Editorial Comment: Absolute standards more important than high rankings Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Torerayi Moyo, told legislators in Parliament yesterday that Government had taken heed of concerns from legislators and parents, who had said they were failing to meet the deadline initially set by the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec).

ZIMBABWE has been hitting the headlines for good reason recently, starting with an economic growth rate last year of 5,5 percent, as calculated by the International Monetary Fund, which is the fastest in Southern Africa and significantly higher than the African average of 3,5 percent.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister Torerayi Moyo has this week put Zimbabwe’s schools system into perspective, noting that Zimbabwean children are usually living far closer to their schools than the African average and that they reach basic literacy levels far earlier in their schooling than the continental average. 

This means that there is greater practical access to schooling, and that the quality of that schooling is above average.

The economic and education statistics are, to a significant extent, linked. A growing economy needs a workforce that is at least trainable, and that implies that the school system has to work well to make sure school leavers can be trained, and can open their own businesses and earn a living.

Zimbabwe made the giant leap to full primary and secondary education for all in the early 1980s, in a programme to ensure that all children had the same education opportunities as the settler children had enjoyed.

Politically there was no real option and economically, despite the high budget requirement, this was correctly seen as a good investment as well as a human rights issue.

There was some stagnation, and even slipping back, in the 2000s and early 2010s in both economic and educational growth, but the advent of the Second Republic put everything back into overdrive and accelerated progress on both fronts. 

A lot of the economic growth has come from Government investment, especially into agriculture with the assurance of inputs, training and the building of dams and commissioning of irrigation. And a lot of that required a reasonably educated farming population, which Zimbabwe now has.

Much of the growth in mining and some in manufacturing has come from external investment, business people who see Zimbabwe as a good place to put their money. Part of the attraction is the range of natural resources. Part is the pro-investment and pro-business policies of the Government of the Second Republic.

But part is the fact that it is rather easy to use a near 100 percent local workforce, or at least being able to do this fairly quickly. 

In some areas there are skilled and experienced Zimbabweans available. In others, where there are new processes and new equipment, there are least Zimbabweans who can be trained remarkably quickly.

One good example is the Manhize steelworks being built by Dinson Iron and Steel. A team of Chinese engineers and technicians had to brought in to commission the equipment and oversee the construction of the steelworks. But they were all assigned a suitably qualified Zimbabwean understudy who would be taking over.

Investors like the idea of hiring local people, rather than bringing in expatriates. For a start they know the country and work out cheaper, even when paid properly, since they do not need “home leave” or fancy school fees for children to be educated in their country of origin, or all the rest of the additional expenses expatriates require.

The Government does not actually have a quota system for local staffing by external investors. But then it does not need one since the local skills base is in fact one of the investment attractions. 

Some external investors have in fact moved to 100 percent Zimbabwean staffing, with just a fibre link access from the external headquarters to see results and do whatever audit checks might be required.

One important point that we must all take account of is that although Zimbabwe, at least under the Second Republic, exceeds African averages, we must not rest on our laurels. That in fact was one of the problems triggering the 2000s stagnation.

Even if you are in the top rank that does not mean you are perfect and generally speaking everyone can always do better, and the same is true of countries. 

The economic and education statistics were largely absolute, that is how fast the economy was growing and things like how many nine-year-olds in Zimbabwe have already reached basic literacy. 

Comparisons are nice, but in the end it is the actual numbers that matter, both for quantity and quality.

Minister Moyo stressed this point while outlining the progress Zimbabwe is making in improving the quality of its school system, such as the jump to a nine-year primary system with two years of quality preparation at the beginning so that worrying statistic of 10 percent of nine-year-olds yet to achieve basic literacy can be worked down to zero, with all children having successfully completed the infants syllabus which includes the attainment of basic literacy.

It is the same with economic growth, and the IMF team that visited Zimbabwe noted in its largely positive report the areas where Zimbabwe had been upgrading its fiscal and economic systems and policies, again increasing the quality of administration and governance, and making suggestions where further upgrading, which is largely in progress in any case as a national policy, could be useful.

Again the stress is on quality, not ranking. President Mnangagwa saw this instantly at the very beginning of his first term when he enunciated his Vision 2030, which was not that Zimbabwe would be number 50 or 60 or whatever in world rankings by 2030, but the vision of absolute development, that Zimbabwe would be an upper middle income economy by 2030, meaning that our annual output per person had reached a clearly defined absolute level.

In sporting terms this means we see breaking records as more important than winning gold medals. It is pleasant to be ranked among the leaders, but it is far more important to reach set goals and meet set targets, the primary target being that all Zimbabweans can live an ever better life.

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