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Why The Current Primary Education Curriculum Betrays Stone Age Thinking

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Dr Paul Mavima I hope you read this. The intention is not to insult but to point out an inconsistency that we need to fix early if we truly believe ourselves to be a progressive society.

So much has changed in the Primary Education curriculum since my transition through that phase decades ago. The first one is that at Grade 7, pupils no longer write just one multiple choice paper per subject. It was far easier to get the 4 units in my day and I got them!

The second thing that is more recent is that it is now actually impossible for any Grade 7 pupil to get the 4 units. They now write examinations in 5 subjects. This is the bit I do not understand. I am not complaining about the number of subjects examinable at this stage but at the choice.

Why is the fifth subject Agriculture? My guess is that the answer is the cliche, “Agriculture is the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy.” Further to this reasoning I think is the fact that more than 60% of the population lives in rural areas where agriculture is the central economic activity for families.

If Agriculture had been added as an eight subject or even sixth I would not be complaining. But to prioritise it ahead of ICT skills is just ridiculous.

What primary education should achieve

We are still thinking in the western agricultural age mentality where knowledge is held by the few and is generally inaccessible outside the exclusive school system. The world has moved past this. Even the forgone industrial age made knowledge a mass commodity since the invention of the printing press.

In the current information age, knowledge is ubiquitous. It’s called the information age for a reason. Before we talk about the internet reality which makes it possible for anyone to know anything and everything about anything, books (a legacy of the industrial age) are now more accessible than ever.

When we concentrate resources and energy towards the teaching of knowledge in school we waste said resources and energy. When knowledge is ubiquitous, what do you teach? You teach the discipline of knowledge acquisition and the skills of critical thinking.

Languages are important in Primary Education because language is the primary tool for transfer of knowledge. So the English and vernacular languages are important. The Mathematics and Science components are important as the tools that will lead kids into discovery. When you think about it, mathematics is actually a language.

Why ICT?

ICT provides access to information. The earlier our kids learn how to navigate and utilise the technology the better. Use of the computer should be taught as a basic tool like English. When I was in university I learnt with people who felt inferior to the computer and even in my work life I still meet such people.

It’s not their fault. The problem is that a lot of times the computer (yes including the smartphone) is introduced as a sophisticated gadget that can work magic. Even when watching a movie you hear some say, ‘haa ndezve ma computer izvo (these are computers,’ after watching some cool after effects. Usually this is said with a worrying awe and reverence.

The computer is not being introduced as a tool that you manipulate for specific tasks just like the abacus. It is never really viewed from the reality that it was made by someone for use. It is looked at as if it has a life of its own. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘phone yangu irikuramba kuita… (my phone is refusing to do abc…)?’ A cellphone has no power to consent or refuse, it has specific limitations period.

We need our little ones to learn how to interact with technology and how to use it. Beyond Primary Education no student should ‘learn computers’ unless they want to pursue computer science and related disciplines. They should instead be using computers to learn.

It’s like reading: we were taught how to read in primary school. Beyond that we started using our reading skills to learn. Computer skills are just as preliminary now, you can’t keep studying the tool. You need to use it. Primary school is where people should learn to use the tool and be examined on it.

Why not Agriculture?

Agriculture is not a building block! That alone should be enough to take it out of Primary Education. It’s called PRIMARY for a reason. Agriculture is a discipline that a person who has been taught how to learn can learn. The subject does not have impact on the achievement of succeeding learning outcomes later on. Why is it in primary schooling?

Agriculture and other industries are being radically transformed by technology. Isn’t it a higher priority to teach kids the skills that they need to be the disruptors in this sector instead of committing to them knowledge that is becoming irrelevant before break time?

As economies progress they employ less people on the land and more in industry and even more in services for highly developed economies. When we prioritise agriculture in education we can’t claim to be preparing for the future. An economy where everyone is a farmer is not a sustainable economy. This is the economy that Zimbabwe keeps choosing in our lands policy and even more disastrously in our education policy.

We need to imagine and pursue a highly mechanised and automated agricultural sector and this will not be achieved by teaching Agriculture in primary school. It is not a coincidence that Israel is one of the strongest agricultural producers (despite being in a dessert) and the leaders in technological developments in the world. The cliche we strive for of being the regional bread basket will not be achieved by concentrating human resources on the land but by utilising technology on the land.

Farming is a very important vocation and I do not demean it. I actually am saying not everyone is a farmer and if we all are forced to be the nation will starve.

