Religious studies and indigenous knowledge in secondary schools in Zimbabwe: Bubi district case study, Matebeleland North.

Author:Bekithemba, Dube


The arrival of the missionaries in Zimbabwe since 1859 is an important factor in understanding the character of education (Ndlovu, 2004:48). Christian missionaries played an important part in the development and history of Southern Africa, including Rhodesia during the 19th century (Ndlovu, 2004:45). The colonial government established formal education which was dual in nature. Missionaries through the religious studies (RS) were not only harbingers of the new religion but were also carriers of Victorian values that were consonant with the imperatives of industrial capitalist culture (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2009: 17; Mapira and Mazambara, 2013: 90). In fact, conversion was necessary before enrolment. It is in this regard that missionaries were credited with introducing religious studies into the secondary school curriculum (Ndlovu, 2004:50) which was then known as Religious Instruction (R.I.).

During the period between 1896 and 1942 there was no unified syllabus for R.I. The lack of a unified syllabus was attributed to the fact that there were many missionary groups which occupied Zimbabwe with different theological aspirations and religious ideologies such as the London Mission Society, Mennonites, Roman Catholics, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Methodists, Anglicans and others. These different groups meant different doctrines and dogmas infiltrated the teaching of R.I. The underlying assumption of the above denominations was to change African people from vestiges of traditional life and religion to Christianity. The essence was that R.I as a subject had multi-purposes for the colonialists and these included evangelization, colonization, and the eradication of African beliefs among many other things. Concurring with the above assertion, Zvobgo (1996) argues that religious education was introduced into the formal secondary school curriculum during the colonial era of proselytizing instrument, hence its cultural bias and prejudice.

Between 1930 and 1940 there was still no official R.I syllabus for use in the secondary schools in the then Rhodesia and as a result it was up to the clergy to design their own curricular (Ndlovu, 2004:58). It was not until 1942 that Cambridge introduced religious education which marked the beginning of an official syllabus to be used in learning R.I. Ndlovu (2004:101) argues that from 1942 to 1980, the greater part of the colonial period, religious education was known as Bible knowledge or religious knowledge. The syllabus was structured into two major components, syllabus A comprised the teaching and the life of Christ as contained in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. While syllabus B focused mainly on Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. It is interesting to note that the syllabus format crafted in 1942 still influences the current Religious Studies syllabus in secondary schools. The current Religious Studies (RS) curriculum has also two components which are syllabus A and B, exactly like in the colonial period; hence, it becomes critical to assess its impact in terms of content and practice in relation to Indigenous Knowledge (IK).

Hence, throughout this discussion, Indigenous Knowledge (IK) via Warren (1991) is the local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society, thus the base for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-re source management, and a host of other activities in rural communities. And more broadly via Flavier et al (1995: 479), it is the information base for a society, which facilitates communication and decision-making, and thus, indigenous information systems are dynamic, and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.

And in contrast, the colonial syllabus was largely Christocentric; as a result, it greatly impacted on pupils in adopting Christianity as the sole religion for salvation. This led to the demise of the once treasured and tested values of IK of the local people, and thus non-Christian religions were considered irrelevant. Yet the majority of the learners are from an African traditional background (Ndlovu, 2004:3). The teachings of the missionaries were designed so that pupils lost confidence in their own religion and anything to do with traditional life. Missionaries made deliberate attempts to denigrate anything traditional labeling it superstition and pagan. Thus, the colonial assumptions that prejudiced the Shona people as reckless and irresponsible with regard to the use and conservation of natural resources were very superficial (Rusinga and Maposa, 2010: 202; Mapira and Mazambara, 2013: 90; Puffer, 1995: 1). Concurring the same notion, Breidlid (2012: 7) argues that this denial of epistemological diversity and the privileging of European epistemic monoculture is still hegemonic and perceived as a sign of development and modernity whereas it in reality upsets the relationship between people and nature through ecological degradation, seeking to possess the earth in the same way as a master exploits a slave.

Zimbabwean independence in 1980 meant a change of the colonial educational system which was segregationist and oppressive to the majority of the Zimbabweans; hence curriculum change was inevitable in order to align pupils with the new ideology of scientific socialism, which unfortunately largely became a theoretical endeavor evidenced by the current structure and nature of Religious Studies. Shedding more light, Marashe, Ndana and Chireshe (2009) argue that soon after the attainment of independence, the Zimbabwean government, through the then Ministry of Education, Sport, and Culture, recommended the teaching of African Traditional Religion (ATR) in the schools. The rationale was in recognition of the multi-religious nature of the new sovereign and democratic society and to champion the teaching of African cultural beliefs and practices. The recommendation of teaching of African Traditional Religion was an attempt to reverse a purely Christocentric approach to the teaching of RS at 'O' level (an examination taken by secondary education students in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries or regions associated with the British curriculum) and to accept the complex religious nature of the Zimbabwean society and the need to align pupils with their cultural heritage.

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