Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Women: Zimbabwe's Unsung Educators

Women: Zim’s unsung educators

By Joyce Jenje Makwenda
Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Herald

THERE are certain things that we wish to do in our lifetime, but because of circumstances beyond our control, we are sometimes not able to fulfil our dreams.

Many women wish they could have had access to formal education, knowledge and skills.

This reminds me of one day when I was on my way to Pretoria from Johannesburg.

I had decided to take a train and I met immigration officers doing their routine checks.

One of them asked me for my passport. I gave him the passport and he checked the visa whose condition was "To Study Masters in Music at Wits". He said: "You are magogo student" (grandmother student). He called some of his colleagues and he said: "Look at magogo student."

Some of the officers asked me to sing, but one woman officer who had taken the passport, checked the visa again, while the other officers were asking me to sing.

I explained to the other officers that the course was not just about singing. It was broader than they thought and singing/performing was just another component of the course.

When I had finished explaining, the female officer who was quiet all along and had evidently travelled to another world although she was looking at my passport asked me: "Do you think it is possible for me that one day I will also be able to go to school and further my education, like you have done?

‘‘I have always wished to further my studies but I wonder if that day will ever come."

I was touched and I said: "If you really wish to go back to school, yes one day you will."

In one of my articles, I mentioned that I came to understand about music education through my parents who recognised my music talent at an early age, they encouraged me to perform and to take a music course on instrument playing at the College of Music, way back in the 1970s, but I did not then.

I would have loved to but it was due to circumstances beyond me. In 1984, I was to embark on research and documentation of Zimbabwe township music and my parents gave me all the support as they realised that this was my calling.

It is because of the research that I had embarked on, on township music from 1930s to today, that saw me lecturing and giving talks at institutions locally and internationally but I still wanted to further my "education".

When the opportunity to go to Wits and read for a masters degree came along I was happy to fulfil my dream, although I continued with lecturing in the music and media studies departments.

I am not the only one who has always wanted to go back to school and advance my education, there are many women who have wanted to fulfil their dreams.

Littah Hodzi, who went back to school when she was a mother of three, attributes her success to commitment and having focus.

She did her Junior Certificate in 1976 and 1977, she had to space the course in order to accommodate her children, in each year she wrote three subjects.

She did her Junior Certificate through correspondence, after that she went on to enrol for some courses so that she could be able to get a job, in order to be financially stable.

While she was working as a secretary she realised that she needed O-Level qualifications in order for her to climb the corporate ladder.

By this time she had eight children, and her three older children had finished their O-Levels, and the children became her teachers. "Tendai taught me English, Tsitsi taught me Shona, and Mildred taught me Commerce and I passed the subjects."

It is important for women to associate themselves with people who will support them in order to achieve their goals as surrounding themselves with people who do not support them can bring their spirits down and fail to finish whatever they would have endeavoured to do.

Although she went to night school in order to get tuition, for Littah, her children became her "extra lesson teachers".

Alternative ways of learning, like night school and distance education can make it possible for women to get education as they will have time to continue with their lives with little interruption.

Littah Hodzi did not stop at O-Level but went on to do a Diploma in Personnel Management and another Diploma in Industrial Labour Studies through distance education. Littah Hodzi says she is not going to stop until she gets to university. She had enrolled at one time but had to drop out for reasons beyond her control.

Obviously, one of the reasons could have been that she failed to make time for school, since she is employed full- time.

What I do not understand with our higher institutions is that an old woman like her (Littah Hodzi) is required to enrol for a three-year degree and sit in class with someone who has just finished her A-Level.

This is disrespect by the education system to mothers who have nurtured the nation in order for it to be "educated". What about the knowledge, wisdom, her experience of going to "school" while at the same time raising eight children, cooking, cleaning the house and also going to work outside the home?

Is that not a remarkable achievement? Of her eight children, seven of them have degrees and diplomas, and when you talk to them they say that there were inspired by their mother. Is she not a professor?

Why throw away the education, wisdom from our mothers, because we want to cling to the male-structured education system?

It is the men mothers have raised who, when they are heading these institutions, craft laws which make it difficult for women to be part of.

The structuring of our education system is aimed at destroying matriarchal structures by denying women public space, which they can access through high education institutions.

Zimbabwe has remained a matriarchal society socially because women still teach in the home, but it has not been able to be a matriarchal society politically because of how women are not part of the important structures that run the country, like the education system.

Are we going to deprive ourselves the knowledge that our mothers have because we look at them as not "educated"?

This woman is way above the so-called "educated", in terms of knowledge, wisdom and education.

Instead she should be teaching in the departments that have to do with her experience or if there are no departments to do with what she has done, they should be created.

She and other women should go straight to a masters and on an MA research programme and impart their knowledge through writing a thesis, which will be deposited at the university.

They should also be encouraged to do a PhD, which is basically research and writing, and be given a doctorate. This is not affirmative action, nowhere near it, this is what I call "Mothers Taking Back Their Place in Society to Educate and Pass on Knowledge". Their lives are enough research.

The wealth of information these women have should benefit the nation through such programmes and also earning them some degrees. To enrol this woman for a three-year bachelor’s degree seems disrespectful and demoting them from being educators and mothers of our country who have given life to the nation.

While the mothers are at these higher institutions of learning they will pass on knowledge and also acquire knowledge, it should be a two-way process and by so doing they will feel their worth in society.

Evangelista Mberi explains education as a basket which includes a whole lot of things, including kukuya dovi (how to make peanut butter from peanuts using a grinding stone). "If you are taught kukuya dovi, then you have been educated in that discipline, that is what education is all about."

Our mothers have a basket full of education and knowledge that is waiting to be given away, but they are afraid to "educate" the "educated".

The education system should be user-friendly and bring out knowledge from people instead of suppressing it.

The straitjacket kind of education will not benefit us if we are going to lose the knowledge and information that the older generation has to pass on. We might end up recycling outdated ways of learning that will not help us develop as a nation but only to get certificates, to display and get jobs.

We appreciate what some universities are doing that of awarding recognition degrees to women who have contributed immeasurably in their particular fields and professions.

This is very commendable of these institutions as this is a way to acknowledge women’s life achievements. Recently, the Africa Women University awarded recognition degrees to Mavis Moyo and Betty Mutero and others. Betty has contributed immensely in community development and politics, she was the first black councillor in the 1950s in Bulawayo and Mavis has made a name in the media industry and also community development, she is one of the longest-serving journalists.

One wishes that these women could have their life histories documented as well. Having their biographies documented will help us know how they managed to get to where they are today.

As they are taking it slowly on their work, this could be the right time for them to write their biographies and the nation can learn a great deal about them. These incredible women should also be invited as guest lecturers at learning institutions.

I have interviewed Mavis Moyo and Betty Mutero and other journalists and researchers have; they have stories to tell.

It will benefit the nation if the women could write their biographies, and the relevant institutions fund them to sit down to write, it is for the good of the country and for posterity. Our great-grandchildren need to know about their great-grandmothers and the books they write will add value to our lives.

Some academics have attained their degrees through our mothers by interviewing them.

There is nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that their work is part of an exclusive club, which does not reach the general public.

We would like our mother’s biographies to be accessible across the board, in order to shape the thinking of our society as regards women.

Women work towards changing the education system in order for you to be recognised for what you have already done, by giving to our nation in order for it to function, your role as educators should not just end in the home but taken to the highest level, institutions of higher learning.

Women celebrate life, motherhood and womanhood. You are the greatest teachers and great tanks of knowledge!

--Joyce Jenje Makwenda, a researcher, archivist, writer and producer, can be contacted on:

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