Arts education severely compromised
Stephen Garan’anga Visual Art
It is disheartening to conceive that the majority of Zimbabwe’s tertiary education graduates in the arts continue to fail to become hands-on practitioners whilst the expectation is that after years of higher level of learning they become relevant to the sector both practically and intellectually.
They are supposed to be the custodians of the country’s arts legacy, recorders of the present for the future, major contributors to the creative industry and preservers of our traditional cultures which we know for ages were suppressed by colonialism and is currently tainted by various invading foreign cultural elements.
Unfortunately, the situation has become a foul cry of ‘when will this day be over after all the wasted years’.
Those to emulate in the cultural industry still remain as the passionate self-taught and informally educated without five ordinary level subject passes.
Elitism form of education which brushes aside the talented, pitiful state of arts facilities at various tertiary education institutions and lack of mentorship amongst other ills are the hindrances to their necessary development and that of the country at large.
A recent national survey by various captains of industry and administrators in the arts and culture sector including this writer has learnt of numerous inadequacies and inappropriate acts which for example have left a certain national institution with a single student.
A certain national institution had to force out students midway through their art programmes because they do not have an Ordinary Level (O-Level) Mathematics pass amongst their other more than five O-Level passes whilst their practical work which defines one as an artist proves exceptional capable.
A certain national institution had students going for four years to attain a national diploma because of policy inconsistency whilst at another national institution for the same time frame and intellect a student can attain a degree.
A national institution with an art faculty was threatened by closure because of lack of Mathematics O-Level entry requirements. National institutions have all students of various faculties having to spend valuable time going through the same “Introduction to Computers” course regardless of its irrelevance to their respective programmes.
A national institution with the art faculty which does not have its own learning space or studios has to squeeze in another faculty’s territory without even isles or boards.
They have to practice their painting on horizontal flat tables and when theory time comes they have to stash their wet products and utensils somewhere before besieging a single computer for lessons as others are either malfunctioning or are still equipped with old “Windows” systems that are no longer compatible with a new relevant software, and, the list is endless.
In circumstances in which the forced out undergraduate art learners have gone to re-sit for the O-Level Mathematics and obtain a pass, they are fully cognisant of other college programmes which they become eligible to partake and therefore abandon the art trade for an employment oriented preference.
This deprives the arts and culture sector of capable personnel only to be stuck with the passionless and reluctantly got enrolled because their career of choice programmes were no longer available due to intake limitations but could qualify for the other as an alternative.
The resultant graduates have proved irrelevant as creators of works of art but employment seekers with the wording “art” or “artistes” in it often as administrators or teachers.
The long standing stance of hands-on practitioners have put the country’s arts and culture sector on the world map and are authors of what is currently being preserved as the future generations’ heritage are forbidden to be seen anywhere near the teaching of aspiring practitioners in tertiary educational institutions because they lack qualification papers to do so.
This has proven impractical for our practice and environment.
We are heavily stepping into the muddy footsteps of the oppressors’ education who initially suppressed our way of life for theirs which were full of mistakes to thrive.
But upon discovery of the shortcomings in their systems they had huge financial backup to mitigate the resultant consequences and made their ways compatible with their environment and way of life.
Even today their systems still heavily finance their arts and culture sector whilst on the contrary we do not have significant funding to support our sector let alone the funding to mitigate the backlash yet we are voluntarily emulating others’ mistakes in a different scenario.
If the current stringent academic entry requirements for the aspiring, young and upcoming artists continue to undermine the arts and culture sector, there will be no arts and cultural heritage preservation to talk about in the future.
What we are vehemently proud of as a nation today in the sector was not born out of the imposed elite form of highly academic education, but hands-on work by the non-academic and informally educated traditional and cultural practitioners whose work will still stand firm as the pinnacle examples of the practice of all time.
Continual experimentation with people’s lives is yielding agony whilst reality check reaffirms that no mankind need any academic qualification to draw breath or metabolise to stay alive.