Following a review of the historical background to the Zimbabwe Literacy Campaign, the following paper examines the major problems that have arisen in the literacy campaign in Zimbabwe, and suggests that the authorities reconsider a number of recommendations made in the past. The author is Chairperson of the Department of Adult Education, University of Zimbabwe, and has been involved in various basic literacy programmes.
It is pertinent first to look at the historical dimension of education in Zimbabwe, before and after independence. Before independence, the education system was geared primarily to meeting the socio-economic and political needs of the White minority rulers. The segregated provision for Africans was inferior to that for Europeans, as part of the policy of keeping the majority African population subservient to the minority. The result of this denial of education was exploitation, manipulation and oppression.
After almost a century of colonial rule, the new Government took steps to reverse this situation. In recognition of the importance of literacy for the overall development of the country, the Government launched a mass literacy campaign in 1983 with the aim of eradicating illiteracy within a five-year period. This was a challenge, as out of the four million people in the productive age group, 2.5 million were deemed illiterate or semi-literate. However, although the term “campaign” was used, it did not share the features of a campaign identified by such writers as H.S. Bhola. The time frame was short, as it should be in a campaign, but the nation did not focus its energies on the task by committing all the resources at its disposal to large-scale activities. Zimbabwean politicians were reluctant to give the campaign the necessary political and material backing because they were aware of the danger of raising expectations too high: as Nyerere observed, if people are aroused and cannot get the change they want, they will become discontented.
When the literacy campaign in Zimbabwe was launched by the then Prime Minister Mugabe in 1983, he directed that responsibility for running the campaign should be shared between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Community Development and Women’s Affairs. This marriage ended in 1988, when the Ministry of Education took over the campaign in an attempt to resolve some of the difficulties caused by joint responsibility.
Nyerere, Bhola and others agree that planning with the people will undoubtedly produce better results than planning for the people. In the case of adult education on a scale as large as the Zimbabwean campaign, the potential clientele differs so greatly in ability, age, previous experience, etc., that providers face intractable problems in trying to plan centrally. However, it is evident that the Zimbabwean campaign was launched without prior consultation with the supposed beneficiaries. Needs analysis, planning, publicity and evaluation proved inadequate, and the objectives were not agreed between the organizers, the educators and the learners. It is suggested in the research literature that the involvement of these three groups is essential to the planning of an adult education programme. The top-down approach used in planning the campaign in Zimbabwe therefore caused problems because the authorities did not know what the people wanted.
There was hence a general confusion of aims. The approach adopted by Zimbabwe in its literacy campaign was officially in line with the Government’s socialist ideology, while the environment in which it operated was essentially pro-capitalist. The majority of participants associated the campaign with academic achievement, and wished to learn in a formal setting, rather than in whatever accommodation was available. As a result, the pedagogical approach was neither sufficiently academic to satisfy learners’ aspirations nor functional enough to meet the organizers’ objectives. And if learners’ individual goals are in conflict with the organizers’ goals, then a programme may be a waste of valuable resources.
People’s reasons for joining a literacy programme are more complex than is suggested by this analysis, however. Their motives vary widely, along with their expectations, so that the literacy planners in Zimbabwe should also have planned according to the different needs of the learners. There can be no central prescription in adult education programmes.
As a result of these problems, when the campaign failed to fulfil its stated goal, it turned into a continuing programme. In essence, however, nothing changed in terms of approach or strategy. The programme, as it now stands, has simply taken over some of the problems of the campaign, most of which emanate from the lack of involvement of the three essential groups of players mentioned above.
There were a number of fundamental problems, some of which became apparent early in the campaign:
Resources for adult education are always laughably small in relation to need. However, as Nyerere and other campaigners have realized, adult education cannot happen without resources. National funding for the Zimbabwean campaign did not match that devoted to students in the mainstream, i.e. in the traditional formal sector, and most of the funds for the campaign came from external sources, chiefly UNESCO and Unicef.
This situation was made worse by the droughts of 1983-84 and 1992-93, when funds for many programmes were redirected to drought relief. The economic structural adjustment programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also had a negative effect on adult education because they obliged the Government to cut spending. One of the first victims was the literacy campaign. The budget allocation for nonformal education, and for literacy in particular, was therefore not commensurate with the very ambitious targets set by the planners of the literacy campaign. The result was inactivity in literacy classes.
The discussion has identified major deficiencies in the literacy campaign in Zimbabwe. The purpose is to enable those who theorize about learning, and those who actually design learning programmes, to do so in a more informed manner.
Some of the problems bedevilling the literacy campaign in Zimbabwe were of our own making, as well as being caused by historical and political developments. Socio-economic factors, environmental factors and the pedagogical approach adopted all contributed to the difficulties.
The best starting point for the future is to reconsider some of the many recommendations made at numerous literacy workshops and seminars at home and abroad. The following are among the most significant:
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