The Problem with our Education

  • PublishedOctober 5, 2016

My aunt recently found out how much I pay for my son’s education. She was taken aback. “That is the same amount for university here in the US. Why does he need to go to a private school?”

I could have replied by telling her that the same broken system that required her to move to the US for better opportunities for her family was the system that is so broken that, to allow my son the opportunities I had, I need to actually pay ridiculous amounts for what we grew up believing was a given.

My aunt and I studied at government schools in Zimbabwe in the 80s and early 90s. And I know many of my peers all over the continent who did and they turned out all right.

Back then, the infrastructure in the government primary school we attended, which was a 10-minute walk from my home, was spectacular. There was a team of groundsmen who tended the sports fields and the school swimming pool. In my school-going days, when the Minister of Finance walked to parliament and showed his briefcase to journalists before the annual budget was announced, we knew a large percentage of the budget would go to education.

Unlike now, we actually saw what the money did for education. Teachers earned enough to have mortgages. In primary, I was at a government school and the annual fees that my parents paid for a full year were equivalent to our grocery shopping for two weeks of food.

In high school, I went to a Catholic boarding school which was partially funded by government and that was considered expensive because my annual school fees, which included food and uniform, were equal to a month of my mother’s salary as a civil servant. From Grade One until I finished A Levels, the teachers went on strike only once, when I was in Form Two.

A major reason for the system I grew up with, I suspect, was because corruption was about securing their not-too-bright children a place in a government school with a high pass rate. My high school counted the daughters of cabinet ministers among its students.

Once a month when our parents were allowed to visit, a regular “parent” was the late Zimbabwean First Lady, Sally Mugabe, who would be visiting her niece. She would spread her kitenge and have a picnic lunch with her niece like all the other parents were doing with their children.

The last time I visited my primary school three years back, paint was peeling and there was a dead cat in the dry hole in the ground where the swimming pool used to be.

Teachers’ morale was so low that a few of those I talked to wanted to know how they could “get papers”, preferring to cross the border and work as waiters in South Africa than to work in their profession.

Today, the systems that many of my peers and I grew up with in government schools, can only be experienced in private schools. We want our children to be able to learn to read, write and play sports as we did.

They have this. My 22-year- old niece, who went to a government school and is now in university, is unable to manoeuvre her way around the internet as fluently as her cousin.

My peers and I often overstretch ourselves financially. My son’s school with its favourable amenities, runs a British school curriculum. In History, this 11-year-old can tell you all the names of Henry VIII’s wives but none of his peers know when Africa Day is.

I had to enroll him in a football academy for the weekends where he plays with neighbourhood children so he could learn Swahili. But this cannot go on forever. At some point in time, my aunt, many of my peers and I will have to take stock and say no more.

Perhaps a regulation that all public servants should have their children in government schools in the country they are from can be a start. NA

By Zukiswa Wanner, first published in the July 2016 edition of  New African 

Written By
Zukiswa Wanner

Zukiswa Wanner is an award-winning international writer and journalist. She is the author of The Madams, Behind Every Successful Man, Men of the South, and London Cape Town Joburg.

5 Commentaires

  • there are copy-editing errors in the otherwise great piece.

    • nit-picking?

  • You remind me of a primary school that I attended in the city of Kisumu in western Kenya. It was in top shape both academically and in terms of infrastructure that also included a science laboratory. I also went to high achieving catholic high that was also an incubator of Olympians. Besides high scores, the two other avenues for entry were through athletics or if your parent was a minister. Now most of the public schools in Kenya have collapsed and today middle/ upper classes that went to these public schools send their kids to private schools. Coincidentally, superb school infrastructure that was available during out time was built by British colonizers and missionaries.

  • The author has mentioned two issues here that are interlinked: Apart from the dilapidation and overall sense of hopelessness in public schools-there is the curriculum: Those lucky enough to be in private schools in Africa today are groomed to alienation. But this is not news. From the time the colonial “left” precious little has been done to give African agency to the school curriculum in Africa.

