Bringing Academics and Practitioners Together: The Britain-Zimbabwe Society Research Day on Education in Zimbabwe

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Last Saturday, I attended the Zimbabwe Research Day at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford on the topic of education. Put together by the Britain-Zimbabwe Society, the day brought together academics, activists and others involved in education in Zimbabwe. Speakers came from Zimbabwe, South Africa, the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The wide range of presentations provided an insight into the history of education in Zimbabwe from Barbara Muhamba’s talk on the gendering of education at Catholic missions in the colonial era, to Joanne McGregor’s discussion of the political activism of Zimbabwean students and others in the 1960s and 1970s. The combination of these talks with others which had a more contemporary focus resulted in a broad-ranging discussion of the challenges facing education in Zimbabwe today. Some speakers tackled education including Ngwabi Bhebe, the vice-chancellor of Midlands State University in Zimbabwe, Gerry Mazarire of the University of Zimbabwe, Bruce Mutsvairo of Amersterdam University College and Blessing Makwambeni of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology addressed issue in higher education. Others tackled primary and secondary education includingTerri Barnes of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign who examined the teaching of Zimbabwean history in high schools, Cathy Campbell of the LSE who spoke about a larger project which seeks to help schools provide support to children affected by HIV/AIDS and Pat Akhurst and Pam Stuart who spoke on a long-running link between the towns of Stevenage in the United Kingdom and Kadoma in Zimbabwe. Taking a broader view, Dennis Sinyolo of Education International in Belgium placed the situation of Zimbabwean educators in a global context. Others spoke about education projects that did not necessarily fall within the formal schooling problem: Lee Taylor and Maggie Coates presented a case study on Hlekweni, an adult education program that provides its students with the skills needed to begin their own small businesses, such as carpentry and agriculture, while Chipo Chung described Envision Zimbabwe’s peace education initiative. Just as when I went to the Children and War conference last year, I was struck by the vibrance that this combination of academic historians, activists and social scientists provided and also the opportunity to meet people in different fields who share my interest in Zimbabwe.

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