3 minute read

Zimbabwe - History & Background

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceZimbabwe - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Zimbabwe is a republic with an area of 390,759 sq. km. (150,873 sq. mls.) and a population, based on the year 2000 estimates, of approximately 11.5 million that consists of the following ethnic groups: Karanga, Zezuru, Manyika, Ndau, Korekore (known collectively as Shona, 71 percent) and Ndebele (16 percent), as well as white (1 percent), Asian and mixed (1 percent) and other (11 percent). In terms of the age structure, 39.64 percent are between 0 and 14 years (female, 2,222,277; male, 2,274,128), 56.82 percent are 15 to 64 years (female, 3,192,888; male, 3,251,860) and 3.54 percent are 65 years or older (female, 197,340; male 204,028). The major indigenous languages are Shona and Ndebele, with English serving as the commercial language. Zimbabwe is land locked and bordered by Mozambique on the east, South Africa on the south, Botswana to the southeast, Angola and the Republic of Congo to the northwest, and Zambia on the north. Reports on unemployment vary from 35 to 60 percent.

The Shona and Ndebele people lost their land and many human rights during the European partition of Africa, as the native groups were separately subjugated by British settlers in 1890. Further colonial repression was inflicted upon them collectively after their defeat during the 1893 war of liberation (Chimurenga War I), the first unified Shona-Ndebele war of resistance against colonialism. Subsequently, the British settlers named the country Southern Rhodesia, after Cecil John Rhodes, and introduced a system of separate development for blacks and whites that was enforced through a racist educational system. Missionaries introduced formal education before colonialism in 1867, when they opened the first missionary school. This early missionary education mostly catered to the sons of chiefs.

The government's Education Ordinance of 1899 provided grants-in-aid for mission schools, and some enrolled African students. Colonial education philosophy, content, structure, and administration for Africans, which began in the twentieth century with the enactment of the Native Education Ordinance of 1907, continued for 20 years until Zimbabwean independence. The act instituted guidelines for establishing four-year private elementary schools and was accompanied by school construction land grants. The education program was very restrictive, combining religious instruction, basic industrial technical training, and academics. For the first 40-year colonial period, the major players in the development of African education were the missionaries, who operated the schools, and the Africans themselves, who contributed to building the schools, providing school supplies, and purchasing textbooks. Other than state policy making, the government's role entailed extending financial aid just to cover teacher salaries.

Zimbabwe achieved colonial status in 1923. Soon after, the British government began to transform its role in African education by establishing the Department of Native Education in 1927 and subsequently passing the Education Act of 1929. The act 1) allowed poor students to work for their tuition after school hours and during vacations; 2) extended grants-in-aid to schools for students with disabilities; and 3) introduced African teacher training. It is important to note, however, that colonial administrators did not intend to educate the Africans to the extent that they would challenge the oppressive colonial rule and compete with whites (Kawewe 1986). Thus, the government of Godfrey Huggins used the worldwide Great Depression as an excuse to oppose and eliminate all other educational facilities for Africans except for elementary education, leading to a drastic decline in enrollment that reached 100,000 fewer students in 1929.

After World War II, a 10-year education plan for the period 1947 to 1956 was established that resulted in a considerable expansion in primary education. Enrollment shot up to 164,000 when government policies began to change, and during that period, the first secondary school for Africans, Goromonzi, was actually built near Salisbury, (now Harare). Previously, Africans had acquired secondary and higher education from South Africa's black mine schools and overseas. Those few graduates of foreign programs then filled the only two positions available to blacks: clergyman or teacher. After Goromonzi opened, various missionary organizations followed suit and opened their own secondary schools, which enrolled approximately 600 students by 1949. The Kerr Commission appointed by the government to reassess the thorny issue of African education made progressive recommendations that were never implemented.

Additional topics