    It is no wonder then, that we are complicit in the destruction of our schools. We do not believe in them really. It is getting worse because we are witnessing graduates with fabulous and not so fabulous degrees comming out at the end of this mind-numbing pipeline-jobless.

    We had been promised jobs if we mastered the inherent nonsense and insults hurled our way in the guise of education.

    We forgot that education is about building grounded characters, steeped in true purposeful history (and here, the scientists must hold their guns as history is not about dead heroines, villains and dates BUT PHILOSOPHY!!-and this ENCOMPASSES SCIENCE & SPIRIT) and got lost in the colonial’s sold image of selfish, high-fenced isolation, accumulation and studied contempt for “illiterates” and peasants.

    In other words, our schooling system was uninspiring.

    It was breeding mercenaries. Who have torn down all ladders of progress for most (lack of character-product of “our” education) imagining that they are invincible-their children are holed up in private schools that are physically in Africa-but spiritually and mentally in London, Paris, New York. What level of schizophrenia can these children take? How can they cope with the insulting situation, but to breed hate and contempt for Africa. And hence continue the damage?

    How long can this go on? Not long, me thinks. Even in those lands that stole our souls, there is trouble abroad. Choked with jobless graduates and moanng about the Chinese and machinery taking over every job (lawyers and accountants are next)-we are witnessing interesting times indeed.

    And what is the reaction of Africa? What have our policy makers and academics with huge degrees say & do about this cul-de-sac? The neo-colonial promise of white education and office job-promotion-car-riches & respect and even fear from the hoi polloi to boost our whitenned alienated egos is truly gone.

    We were steeped in an education that at the VERY LEAST implied that Africans, BLACK AFRIKANS were pretty much just killing each other and doing nothing of serious consequence until the white arabs & europeans came around to tell us about God and smooth over our rough edges. We were EXPLICITLY taught that we were just illiterates with zero philosophy but full of (coarse) song & dance. So of us went out and came back writing nonsense about the white man being cerebral (brainy objective grown up) while the BLACK MAN was born soft and poetic, given to emotions.

    We were taught through biblical & koranic inferences (white doctrines) that Pharoah (who was painted white) killed chosen people and “egypt” was evil. Without any analysis on the truth of such tales and the real history of “egypt” we enjoined Africa’s haters and exploiters in laughing at and hating the idolatrous “Egyptians” So we believed in the Greek geniuses and great Roman conquers.

    We did not know that the colonial had twisted history into a philosophy and theory of conquest over us.

    So today, our education has given us no character, steel, backbone to solve our problem as a society. We have been socialized to believe “leaders” have solutions. We forget that in Africa’s past, leaders had to prove through rituals of regeneration, that they still had mettle and wisdom.

    Private schools, exclusive clubs, private militias, closed communities, banking abroad, running off abroad. Our education is anti-people. Without the jobs of yore (post colonial fantasy promise)

    We Afrikans have had social systems (empires if you like) that lasted millenia. We they stupid? How long can this system that we live in today last? What can we learn FROM OUR TRUE HISTORY?

    What is education for?

    • You made very substantial points, but the real problem is that the average African graduate can’t translate his knowledge into reality. This inability to translate knowledge into reality is responsible for incompetent governments. When African freedom fighters took over the reins of government, they adopted the European style of governing Africa, which was meant to loot and impoverish Africans. Tell me how many English speaking countries in Africa have the jury system? I only know of Sierra Leone. The European would say it’s very expensive and corrupt, yet we never asked why they have it. And we never critically think from the unjust conviction of people like Mandela why they didn’t give it to us. Even Mandela couldn’t give it to his people as president to prevent what happened to him from happening to another person. Developing curriculum is the easiest thing anyone knowledgeable in his/her field can do. For example if I were to develop history for Zimbabwe, l will start with pre colonial era, then colonial, independence and then post independence. Social studies will definitely include the history of Zimbabwe, her geography, political and economic structure, culture, education, etc

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