Computer skills and information skills are however for everyone. Very soon, those without them will starve…




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26 thoughts on “Why The Current Primary Education Curriculum Betrays Stone Age Thinking

  1. As far as ICT is concerned, the writer seems to be ignorant about the curriculum that was introduced. Computer Science, including the critical concept of computational thinking, is introduced from ECD A and it continues through to Grade 7. The syllabus has an Theme entitled Creating and Publishing. This addresses non-coding stuff for creatives to create something using ICT (this is called Creative Computing, which is different from computer literacy, which seems to be taught through out Africa). The new ICT Syllabus is definitely the best in the world for these grades. To suggest that no student needs to learn computers beyond primary unless they want to be computer scientists shows a lack of understanding of trends in computers in education. Most developed countries are insisting on teaching computer science concepts through coding in all disciplines, including social and art subjects, at graduate levels. I am not going to comment about agriculture because that is something I know nothing about. But to suggest that agriculture is being prioritized ahead of computer science when robotics is being introduced in ECD A shows total lack of understanding of the current curriculum. Blaming the curriculum for people who talk about their smartphones as being super gadgets is simply not logical.

    1. I am aware of the Computer studies introduced. My gripe is that students are not going to be examined on them. From past experiences we know teachers tend to focus on what affects pass rate. Not examining could be a subliminal ‘this is not very important.’
      I however, wasn’t aware of how the computer studies compare to the region. Thanks for that one.

      On no teaching of computers I meant no teaching of computer packages as I did in a course that was called Computer Science for Foods Science and Technology. Guess what we ‘learnt’ in that course? MSWord!

      I am 100% for every person learning how to code. Coding is as important as languages. They are even called programming languages even.

      1. Sorry, missed the point that you are griping about “not going to be examined.”. Still a bit confused though coz logical analysis about “only learning ICT past primary” if you are going to pursue computer science. It implies that you recommend that those pursuing computer science should be taught MS-Word.

        1. Good analysis of my logic and reasoning there. It does imply that’s what am saying doesn’t it?
          No, people who are going to pursue computer specific careers should not lean word! I botched up my train of thought there, I am sorry about that

          1. I think what I should say is that beyond introduction to basic skills the computer must be taught from the standpoint of it being a tool that can be used to manipulate data to solve problems. This includes of course programming it to do this.
            However, study of the tool itself should be restricted to those who seek to pursue a career in that space of building future computers and improving upon the tool. I am advocating that we move away from kuita ma computer to simply kushandisa ma computer
            My rationale is that if a student uses the computer for their learning instead of learning about the computer itself they will know the machine more intimately and will develop the attitude that the computer is one of many tools that they can utilise in whatever field they decide to be in.

            Again I am sorry because I see how reckless I have been with my language both in the article and in response to you

  2. Okay TechZim be serious. This isnt 1 April. Is it? No!

    Have you ever walked into a primary school in rural Zimbabwe. I do, every single day.

    Primary schools don’t have electricity. I know 8 in Gwanda central rural and only 1 has electricity.
    Oh and they don’t have computers. Not even the teachers. They come to me for computer related tasks.

    Now, you go ahead and teach someone to drive without a car to practice. Go ahead. Then examine them without any practicals. Make sure that person has never seen a car. But examine them on cars because whatever your reasons.

    But you know what plenty rural Zimbabwe has? Land. Land everywhere.
    Primary education is about imparting life skills.
    Secondary is about who we become later in life.
    I see no qualm in teaching primary kids how to work community gardens or properly til the land they have.

    An actual problem with the new syllabi is implementation.

    Teaching ICT and examining same when over 60% of schools dont have electricity or computers.
    Making untrained teachers teach ICT is also an issue.

    Not your wish to attain 4 points. Come on. How did that make it into your article.

    And no. If you want to teach coding to everyone slap me twice and insult my mother. I am a developer. And coding is hard. Very hard.
    Why spoil a young mind that has no interest in coding because Steve Jobs said we should all code? Coding isn’t easy.

    I know you haven’t, but talk to teachers. I have in one capacity or another been a consultant for about 30 schools in Mat North, Mat South and Bulawayo Central. I’ve talked to teachers.
    Hear their complaints about the new syllabi.

    Then pen an article on that. not this

    1. Woa woa woah, Van Lee you sound angry! Very sorry for obviously insulting you…
      My next article was about how shifting priorities can achieve much of this
      You raise some other important points though which I overlooked. Thanks

      On coding, I am sure you know I don’t agree with you. I didn’t know Jobs said everyone should learn code. I believe the same though, mathematics is considered hard is it not? Should our motivation for not teaching something be that it is hard? We all learnt math but not to the same level and we are applying it in varying fields and varying extents. So it should be with code

      1. Oh by the way, I hope you do not seriously believe I would brag about my Grade 7 certificate!
        I have shared here before how I struggled with university, how many times I have failed. I use stuff that happened to me as examples to emphasise points. It would be embarrassing if I listed my Grade 7 results as a major success in life

  3. Would you blame me for going straight to the comment section after reading the first paragraph of the article? How people respond to articles sometimes sheds light on the “other” side of the article or points highlighted in it.

    1. Hahaha Tinashe, you are welcome to even skip the first paragraph. There’s a lady who said this to me at an event: “Techzim, I never read your articles, not at all. I love the comments.”

