Education minister Lazarus Dokora is one man whose affinity for controversy will be hard to match. In fact, in the two or so years that he has been in government, the hitherto little-known minister has become a household name — for controversy.
Since his appointment by President Robert Mugabe to government in the aftermath of the 2013 elections, Dokora’s name shot to prominence for his knack for sparking all sorts of controversy over various prickly issues.
It appears the education ministry may be jinxed to have ministers who are in a league of their own when it comes to intellectual innovation.
The only other minister that quickly comes to mind in the search for any other person that could give Dokora a run for his money in terms of curious policy suggestions is his own predecessor, Aeneas Chigwedere. Remember that historian-cum headman from Wedza who, during his tenure as education minister, presented to cabinet a suggestion to introduce one school uniform for every pupil in the country! He was publicly berated by Mugabe, but he had given the nation quite a hearty laugh.
Now Dokora, the peculiarly bearded former rabbi, has stolen the limelight from politics and the economy through his introduction of some of the most contentious policies ever heard in government. They include the banning of extra lessons in schools, scrapping of teachers’ incentives and the banning of age-old Civvies Day practice in schools.
Perhaps one of the most controversial of decisions Dokora made was the banning of entrance tests for pupils looking for Form One places — a decision for which he was lampooned left, right and centre by angry parents who found themselves traversing the four corners of the country looking for places for their children. There were others though that thought the decision was the best he had ever made in his career as government minister.
It was also under his watch at the education portfolio that the issue of whether or not to allow schoolchildren to carry condoms to school found space in parliamentary debates — just as did the argument over permitting pupils to carry mobile phones to school, a suggestion that minister Dokora says he supports without apology.
But that is not all. Dokora has found himself confronted by some of the worst examination results to come from our schools coupled with unprecedented leakage of examination papers, resulting in legislatures and other citizens calling for his resignation. Needless to say, he saw no reason to leave. He believes he is not to blame for the high failure rate or the exam leakages threatening the credibility of the country’s education system.
More lately, Dokora threw himself back into the limelight by increasing examination fees for secondary public examinations and suggesting the introduction of same for Grade 7 examinations.
But, even as the public was still seething with rage, Dokora was at it again; this time with what could be the mother of all controversies. The minister now wants all Ordinary Level students to go for industrial internship in order to be considered to have completed that vital level of education!
How such an idea got into the minister’s head is indeed a curious paradox. Besides Dokora being a primary and secondary education minister who does not preside over the placement of students into industry on attachment — a prerogative of his tertiary education counterpart — it would be interesting to know how the minister’s imagination allowed him to see the several hundred thousand Form Four pupils around the country being compulsorily absorbed into the handful of factories and offices that are still open in Zimbabwe.
Minister Dokora must know very well that it is already very difficult, if not impossible, to get internship places for the thousands of students at our universities and other tertiary institutions. What then makes him think that a Form Four pupil from Kanyemba or Binga or Mwenezi or Dotito would find attachment in Harare?
Maybe the internship he means is to provide free labour for our cash-strapped new farmers — or rekindling that Border Gezi Greenbomber outfit.
Shouldn’t Dokora be worrying himself with the sorry state of classrooms in the country’s remote areas and resettlement areas where tobacco barns have been transformed into classrooms where pupils sit on bricks without books, pens or qualified teachers?
Should Dokora not be busying himself with campaigning for funding to build schools, to buy books and to modernise ancient pole and dagga structures that his ministry has registered as formal schools?
Instead of these kinds of mindless experiments, Dokora — like his predecessor, David Coltart — who resurrected the sector from the throes of death, should be concentrating on finding foreign funding for mass provision of learning material into the education sector which, like the rest of the country, is struggling to stay alive.
Dokora may be a politician who, like his peers, understandably owes his position to patronage, but the legacy he leaves in the wake of some of his dubious policies will be indelibly marked in the history annals of this country.
His name will forever be associated with that era when education was ruined by people that put politics before children and the future of this beautiful country.