2020 VICE CHANCELLOR’S GRADUATION SPEECH
Your Excellency and Chancellor, before I deliver my address, I am saddened to announce that, we begin our graduation proceedings on a somber note as some of our students have lost their lives before completing their programmes, while others passed on after successfully completing their studies. The following deceased students will therefore receive their degrees posthumously: Mr. Phillip Pazvakavambwa, Master of Science in Peace Leadership and Conflict Resolution, Vimbai Chirara, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Science, and Felistas Mubayiwa, Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Management. May I request you, Sir, and the whole congregation, physically gathered here, and all those following these proceedings virtually, to observe a minute of silence as we remember them.
May their souls rest in eternal peace.
Your Excellency and Chancellor, the Zimbabwe Open University settled for ‘Education 5.0 for Human Capital Development through Open and Distance electronic Learning (ODeL): Towards Vision 2030’ as the befitting theme for this year’s Graduation Ceremony. ZOU has taken heed of the fact that Education 5.0 is a transformative philosophy that interweaves teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation with the aim of modernising and re-industrialising Zimbabwe. The heritage based philosophy underpinning Education 5.0 clearly articulates a very important value of ‘self-belief’ arising from an understanding that for a nation to gain the respect of the community of nations, it must understand, appreciate and affirm its own heritage, that includes its human capital among other diverse natural endowments.
1. University projects
Your Excellency and Chancellor, allow me to preface the first section of my address with a quotation by Chifamba who argues that, “…in its few years of existence, the Second republic has set in motion a host of programmes meant to breathe life into the agriculture sector’s fortunes and get the country’s Agro-based economy ticking once again.” The quote speaks to the impact that the Government, under your leadership, is making towards the transformation of the agricultural sector with a view to restoring Zimbabwe’s erstwhile status as the “breadbasket” of Africa. Government initiatives such as the Command Agriculture, Pfumvudza, the Presidential heifer pass-on programme, the Presidential Livestock Inputs Programme, the Horticulture Recovery Plan, among others, are innovative ways of contributing towards the Agriculture Recovery Plan that your administration has adopted in order to “transform the agriculture sector into a US$8.2 billion industry in five years” (Chifamba Obert, The Herald, 10 November 2020, 9).
Through the Faculty of Agriculture, ZOU is poised to making a significant contribution towards human capital development in the Agriculture sector through its students graduating with a Master of Science Honours in Agricultural Management. This year alone, a crop of 65 students will be obtaining the qualification, of whom 33 are female and 32 are male. Apart from the Master of Science Honours in Agricultural Management, the Faculty of Agriculture has developed and presented for accreditation two bachelor’s degree programmes in Crop Production and Horticulture. It is our hope and trust that the programmes will add to the gravitas and dedication that you, Sir, have personally demonstrated in your farming endeavors. It is a no brainer that, Government programmes and initiatives referred to above, need graduates with requisite Management skills like those our graduands possess.
Your Excellency and Chancellor, ZOU is currently running some farming projects to reinforce the programmes currently on offer. A range of farming activities take place at the 18-hectare Kadoma and the 72-hectare Senka farms. The activities include, fish farming, goat rearing, maize production, potato and vegetable production. The Senka farm, for example, currently carries 193 crossbreed goats, comprising Boer bucks and Matabele nannies/does. This year alone, the farm managed to sell over 50 goats, for both meat consumption and breeding purposes. Over and above that, in excess of 500 kg of fish have been sold. Rather than asking you to travel to Gweru for an in loco tour of this project, we decided to put up a video presentation which you, and our guests, will have occasion to view in the comfort of this graduation venue.
Your Excellency and Chancellor, the late British mathematician and Professor of Statistics at the University of Wisconsin, George E. P. Box, contends that, “One important idea is that science is a means whereby learning is achieved, not by mere theoretical speculation on the one hand, nor by the undirected accumulation of practical facts on the other, but rather by a motivated iteration between theory and practice.” Combining theory and practice is one of the age-old traditions of effective pedagogy. Education 5.0’s emphasis on ‘goods and services’ validates this pedagogical tradition. In this regard, I believe that, apart from generating income for our university, we must avail our farms to the Faculty of Agriculture for purposes of forging, what some universities call, work integrated learning (WIL), as well as using them for Research and Innovation. I was personally highly impressed by the goat project that BUSE showcased to you, at last week’s graduation, because of the project’s palpable seamless nexus between theory and practice. As ZOU, we are open to benchmarking best practice with sister universities.
The last point I would like to make bearing on the ZOU’s Agricultural thrust, is to share with you, the good news regarding our application for land in Masvingo Province. Your Excellency and Chancellor, I am pleased to announce that on 09th November 2020, I received a letter from Hon. E. Ruvai Chadzamira, Minister of State for Provincial Affairs – Masvingo, confirming receipt of our application for land to carry out agricultural projects. The Hon. Minister notes that, “This office supports your application as it is key to our Provincial GDP growth and [the] rolling out [of] Education 5.0” (Ref; MP/1/25, 09 November 2020). This is good news indeed, which, no doubt, comes with your blessings. On behalf of ZOU, I would like to tender our profound gratitude for the support that you, our Chancellor, continues to render to us in order that we can deliver on our mission and mandate. Thank you, Sir.
2. The ZOU solar programme
Your Excellency and Chancellor, ZOU’s projects extend beyond Agriculture. One small, but significant achievement, we made in 2020, was the successful installation of solar power at the Mashonaland West Regional Center, Chinhoyi.
The solar system that we installed at the campus has a capacity of 10kW and, can service at least fifty (50) computers including the general lighting with room for upgrading in the future, depending on the campus’s energy requirements. The project, which cost ZW$1 827 753.80, is the first in a phased programme that will ultimately cover ten physical regional campuses. Our next port of call will be Masvingo regional campus where tender procurement efforts are already in progress.
