‘Don’t tie down kids with old education’

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has started an ambitious curriculum change-over, which is premised mainly on the Nziramasanga Commission’s recommendations on education. The change-over has been met with mixed reactions, chief being the timing, human resource base, facilities and adaptability of the curriculum to local educational needs. The Sunday Mail Extra Editor, Garikai Mazara, sat down with Obey Bvute, a publisher of educational books with over 20 years experience in the book publishing industry and asked him several questions about the new curriculum. Read on . . .

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Q: Do you think Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora could have tackled the curriculum review differently?

A: The Nziramasanga Report was published in 1999 and that it has taken us this long to implement some of its recommendations is an indication that we are way behind reviewing our schools curriculum. We should have done this long back.

The world is changing, on an even faster pace than in the past millennium and we need to move with the changing times. How then do we churn out pupils who are prepared to meet the new challenges if our curriculum is still outdated?

So I would like to applaud Minister Dokora for taking on the initiative to tackle head on this ambitious programme. And it goes without saying that such a move comes with its challenges, but with time they should be overcome.

Q: There have been concerns over human resources, textbooks, the facilities, etc. Are schools ready?

A: If you noticed, the ministry has been prudent in adopting the review process in that it has taken a phased out approach. It is not every class that is going to be on the new curriculum, some classes will remain on the old curriculum.

This is calculated so that there are bridging years. It would have been a disaster if all the classes, from ECD to A-Level were to embark on the new curriculum.

There had to be a starting point and as publishers, we are ready to meet the demand that will be created by the new curriculum. Though in the first years there will be challenges here and there, over the years people will realise that the new curriculum is the way to go. We need it if we are to compete on the global market.

Q: Having been in the book publishing industry for long. What have been the experiences from other economies? Are there any lessons to be drawn from elsewhere?

A: The buzzword of late in education circles has been STEM (if you are talking to Higher Education people) and STEAM (if you are talking to Primary and Secondary Education officials). But bottom line is, the difference is the same.

In Africa, there are three levels, three groups of countries, in as much as how far they have gone with adopting and implementation of STEM.

The first group, usually called Group A, has countries like Rwanda, who are in an advanced stage of implementation of e-learning. Then comes the second group, which has countries like South Africa, who are still in the infancy stages of adopting STEM and the third group, has countries like us, we are at the back of the line. We have just started on the STEM journey.

So, in short, there are many lessons to be learnt from Africa. Yes, Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates on the continent, but the net effect of that has been that we have been an exporter of human resources, we haven’t used that literacy to capacitate our education, industry and commerce.

Q: In the short-term, what do you think will be the challenges facing the shift to the new curriculum?

A: We all need to have a positive mind-set, the new curriculum will add value to our education system.

On the overall projections of the shift, the expectations, challenges and shortcomings, I think the minister would be best placed to answer such questions. I would be comfortable discussing and articulating for and on behalf of the publishing industry, that is a domain that I am well versed with.

As I said earlier, the publishing industry is ready for the new curriculum, any demand in learning material, we should be able to meet.

Q: What do you think are the positives of the new curriculum?

A: The introduction of practical subjects like Agriculture at grades as low as three is good going forward. Most of the new things that people are complaining about, private schools have already adopted.

What the Government is simply saying, instead of paying high fees at private schools, the same curriculum can now be obtained at public and mission schools, at a much cheaper rate.

If you ask parents who have children at private schools, this so-called new curriculum is nothing new at all. The reason why some private schools opt for external examinations syndicates is that these curricula offer continuous assessment. This is what we need to adopt now.

Q: So what would be your message to skeptics? Doubting Thomases?

A: Like anything new, the initial phase will be tough and have many teething problems. But in the long run, we will also see the benefits of the new curriculum. The first 30 years of a millennium are the defining ones, so we need to ready our children, so that when they leave school, they will be ready for the job market.

Parents must be bear in mind that the jobs that our children are learning for, and about, have not yet been created, so we need foresight, that we are preparing our children for the future.

When you and I were going to school, the usual wish was to become a doctor, teacher, nurse, etc.

This is different from our children, they don’t share these dreams, they have bigger dreams than us. For example, some of them would like to be drone technicians.

So why should we keep them tied down with an old curriculum?

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