THE continued emphasis President Mnangagwa places on applying education is necessary and justifies the huge investments that Zimbabwe, both at Government and family level, makes in education.
As the President noted last week near Chinhoyi where he was touring some of the practical applications of theory at the farm owned by the Chinhoyi University of Technology, and commissioning new units at the farm, the paper qualification is not much use as a piece of paper.
Where the serious hard work that a student has put in over several years to graduate becomes important and valuable is when that knowledge is applied, and applied preferably for production.
This is not to decry theory. It is the vital bedrock on what applications are built on. It is possible to teach applications without anyone understanding how they work, but it takes longer and is not that useful when the application changes.
The person who has mastered the theory behind the application is in a far different position. When the application changes, the theory does not so the new application, or the new technology that arises as the result of some breakthrough, can easily be understood.
So when those changes happen next year, or next decade or in 40 years time, the person who understands what is going on can cope with the application changes.
This is why so many need tertiary education at the highest possible level, so they understand the theory, but also why universities also need to show how applications, or at least some applications, work so their graduates have a running start in how the theory drives the applications, and how the process works of looking for new applications, an even more valuable skill.
The world, and Zimbabwe, have moved a long way from the days when a qualification meant some sort of lifetime job with an employer who could be benign or could be totally useless.
These days even those employed by others change jobs every now and then and many find it more rewarding, both intellectually and financially, to build their own business, either alone or with like-minded friends.
In either case the young graduate benefits if they are able to apply theory. These days an employer wants far more than a framed certificate on a wall, and in most cases that certificate does nothing more than get a potential recruit into the short list.
What the employer really wants to know, and wants to pay for, is what can the graduate do.
This is why so many who hire people are keen to know what the applicant has done, and at what level and with who, with the certificate in the frame being simply an assurance that the required theory behind what is being applied has been adequately mastered, so when everything changes the recruit will still be doing something useful.
And when someone wants to set up a business for themselves the ability to both understand the theory and the ability to transform that theory into something practical, and saleable, becomes even more important.
Without both, the business idea just dies. With both, the person moves forward quite quickly.
There has been misunderstanding in some quarters over what the new Zimbabwean emphasis on what is called Education 5.0 actually means. It is not so much a change in what was taught, but far more a major addition to what is taught, adding the practical and adding the applications to what was there and still is there.
More importantly in many ways is the necessary change in attitude, both at the university and among those studying and graduating. There was a attitude, faint in some faculties and more common in others, of the ivory tower, knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
That attitude arose, presumably, from the university education offered in some countries until remarkably recently that universities did not get greasy hands, and that the “gentlemen”, since there were hardly any women at the universities, were there to get a curiously narrow education that would at least let them adorn their father’s business if not add much to it.
The practical people went through a different route, and it took a long time for the two to converge, universities broadening their research and teaching and the practical colleges upgrading the required theory and putting in research. The process saw a common standard emerge, and about time too.
It is this double that is so important. Zimbabwe has been expanding its education system at all levels in the 42 years since independence.
The objective is that every child should go as far as possible and that all children should reach a stage where they can build something, grow something, do something that will allow them to keep themselves and contribute to their family. What we have seen more recently is a greater thrust to embrace the application side as well as the theory side, adding more to the education process. This can cost more money of course. Workshops, laboratories, experimental technology and the like are more expensive than a room with desks.
So universities are also encouraged to market some of their applications, and to accept contracts to develop applications or solve problems for others.
At the same time that introduces students to a whole new range of attitudes, and to help them gain an insight into how do you define and solve a practical problem, and then how do you market it. The upshot is that the thousands of young Zimbabweans we graduate each year will make a difference quicker and more competently.
Governments talk about developing a country. They can oil and encourage the processes of development of course, but the actual development is done by people who know what they are doing and getting out and doing it.
And the more people we have who both know what they are doing and then go out and do it, the faster we will develop.