The provision of constant and undisrupted electrical energy is the sine qua non of effective E-learning, research as well as innovation. It is our firm belief that the solarization of the ten ZOU physical regional campuses will be a worthy initiative towards making Zimbabwe a middle-income economy by 2030. Soon after graduation, I will have the privilege and honour to request you to commission the first phase of the programme virtually, consistent with our ODeL ethos.
3. ICT infrastructure
Your Excellency and Chancellor, Education 5.0 will only become a reality when our universities are properly resourced technologically, in line with the imperatives of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). For our purposes as an e-learning University, a robust ICT infrastructure is a requirement for effective Teaching and Learning, Research, Community Engagement and innovation. Cognizant of this fact, Management adopted a deliberate thrust towards the upgrading and rehabilitation of obsolete ICT infrastructure. In addition, we have successfully completed the consolidation and conversion of internet links to Virtual Platform Network (VPN) links into the TElOne national infrastructure for ease of management and cost containment.
4. The effects of COVID-19 on Teaching and learning
The COVID-19 pandemic was a gamechanger in the whole country and the in the education sector. ZOU was equally affected even though it is an ODel University. However, unlike contact Higher Education institutions, we got some soft landing since we had already developed a virtual learning management system (myVista), from MOODLE as early as 2017. The COVID-19 challenge spurred us to invest in the training of our staff with the necessary competencies to develop multimedia learning content. Learning materials – modules, course notes, video tutorials were availed online through the myVista platform. In addition, students were encouraged to upload assignments, projects, dissertations and theses, online. The WhatsApp platform became a handy and effective way of communicating with students, posting instructions and notes to them, and getting their feedback. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, we were forced to provide academic staff with data bundles so that T&L could continue.
I am proud to say that ZOU managed to have all levels of students writing end of Semester examinations in all our ten Regional Campuses as well as our Virtual International Campus. The University’s e-learning delivery mode, that existed before the intrusion of COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the University’s multi-campus structure, made this possible
What humanity has learnt over the millennia of existence, is that, every dark cloud has a silver lining. Many universities, thanks to your Government’s Education 5.0 policy, rose to the occasion and made a significant contribution to the national supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitizers and disinfectants. We salute the commendable work done by sister universities such as BUSE, HIT, GZU, MSU, NUST, UZ, ZEGU, among others
However, because ZOU is still young in the teaching of natural sciences, we were, so to say, missing in action with regards to the production of PPEs. However, licensed counsellors from the Department of Counselling and members of the ZOU alumni responded to the call by the Allied Health Practitioners’ Council of Zimbabwe to participate in voluntary tele-counselling during the lockdown. They rendered invaluable service to families and communities by holding community awareness sessions, to children and adolescent and carrying out pre-test counselling in places of quarantine. ZOU staff members from the Harare, Mashonaland West, and Matabeleland South did a sterling job indeed.
5. Is ZOU ready for Education 5.0?
Your Excellency and Chancellor, in April 2019, the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE) carried out a Staff and Skills Audit at ZOU, with the aim of assessing the extent to which the university was ready for the delivery of Education 5.0, among others. Based on the ZIMCHE report presented to Council in August 2019, the ZOU management crafted a Plan of Action which has since been acknowledged by the ZIMCHE. I am proud to share part of the contents of the letter from the ZIMCHE CEO, Prof K. P. Dzvimbo, dated 6th October 2020. It reads;
“you have succeeded in responding to all the issues that were raised during the Staff and Skills Audit…. I am satisfied that the Zimbabwe Open University is now on a trajectory to ensure quality teaching, student learning, research and innovation, industrialization and commercialization going forward.” Your Excellency and Chancellor, we are good to go.
6. ZOU’s 2020 graduate crop
With specific focus on today’s graduation, ZOU is sending forth well-nourished ZOU ambassadors to the world to scale-up the production of goods and services for the betterment of their families, workplaces, communities and the nation at large. A total of 2513 graduands from the seven ZOU Faculties inclusive of 39 graduating students from our affiliate Colleges, are to be conferred with different degrees. Of these, 1336 are females and 1177 are males. Drawn from the 2513 graduands, 57 males and 59 females who include the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Mashonaland Central Province, Senator, Monica Mavhunga, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Development Studies. These graduands were selected for you to cap them. The rest are to simultaneously graduate virtually, as the nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.
7. Chancellor’s prize
Your Excellency and Chancellor, I would be seriously remiss if I failed to acknowledge an innovative addition to our graduation. On the 28th October 2020, Prof. F. Tagwira, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, informed VCs of State University of your decision to institute the Chancellor’s prize, worth US$2000.00, to be awarded to two female and two male top-performing students. A response from a fellow VC noted that, “The Chancellor’s prize is indeed a very far-reaching development and marks a first in our history as Universities and as a country.” I could not agree more. Thank you your Excellency and Chancellor. With your indulgence, Sir, May I abuse the podium, while I still have it, by proceeding to thank the Hon. Minister, Prof. dr Amon Murwira, and his team at the Ministry, for representing our Higher and Tertiary sector to you so ably. I am thanking him out the firm belief that he, and his team, played a critical role as mid-wives of this noble initiative. This is also in line with the Shona proverb that goes; “Kutenda cherima kutenda wauya nacho.”
As I conclude my address, your Excellency and Chancellor, I want to assure that, ZOU will continue to review its programmes and delivery methods in order to give effect to Education 5.0. and Vision 2030. Such a curriculum should necessarily be informed by the demands of the 4IR. Going forward, more programmes will be introduced in different faculties in support of the Government’s industrialisation and modernisation agenda.
I thank you.
PROFESSOR P.H. GUNDANI