics that were laboratory-made due to instances that money rather than humanity directs the sciences.
“Scientists also need art so that they go about their work with the sense of humanity that arts can develop. In Africa, modern science is at the forefront of rejecting who we are. We were traditionally wired not to eat food that our grandmothers cannot identify with and that, of course, not only preserved our sense of identity but maintained good health,” she said.
“When science is not humanised by the arts, it is profit-driven and practised to the detriment of humanity. I am not saying the arts can stop all the negative things, but as the voice of humanity, they can mitigate these problems.
“Right now, arts have not been where they should be in the academic order of things because an attitude is created right from the start that the arts are inferior,” she said.
The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development is currently championing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as the necessary foundation for all education especially at higher and tertiary education.
However, critics maintain that this valid crusade by the ministry need not be advanced at the expense of arts education and the humanities.
The promotion of arts education can help professionalise and optimise the performance of Zimbabwe’s culture industries which include the literary arts, research, publishing and the print media, audiovisual outlets, new media, traditional cultural expressions, visual arts, cultural sites and design.
With strategic investment in arts education, the creative economy can take its place among pillar sectors of the economy.
“To give an idea of the magnitude of the creative economy and its overall economic impact, a recent study forecast that the global entertainment and media industry alone injected around $2,2 trillion in the world economy in 2012,” van Graan points out in African Business.
While the growth trajectory has remained upbeat at an annual rate of 8,7 percent, grossing $592 billion in 2008 at a time when other sectors were down with a debilitating financial, developing countries contributed less than 1 percent to the success story.
Countries which are making it big in creative and tech revolutions have no special advantages despite the promotion of arts education and investment in the necessary infrastructure.
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