top of page
  • Writer's picturerutendo matinyarare


Updated: May 11, 2020

In South Africa we have an education crisis, and every day we hear different people lamenting how the education challenge in the country must be solved.

What is frustrating about the on going discourse is just to the north of South Africa, we have the most literate country on the continent that advanced its education system to world class standards without the level of resources available to South Africa.

You would expect that with such a neighbor, South Africa would engage its [neighbor’s] human capital or partner its neighbor to build a twenty first century education system.

How Did Zimbabwe Do It

What makes such a case more compelling is there are so many parallels between South Africa’s bantu education system and the conditions that confronted Zimbabwe at independence.

By the time Zimbabwe liberated itself, the country had just one university that enrolled only 600 students annually, 95% of whom were white.

It’s basic education system was in shambles as the country only had 5 high schools in the entire country of 6mil people, preparing black, colored and non-white students for university.

The consequence of this discriminatory system was Zimbabwe had 4000 university graduates at independence, with less than 1000 of them being black.

Of those black graduates most received their tertiary education overseas, in Zambia and South Africa. Very few of them came through the University of Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, the literacy rate of the country sat at a dismal 30%, with most black Zimbabweans working as menial labor on farms, mines and industry where a makeshift language was used between the white bosses and their slave labor.


On attaining independence in 1980, the Zimbabwean government made education a priority. As a first step the government increased the intake at the university of Zimbabwe, polytechnics, and teacher training colleges.

Adult literacy was encouraged, night schools established together with a project to build teacher training colleges and schools under a food for work program.

The era saw adults (in particular ex-liberation fighters) encouraged to attend night school to complete their basic education, advance themselves and set an example for their children in the national spirit of leveraging education for development.

Those with secondary qualifications furthered their skills through correspondence courses from

UNISA and other long distance education institutions. The technically minded embarked on apprenticeship programs with artisanal guilds to become more marketable.

The education ministry was manned by people who had established their education credentials in Zambia and Mozambican war camp schools during the liberation war. Integral to this journey was emulation of other countries’ education systems and taking in foreign consultants.

The Score Card

The results were nothing less than miraculous. In 20yrs the Zimbabwean government built more than 4000 primary and secondary schools. Literacy jumped to 89%. The highest on the continent.

By 2018 under 18yrs of sanctions, Zimbabwe had built 12 new universities and a plethora of other tertiary institutions. Today the nation is churning out more than 30 000 tertiary graduates a year, excluding those qualifying outside Zimbabwe

Politicized Education In South Africa.

In contrast, South Africa shows little political will to advance its education system. Vast resources are available, complimented by the knowledge base but politicians in both the ANC and DA seem reluctant to improve education through innovation.

Regularly we see government decision makers resisting to embrace the many skilled Zimbabwean educators and education administrators who could offer knowledge and innovation to improve South African education.

It’s almost like there is a fobia to use African talent because someone is gatekeeping for the Gavin Watson types to take up the opportunity.

Meeting Panyaza Lesufi

A case in point is a meeting we had with Panyaza Lesufi at Discovery Sci-bono in 2015, where we outlined that South Africa has a challenge with education because of the lack of quality educators.

As a solution we presented a prototype that illustrated how we could assist the Gauteng Department Of Education to enhance basic education by offering every child [from grade R to metric] mother tongue instruction for all their subjects, using a digital instructor.

Mother Tongue Instruction Is Possible Now

With this solution we illustrated how the use of audio, visual and graphic rich content would enhance learners learning experience. Affording them English and mother tongue instruction for all subjects to facilitate better uptake and understanding.

The proposition is that every student will receive an English digital course book for every subject and a choice of other languages (for the same subject) to augment the English rendition. When a student finds themselves struggling to understand concepts in English, they can refer to their home language course books for clarification.

Otherwise they can also use their preferred language course book as a first resort, referencing the English version to polish up and prepare for the English based exams.

Digital Transcends Class And Economic Status

Additionally, the digital course book gives every learner access to a world class [lecture room] learning experience in the palm of their hand, irrespective of their class, economic background or proximity.

Through the audio feature, pronunciations and expressions are standardized for all students, while the visual features allow for illustration and dramatized examples.

On the move learners can simply plug on their headphones and begin to go through course work in the same way they would play games or watch a movie.

Over and above that, the tool serves as a social media [comminication] platform between learners and teachers to share content, conduct assessments and monitor performance. Simultaneously workshopping educators with the best practice instruction techniques it employs.

It’s A Cash Cow

The cherry on top is the platform offers the department the option of selling advertising space to generate income that can be used to fund the project without over taxing government coffers.

