The relevance of the country’s education system in the face of current economic challenges has come under the spotlight with experts perplexed by the disparity between the quality and quantity of graduates produced from various learning institutions in the country every year and the dwindling job market.
The general consensus from experts is that the education system is hugely flawed as it continuously pumps thousands of graduates who in no time become redundant job seekers in a shrinking job market. Unlike in countries like Japan the country’s education system is failing to produce graduates with entrepreneurial skills.
The experts say this is one of the main reasons why thousands of graduates are jobless as they can neither get employment nor start their own businesses.
This comes after Finance Minister Cde Patrick Chinamasa revealed during his 2015 National Budget Statement that the job market was not growing but actually shrinking as a result of company closures.
“The economy continues to be dragged down by liquidity shortages, antiquated plant and machinery, cheap imports and high cost of production,” said Cde Chinamasa.
“This situation has led to company closures 2011, 2 113 company closures affecting 19 000 employees, (2012) 1 468 closures affecting 20 825, (2013) 878 closures 14 500, (2014) 134 closures affecting 928 workers giving us a total of 4 610 companies and 55 414 made redundant.”
The dire situation has even caught the attention of President Mugabe who spoke about the issue during the just ended sixth Zanu-PF National People’s Congress urging higher learning institutions to train students to be able to create employment through setting up their own companies instead of solely relying on getting employed to operate existing businesses.
He was speaking at the 97th ordinary session of the Zanu-PF Central Committee, in Harare, when he also urged unemployed youths to venture into horticulture since it requires fewer resources but has good rewards.
“This is a congress that we want to have, it is a congress that should correct some of the irregularities that may have attended some of our policies in the past and it is also a congress that must take into account that our young men and women who are the yields of our educational institutions, need jobs,” he said.
“Teach them to create jobs. Yes teach them to operate existing companies, that’s all right but there is a limit in which our young men and women educated in our institutions can be fully employed in our system. Many have to be self-employed in agriculture, horticulture especially.”
President Mugabe also noted that there are areas of development which the country is yet to exploit due to lack of appropriate skills, hence another need to produce skilled professionals.
“We want our land to be ours, we train our young man and women and have them come from institutions of learning with skills that will enable them and enable us through them to exploit areas which at present moment – because of lack of appropriate skills – we can’t exploit,” he said.
In addition to this economic analyst Mr Takunda Mugaga said the situation, within the job market, could degenerate further as many companies may close or downsize in the first quarter of the coming year.
“In terms of employment the future appears gloomy. Companies are no longer strategic in handling their businesses and are now resorting to retrenchments,” he said.
“We could see more closures and further job cuts as companies may fail to re-open after the December annual shut down because a lot of them are running out of ideas.”
In its 2014 survey of the manufacturing sector, the Confederation of Zimbabwean Industries (CZI) also revealed that de-industrialisation in the country has reached catastrophic levels.
“The results of the 2014 CZI State of the Manufacturing Sector Survey show a decline in the sector compared to last year,” reads the survey report.
The report indicated that CZI used a method called Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) to measurer five factors in business which are: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and employment conditions.
Each of these five factors are adjusted and weighed according to the time of the year and other factors.
According to CZI a PMI above 50% means the manufacturing sector is growing and expanding while a PMI under 50% means the manufacturing sector is contracting.
“This year the manufacturing sector recorded a PMI of 43,5% during the period under review, which is a further indication of a decline” of about 6.5%.
The revelations only spell doom to graduates and students as they overwhelmingly highlight how suffocated the job market is.
With Minister Chinamasa highlighting that the country’s tertiary and vocational institutions churn out over 70 000 graduates annually, one only wonders where all of them will find employment in the prevailing situation.
Experts say although company closures are to blame for the high level of unemployment among graduates, the education system has not helped the situation by producing labourers rather than entrepreneurs.
Renowned educationists like Dr Caiphus Nziramasanga who led the 1999 Presidential Commission of Enquiry into Education have on record pointed out that the system was designed by the colonialist to produce taut minds without skills.
In the report, Dr Nziramasanga recommended that psycho-motor skills be included in the education curricular in order to produce a student who can survive with skills such as carpentry, motor mechanics, building and design, even if they cannot find employment at a company.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has already launched the national curriculum review to implement the recommendations of the report but Nziramasanga says if the report had been adopted earlier the situation might be better.
“My view as a teacher and also as a scholar is that it (graduates unemployment) has resulted in so many social problems which we could have avoided if that report had been implemented earlier.”
Professor Nziramasanga said if the report had been implemented as of January 2000, the country would not be having so many school leavers who are unemployed.
“We have about 90 000 students finishing A levels every year but only 30 000 go into tertiary education while the rest join the unemployed, that shows that something is wrong with the system.”
As a further indication that the education system has loopholes, Harare Institute of Technology Communications and International Relations Director Mr Tinashe Mutema said there is lack of cohesion between training institutions and industry.
“There seems to be no proper cohesion between our training institutions and industry. In most cases students find themselves in totally new environment and new things different to what they learned at school,” he said.
“That’s when you have companies complaining that institutions are producing half backed graduates.
“For instance a student may go for an industrial attachment oozing with confidence only to realise that things are done differently and has to forget everything he learnt and start learning again.”
Mr Mutema raises a crucial point, giving credence to calls made by some sections of society that they may be a need for an Indaba between training institutions and industry to find ways of how the curriculum can be improved.
Other African countries that have education systems which were coined on discriminatory basis by the colonialist have started moving away from these systems. The chief executive officer of Rubiem Training Institute, a subsidiary of a large pan-African consultancy, Rubiem Technologies, which has branches in over eight African countries, Mr Chris Tenga, was quoted in media last week saying Universities and Colleges generally focus on theoretical and conceptual grounding.
“However, the dynamic, volatile and ruthless nature of the business landscape today means that no manager or knowledge worker is ever prepared enough to operate, manage or lead in such volatility,” said Mr Tenga.
The first part of the education system in Zimbabwe is comprised of the compulsory primary and lower secondary where students are required to pass at least five ordinary level subjects for them to proceed to advanced level of learning. Students at primary level basically do four subjects which are English, Shona, Mathematics and Content, the subjects increase to at least five at secondary level and narrow down to three at advanced level. From the advanced level students, upon meeting the qualification requirements then proceed to colleges and universities. Some have, however, questioned the logic of obliging students to do so many subjects at secondary level when only three or four will be relevant in careers they end up choosing.
Experts have urged policy makers to emulate the Japanese model of learning which put more emphasis on non academic subjects such as music, arts and handicrafts, home-making and physical education at the lower levels of learning.
The system allows students to specialise at an early stage.
Research shows that CEOs are now more concerned with finding skilled professionals rather than academic barracudas. Some graduates have reportedly resorted to drug dealing and prostitution as a source of living, others have become maverick vendors in the city.
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