Mock court victory masks deterioration in education

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By Paidamoyo Muzulu
Last week, the mock high school tribunal team in Zimbabwe took the world by storm, sparking a deluge of congratulatory messages on social media and even from the Cabinet. However, the team’s while welcome triumph masks the poor state of education, especially in public schools where the majority are learning.

In just four weeks, the High School Advocacy Team has put Zimbabwe on the map. It brought us back into the international news cycle and all for good reason.

Everyone, including the government, wanted to take advantage of the sun of these students. It’s true, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.

Success was sweet news, an oasis in a desert, that our leaders found time to discuss in Cabinet. Remember, this is a Cabinet sitting when the country was burning, officials threatening industrial action, the economy still plagued by the twin plagues of inflation and the spiraling exchange rate through compared to the greenback.

In a statement, the Cabinet said: “The nation is informed that the Zimbabwean moot team took part in the final of the Euro 2022 moot court competition against the Netherlands and came first. The Cabinet is proud to this achievement and joins the nation in congratulating our students for raising the Zimbabwean flag high and putting Zimbabwe on the map of the world.

It doesn’t take much to burst that bubble. Let’s see which schools made up the team. They came from independent trusted schools – Dominican Convent, Peterhouse, Midlands Christian College and Arundel. These are the best independent schools where it costs a limb and an arm to send your children. They study Cambridge curriculum in UK and the only thing about Zimbabwe in them is that they are geographically located within its borders.

Although it needs to be celebrated, it is also a time to reflect on the state of education in the country.

Education in Zimbabwe is declining in terms of standards. Thousands of public school students leave the classroom without knowing how to read and write. We have a deplorable success rate of 26% at the ordinary level. A large 74%, almost three out of four, fail to obtain the five minimum ordinary level passes which are the prerequisite for further education.

The majority of public schools have neither a full complement of qualified teachers nor enough reading materials and other resources. All the teachers are demoralized and are considering either industrial action or a parallel stampede to keep body and mind together. This is a recipe for disaster.

The fact that the mock court team only had students from private schools invites us to look under the microscope at what happened to public schools in rural areas that produced top academics like Professors Arthur Mutambara , Lovemore Madhuku, Admire Mare and Miles Tendi, among others. . It is indisputable that these men of letters attended public schools.

There are several others who are good academics and business leaders who have gone to missionary schools such as Hartzell, St Augustines, Gokomere and a government school like Goromonzi. Can public schools no longer afford debate clubs? This is certainly sad considering that debate simply needs a decent library for students to study in, fluency in the English language to speak eloquently, and enthusiasm from students and staff.

The government and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should be ashamed of themselves. Zimbabwe is in the doldrums. It is now a fact that even for sporting excellence, the country will roll on the backs of private schools. Look at which schools have trained swimmers, divers, cricketers, tennis and rugby stars, the sports that put Zimbabwe on the world map?

The government’s reaction to the mock court team’s achievements belies some relief for a regime that preaches – Zimbabwe is open for business. A regime that believes in the privatization of public services and thinks that privatization is a panacea for everything. This is a government that believes in contracting out its responsibilities to private actors, a great reversal of our ideals of independence.

It is important for the country to reinvent public education, the only vehicle that can transform the lives of ordinary people. Does Zimbabwe need to produce students who are only academics but fail in other social areas? What about extracurricular activities in public schools?

The government should be urged to allocate more resources to education for reading and learning materials, sports and other extra-curricular activities and to deploy well-paid qualified staff for their services.

Maintaining the current trajectory harms social cohesion. This would entrench separate development for rich and poor and conversely widen the gap between the two classes within a generation. It is a fact that those in private schools will dominate leadership positions in the private and public sectors, if not the government as well.

This has been and still is the case in countries like the UK and the US. For the UK, most of their public leaders are ex-Eton and Oxbridge, while on the US side, they mostly come for Ivy-League universities. It is no coincidence that these countries have recently been struggling with inequality and social upheaval.

In conclusion, yes, it’s important to celebrate the success of the mock trial team, but it should also be a moment of reflection on the public education system as a whole. What do we want it to achieve? Is it to produce simple woodcutters and hood pullers or do they also have to integrate and become leaders in both the private and public sectors? The time has come, otherwise it would be too late and a lost generation.

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