Zimbabwean teacher education : student teachers’ perceptions of a teacher education curriculum infused with African traditional education
The winds of European imperialism and colonisation spread across Africa in the19thCentury leading to the establishment of a Eurocentric or Western perception of education. It is paramount to note that African Traditional Education (ATE), as informal educational practices, had existed before the introduction of colonial education in Zimbabwe. Because of colonialism, ATE was subjugated, marginalised, and displaced. As a result of coloniality, and inspite of political independence, the legacy of a Western perception of education has remained pronounced at the epicentre of postcolonial education. As such, calls emerged from former colonised countries for the deconstruction of Euro-centric educational practices and the reconstruction of Afro-centric educational practices, albeit in a modified manner. In this qualitative study, I worked with a single case design. The aim of this study was to explore the perceptions of final year student teachers at a teacher education college regarding the significance of a curriculum infused with ATE. Based on a conceptual understanding of ATE, its aims and underlying principles, I foregrounded in this study the importance of the promotion of moral development, the development of well-rounded and respectable persons who adhere to the norms and values of their community, the advancement of cultural heritage, a Zimbabwean identity, and good citizenship. This conceptual understanding led to the development of a framework for analysis, which was used to analyse the core courses in the teacher education curriculum and the data generated through semi-structured interviews and a focus group discussion. The findings from the document analysis revealed that ATE is only offered as a topic hosted in Philosophy of Education. In addition, I indicated that some aspects of the core courses might be linked, and artificially so, to aspects of ATE. For example, in Sociology of Education, the topic, Culture, can potentially be associated with the maintenance and preservation of cultural heritage and the development of good citizenship. In Psychology of Education, topics regarding moral development, cognitive development and personality development could be reconsidered by drawing examples from the Zimbabwean context. However, it was found that the core courses are organised around theories from Europe and America. From the semi-structured interviews, it became clear that the participants’ understanding of ATE is uncritical and seems to be aligned with a traditional conceptualisation of ATE, which constituted the course content. For example, the participants were uncritical about traditional ideas regarding roles assigned in the community along gender, they did not critically consider the role of the individual within the community, and neither did they challenge ideas regarding a single Zimbabwean identity. Despite their uncritical understanding, they did perceive ATE as important for education, and they contemplated the significance thereof for their future classrooms. The participants considered the role of Unhu/Ubuntu as significant for the moral development of a well-rounded and respectable person who adheres to the society’s morals and values. They also perceived the preservation of cultural heritage and the transmission of the latter from generation to generation as important. In terms of the principle of communalism, they regarded the promotion of working together towards the wellbeing of the community as an important aspect of the curriculum. In addition, they considered the acquisition of skills for a smooth integration into society as important. The participants were able to draw linkages between their understanding of the principles of communalism, perennialism, functionalism, preparationism, and wholisticism, and other subjects included in their teacher education curriculum. These linkages were fairly shallow and did not depict a teacher education curriculum infused with elements of ATE. The findings from the focus group discussion, however, foregrounded the potential for the creation of a space for critical discussion by student teachers. While they recited information regarding ATE in an uncritical manner during the interviews, the focus group discussion became a space where students agreed and disagreed on the relevance of ATE for present-day education. Based on the findings from the document analysis, the semi-structured interviews, and the focus group discussion, I propose two suggestions regarding ATE and its significance for the curriculum. On the one hand, I propose the reconceptualisation of ATE as a critical space where student teachers and lecturers can negotiate and deliberate the relevance of a traditional conception of ATE for present-day Zimbabwe, and in particular, for education in the Zimbabwean context. In addition, I suggest that the reconceptualised understanding of ATE be recentralised as the vantage point for the consideration of Western and American theories in terms of their relevance to Zimbabwean education. By implication, I advocate for ATE to become the theoretical lens through which student teachers and lecturers (re)consider the content of the teacher education course material. The argument is that in this manner, ATE is made relevant for contemporary Zimbabwe; it becomes the central focus of teacher education and contributes towards the counteracting of the persistent dominance of Western and American theories in the teacher education curriculum, and by implication, the application thereof in school-based education.