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Are we doing justice to STEM?

Are we doing justice to STEM? Our weakness is our graduates are good as servants and never as entrepreneurs, investors or creators
Our weakness is our graduates are good as servants and never as entrepreneurs, investors or creators

Our weakness is our graduates are good as servants and never as entrepreneurs, investors or creators

Joram Nyathi Spectrum
The long and short of it is that our economy cannot employ our graduates because those graduates are themselves not trained to create employment. We are trained to be good servants or to manage what has been created by others.

“MOST former colonies in Africa have turned mastery of the colonial powers’ languages into a fetish and failed to pay attention to what is needed to develop, to reduce dependency on the former colonial power and to chart a new, solid and independent development path.

“Zimbabwe has fared no better in this regard.

“We pay lip-service to the need to embrace the sciences, commercial subjects and artisanal skills. President Mugabe has lately been stressing these points, but overall we haven’t made a paradigm shift as a nation.

“And this is our point: we don’t believe there is any minister in the current Cabinet with a better portfolio and greater stamina than Professor Moyo to articulate and drive this national imperative. Yes minister, it is time to talk science and technology development, everything else shall fall into place. That is your portfolio.”

This quotation is taken from an editorial published in The Herald in October last year.

Professor Jonathan Moyo had been appointed to his current Cabinet portfolio from the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services and was engaged in a familiarisation tour of local colleges and universities.

What prompted The Herald editorial were comments the Prof made in Mutare, stressing the requirement for candidates to pass English Language to qualify for university or college entry.

We pointed out in the editorial that we felt this requirement was anachronistic, that failure to pass the English Language should never be a career-determining factor, because it doesn’t have such a status in all developed countries in Europe and Asia.

“We felt the sciences were the way to go and Professor Moyo the best man for the portfolio.

“That is your portfolio,” we stressed.

We do not believe we have the power, individually or as a newspaper, to influence how ministers carry out their duties or execute their mandates. But we were flattered mightily when the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development earlier this year unveiled the STEM programme to encourage more students to take up science subjects at A-Level, and hopefully pursue similar programmes of study at universities and colleges.

This dovetails with an ongoing curriculum review of our education system, by which Government is seeking to cure it of the servant, employment-seeker mentality.

We will revert to STEM shortly. First, a brief scan of the current situation.

Zimbabwe prides itself on having the highest literacy rate on the continent.

We are proud that our graduates are sought-after the world over. And they have not disappointed wherever they have been deployed.

The sad reality though is that we are proud of that which is the nation’s Achilles heel: our graduates are good as servants and never as entrepreneurs, investors or creators.

They are a product of the current curriculum, a curriculum we cherish and have clung to since the dawn of independence.

It seems finally somebody has realised we are feeding our children the poison of perpetual servitude even as we talk sovereignty and black economic empowerment.

It is a tall order to liberate and empower a people with a servant mentality, a people who feel flattered to be intimately associated with systems and ethos of their former coloniser and believe alone they can never make it in the world.

In other countries in Africa, particularly in Kenya and Nigeria, their graduates take ICTs seriously and add value to communication technologies without inventing a cellphone.

They are coming up with their own versions of WhatsApp applications. In Zimbabwe we are content to import and buy and show off the latest gadgets. That goes for motor vehicle models, designer clothes, shoes and cellphone handsets.

Consuming foreign is a mark of sophistication, a cosmopolitan outlook. Sadly without roots.

An example is how Government policies which promote black economic empowerment face stiff resistance among locals.

If foreigners, who stand to lose the most, criticise the policy, we join them; if they show cynicism, we become part of them. We are servants happy to be led by the nose. It doesn’t occur to us that a white farmer who’s likely to lose his latifundium can never be the best person to advise on how to share it.

Zim-Asset has met a similar fate. Our education has not empowered our people to embrace it and seize opportunities. All we see are threats and weaknesses. The result is that we have all become master critics, bystanders protesting how Government is not implementing this or that.

The commercial sector has met a similar fate. Government has designated a number of sectors as reserved for locals. Few of our people want to look for opportunities there. We deride those who see opportunities in what we call the informal sector.

At most our people are happy to be fronts for foreigners, complicit in cheating their own government.

Alternatively, we stand by the carcasses of dead companies and mourn their death, so long as their incompetent owners or outright saboteurs who externalise foreign currency can blame their failure on Government policies.

It is only Government which needs a paradigm shift and to think outside the box, not company owners and their managers who can’t adapt to new technologies and external competition.

The long and short of it is that our economy cannot employ our graduates because those graduates are themselves not trained to create employment. We are trained to be good servants or to manage what has been created by others.

But it doesn’t matter how big the size of the organisation you manage; you remain a servant, pliant and hard working. And we are proud of that global reputation.

In comes STEM, itself a crude prescription for an endemic disease, but nevertheless a notable departure towards building a base for productive skills.

Few policy initiatives by the Zanu-PF Government have been met with near universal consensus as the launch of STEM.

The reservation has been about its sustainability given the parlous state of the economy.

Clarifications that Government would pay only tuition and boarding fees for one year did not dampen the spirits for STEM.

Across the political divide, parents were ready to stemise, with a potential to turn the jingle into another “Rambai Makashinga”.

But then, never has a policy so positive as STEM been contaminated, crippled and almost smothered in the cacophony of factional politics fuelled by misdirected ambition. And recently there have been insidious efforts to inveigle us into this factional cesspool or, alternatively, to allocate us a portion of the cesspit.

This we have tried to resist because we know the risks;

First, they say if you join a pig in a mud wrestling match it will beat you from experience.

Second, we have no business indulging in factional politics beyond reporting on them when there is a story.

There are enough rags who have dedicated their daily diaries to witch-hunting sessions on who belongs to which faction. We, on the other hand, believe Zanu-PF is capable of resolving its leadership wrangles without us “proving” who belongs to which faction.

Our interest is limited to the extent those dogfights distract from policy implementation.

Third, we believe Zanu-PF won the harmonised elections in 2013 on the back of solid policies, not factional politics. We do a better service to the nation by reminding the party of its electoral policies and the plight of ordinary men and women than by jumping into the cesspit politics of factionalism.

Zim-Asset is in need of funding and implementation, resettled farmers require irrigation infrastructure and skills training, rural masses (three million people) face unprecedented food shortages while those in towns and cities require better service delivery for their dollar — safe water, a clean environment and reliable transport system. They need jobs.

Zimbabwe needs unity, a shared sense of destiny and a growing economy. People are not interested in who is in which factional cesspool. They want to raise school fees for their children after stemitisation — uniforms, textbooks and all.

These are the matters which trouble our souls, not self-indulgence in factional mudslinging. Let’s all hunker down to the task of achieving an empowered society in a growing economy.

We view with contempt, those trying to impugn our brand by dragging us into factional alliances, which to us are as disgusting as tribal or ethnic-based politics.

Let politicians not soil STEM with their primitive factional politics.

There is lots of gold in STEM for the nation.

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