In the past, I have gone on several rants and tirades on Twitter, screaming about the state of academia in Zimbabwe. I have debated with like minds as well as people who hold opinions different from mine. Fast forward to last night, I listened to an episode of SYGSPod podcast featuring Rutendo Chabikwa (Tedoex, the host) and Leroy Dzenga, whom I've been following on Twitter since I read his article, “Who is summoning our gods”.
In this episode of SYGSPod, Lee and Tedoex talked about the state of academia in Zimbabwe and in Lee’s own words, how it needs to be all burnt down so we start afresh (YES Burn it all to the ground, burn it I say!). I fully agree his viewpoint for several reasons, some of which he perfectly highlighted. I will share a summary of my take-aways from the lovely episode..
Yes, I'm like one of those conference delegates who stands up and says, "..mine is not a question but a remark..."
1. How did we get to a point where Zimbabwean academia is seemingly divorced from social political issues and realities in the country?
I fully agree that we were never in a state where academia was happily married to social and political issues. Divisions were always evident and these emanated from the way education for the majority was structured during the colonial era. The system was aimed at ensuring dominance and leadership of one race and certain demographic at the expense of the rest (hello Group A, Group B schools). Despite post independence efforts by Dzingai Mutumbuka and others, we never fully resolved the challenges with our education system, hence it continues to produce products that are good at “taking instructions”, candidates that are “very employable” but slightly falls short at producing more critical thinkers.
Additionally, I am also of the opinion that the education system is politicised and there are many rewards (mostly material) for academics in our contexts who toe the line and promote certain populist narratives (raises fist). Scholars cannot question the status quo without fear of reprisals and victimisation
you cant bite the hand that supposedly feeds you …
As a result it is difficult to perform nuanced research in certain fields (imagine a student at local a state institution doing a thesis objectively highlighting the shortfalls of a government policy, do you think they will get a pass?). The end result is regurgitation of concepts and theories without the production of any meaningful or well balanced 'new works' that might piss off a suit and lead to you being "thrown in the wrong basket".
2. Publish or perish
At 1st I was in agreement with Lee that academics in the Zimbabwean context must 'publish or perish' based on my observations from the past 3 years. But later, Tedoex highlighted how such a non compromising viewpoint may be problematic, I am inclined to agree with her as well. Academia is very dynamic and in some fields e.g. Computer Science, new concepts materialise frequently and rapidly, because of that if you don't research and publish material, you will be stuck in a time warp of concepts that were relevant X years ago but are obsolete now.
So, my new opinion on scientific publishing is, yes publish far and wide, participate in international academic activities and also formulate local peer reviewed initiatives to encourage local scientists. Do all this BUT place independent checks and balances to ensure you do not create ‘obnoxious knowledge holders’ who feel that they are the beginning and the end of a certain field.
3. Importance of Indigenous Knowledge (I.K)
This one hits very close to home because I have had the opportunity to be involved in one I.K preservation project in Southern Africa, Namibia. Despite I.K preservation having many layers, my interest in it is from a technology designer perspective. My masters research work focused on developing tools to facilitate the transfer of digitised I.K and cultural collections from remote regions in Northern Namibia to cloud server infrastructure for preservation and curation.
My experiences during the course of this research led me to question what we are doing/have done in Zimbabwe to digitally document our I.K/culture in similar ways to what India (TKDL), Australia (Ara Irititja), South Africa (NRS) have done. In my view, I.K preservation offers a strong starting point for the formulation of a competitive world class research agenda that is guaranteed to produce unique results which can be incorporated into the existing body of knowledge in multiple academic fields.
In spite of the opportunity I.K research presents, it is disappointing to note that in Zimbabwe, research work on I.K preservation is still sparse and appears to be relegated to Library science and environmental studies. This is in contrast to regional counterparts such as Namibia and South Africa who have taken a multidisciplinary approach in their I.K preservation initiatives. Researchers from fields such as Medicine, Botanical studies, Computer Science, Environmental studies continuously work together to realise a common goal, that of a digitised I.K data set from which information can be extracted for different applications and product development.
Such an acknowledgement of the intersections between each research field interested in I.K is important because it allows us to increase chances of understanding how different I.K is situated and structured. This will in turn simplify the process of recording and storing the same in a manner befitting the structure of I.K from different tribes because I.K is unlike other data e.g. school records and so requires special methods and structures to digitally store it.
If we are to improve our prospects, I strongly believe digitisation of I.K is an area local researchers must explore with assistance from the authorities because the academic and scientific results will be astounding.
4. The famous 94% Literacy rate
LOL. I will not say much about this aspect, the podcasters have said a lot already, there are other important voices that have managed to expose the problem with this claim and we continue to see the results proving how this view point is flawed… That said, literacy without critical thinking and application is useless… yes, you can read that there are 5000 deaths from event X, but failing to ask why event X occurs and crafting a holistic solution to control its effects is a no brainer… we perhaps have the former, we need more of the latter, on all levels.
So there, you have it, my "comment not a question" took away 5 minutes of your time, I'm sorry ☹.