The benefits of the proposition are clear as it embraces technology to make learning more engaging, practical and exciting. Facilitating easier uptake as the mode of instruction stimulates numerous senses for learners for easy uptake.

Each learner can learn at their own pace by utilizing the play back, fast forward function. It can improve dyslexic, hearing and visually impaired learners learning experience through its multi-sensory delivery.

Eleven Languages For All Subjects

By making it possible to teach all basic education subjects in mother tongue, we are also solving one of the biggest challenges of transforming South African education.

With this application there is no need to layout the huge investment for twelve world class teachers in each class to instruct students in their diverse home languages. Instead the department is able to use technology to achieve that task at the press of a button.

Another critical benefit is it gives us the ability to accelerate the academicalization of African languages and sign language as the adoption and diffusion of these languages would be quicker through the use of technology.

How Did Afrikaners Do It?

History tells us that it took the Afrikaners 20yrs to elevate Afrikaans from a kitchen language to a language of business and academia, using print media, books, poems, restaurant menus, theatre, radio, education, training, legal papers, medical records and other means used at the time.

In the 1940s it took Indonesia about 10-15yrs for Bahasa Indonesia to be fully adopted as a unifying national language by more than 700 clans and tribes.

Nevertheless, today we are fortunate to have technology, which is in constant use and available in the palm of almost everyone’s hands. Making the adoption of African languages in academia today, much quicker through smartphones.

Lingo Will Advance

New lexicon could be developed, added to textbooks overnight (since we are not printing on paper) and the word is in immediate use in the classroom with the platform giving the phonetic pronunciation and reinforcement via the audio feature.

Furthermore, we have the ability to collect data on the progress of each learner by analyzing the analytics which give us learner insights to assist the student. Assessments and tests can also be taken and marked immediately on the application.

The bonus is the product is cost effective. As outlined above advertising space could be sold to relevant corporates to generate revenue that can be used in delivering technology to poor schools in the country.

Changes In Real Time

Content amendments can be made real time as and when information changes, at a fraction of the cost of changing print textbooks at the printing press.

The times we are living are characterized by rapid change in information, which renders print redundant because information changes faster than print cycles. Digital course books eliminate information time lag. I won’t labor the environmental benefits of eliminating millions of textbooks every year.

Overtime the digital textbook will pay itself off by generating its own revenue; savings on printing, educator training, remedial instruction and qualitative output.

Why This Article

Many of you might be wondering why I’m exposing this idea? Firstly, I think too much time has passed with our company holding onto a solution that could assist in advancing education in South Africa and Africa.

Secondly, I’m trying to send a message that South Africa has many creative ideas to solve its challenges if only politicians could embrace change and be more focused on value more than who gives them the ideas and how politically connected they are.

I sincerely believe that if our idea or something similar had been adopted three years ago. South Africa would have come a long way in establishing mother tongue instruction in schools, greatly advancing the preservation of dying local languages by developing them into academic languages and improving the education of our children.

Either way it’s a huge lost opportunity to improve our education but it’s not too late.

More importantly, in a nation and continent where the prevailing stereotypes assume that black people lack innovation and get contracts by favor. Having a life changing idea coming from a black innovator being used in our schooling system would be a very great motivation to induce more creativity and less tenderpreneuring among young Africans.

Why This Idea?

I perceive someone thinking that I’m too presumptuous to believe that my idea so great and should be adopted by government.

However my response is it doesn’t have to be my idea that advances the education of our children. It just has to be a good solution to our challenges, albeit, the fact that four years down the road we still haven’t seen real change to the way instruction is done in South Africa to equip our children for the fourth industrial revolution. Yet billions are spent every year on South African education but the output remains mediocre, speaks to the validity of my proposition.

It’s time that South Africa embraced African solutions for African problems to leapfrog us into 4IR. We have the ideas and the solutions, they just need takers.

In the spirit of making a better Africa I ask the South African government to look at the value of ideas more than the identity of those proposing them. Ideas are the new wealth.

We Can Change South Africa Now, Today.

Here is an opportunity for us to embark on a technology project that will open doors for sequential technology transfer and the upskilling of young Africans to kick start a leading e-learning industry in the country.
I am writing this blog to inspire African youths to know that black people ARE innovating, they ARE creating solutions but they are not getting the opportunity to bring those ideas to life to meet black problems because they are shut out for not being big white or Indian corporates. Nonetheless we shall keep knocking at the door using guerrilla tactics until it opens.
It’s also a challenge and a reminder to decision makers that you are seeking solutions to your problems from people who don’t understand them. Yet you have people who live with these challenges who know how to fix them.

By Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare Of Frontline Strat Marketing Consultancy.

114 views0 comments