      I am so appreciative of the comments we get on our articles. More often than not, all the insights are in the comments and not the articles because the article should ideally stimulate debate and discussion by people way smarter than the writer or Techzim

  4. Here we go again. Another self-centred, prescriptive but very ignorant approach to education and content delivery to a young mind.

    Every now an then we have people in our profession who somehow arrogantly think that the world must revolve around ICT.

    Education, the principle of it, the profession and the psychology of delivery predates your glorious ICT. It is a profession which deserves the due respect it deserves.

    A young mind develops and grows in a particular way. Foundational principles of education still remain foundational from the beginning of time. Respect the profession in as much as others respect ours.

    First, understand the early childhood education before slapping your ICT “bright ideas” onto it, like many like you tend to do. Not everything begins and ends with computing. I say so as a person who’s been in the industry for over 14years now, and loves it to bits.

    I find people like you with a prescriptive but highly ignorant mentality, the worst thing when it comes to application of our technology to other fields. You always think you are revolutionary.

    You ignore an entire profession.

    You stating how you got 4 units easily, betrays hubris and ignorance on what the whole point of primary education is.

    1. The intention was not to be prescriptive.
      There are examples of how ICT is being introduced safely to young minds. The tragedy is to place limitations on the capacity of young minds to learn.
      Anyway, the whole argument is on technology being understood as nothing more than a tool from a very young age. Without that view, Africa will continue being a consumer of tech without contributing to it’s development

      1. You are still ignorant and naive. The very premise of your title, belittling the teaching profession as stone-age in an article that is void of any understanding of teaching is pure hubris.

        The only tragedy is that you have such an unfounded self-assurance to make sweeping statements of something you don’t even understand.

        Mentioning and moaning about Africa is being diversionary and self-hating where it is not even applicable.

        I know churning articles must be a goal or performance measure, but do so with research and backing. Teaching is multidisciplinary involving many sciences, non of which you even failed to base your assertions on.

        The likes of you are what ruin our profession. Quick to prescribe what has historically been seen to fail many times over….after alot of resources and time have been committed.

        1. It is OK to disagree with me and the reason we write is not so that we showcase that we know: we obviously can’t know everything. We do write opinion pieces to provoke discussion and debate.
          So, yes you must disagree with me if you must. However, some of your insults are not very fair.

  5. Taking from this side! I was taught agric even before l went to school tichinofudza mbudzi!!

    It will be interesting to know where this author grew up, it usually influence how people view the world.

    1. I went kumombe too every other school vacation. I didn’t understand your question though

      1. You went on holidays!!

        I grew up there in the rurals until l left for foreign lands. And in those foreign lands l happen to be in charge of IT in a multi continental company.

        You still have a lot to learn my friend, chill down

  6. The author is an ignorumus agriculture is a building block for many disciplines eg agronomy, forestry, vetinary science etc
    techzim has gone to the dogs!

    1. Agriculture is a block within the value chain but not a block for understanding and exploration of other fields. It is a field in itself. It is important yes but if I have not learnt agriculture it doesn’t limit me from learning something else. If I do not have the basics of math though for example, I will not be able to appreciate other fields and vocations. That is the building block I refer to

  7. This article is making me lose respect for Techzim. Everyone has a right to voice an opinion but when you have a voice as powerful as Techzim you need to be careful with your words. It is the arrogance (read: the wrongness of those who are always right) of some people in ICT to purport ICT as the crowning achievement of all things to be achieved. Learning ICT does not give you access to information, learning languages it what does. Who do you even think you are to say Agriculture is not a building block? Such an integral part of being a human being. Agriculture teaches you the laws of nature, that you have to put in the work to get a harvest, a principle that can be applied in all areas of your life. Teaches you about interdependence in the ecosystem, how everything needs each other, the laws of harmony. It teaches you how to respect and take care of the earth. Teaches you that you have to find the right seed for the right soil, you have to find the right product for the right market, that is what agriculture taught me and I am a full time ICT practitioner. At least you can eat if you learn Agriculture, you can’t eat computers and apps. Look at our context Tinashe, we are not in USA, getting every child to learn coding will not benefit these children or the nation. Any baby that grows up around technology will figure out how to use a cellphone long before pri-school, there’s no need for an examination for that. And are you saying there is no technology in Agriculture? That’s the arrogance I’m talking about, you seem to think you are the wardens of technology on this earth. There is a vast amount of technology that exists beyond information and communication technology. Do some research before writing these articles, show some respect to the readers.

    1. I appreciate the practical lessons you learnt through learning agriculture.
      I am sorry to come off as arrogant. Not the intention at all.
      I hope you read the article again and get the context of it.

  8. come on agriculture is essential after all we dont eat data or coding lets not look down at essential trades cz theres something that look attractive. after all imagine if we said the same about plumbing. sit down be humble

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