“Education is the way round but the only way around,” is one of many phrases that have been and continue to be used to inspire and motivate children to value school and for parents to invest in the education of their children. As someone from Zimbabwe, a country that invested so much in education and increased literacy, I also valued the importance of attaining an education and having a degree. What it meant is that I had to pass examinations for me to be able to realize such a dream. Passing an examination thus became my primary goal and motivation to study and be counted amongst the best.
Fast forward to 2020, I find myself enrolled for a master’s degree in one of Norway’s best universities. Just like other immigrant students coming from different parts of the world, I had a dream of doing well in school, being successful and influencing development in my small family, community and country at large. In pursuit of this goal, I have experienced the strikingly shocking differences in education philosophy, measure of success and the general educational environment.
The initial hard-to-ignore differences between Norway and Zimbabwean education is the infrastructure, human and capital resources invested. To start with, unlike Zimbabwe where education has become too expensive for an ordinary citizen, in Norway public education is tuition free up to higher and tertiary level. This is a unique opportunity to obtain a degree at a quality university at no cost, and one of many reasons why Norway has become an attractive country for foreign students. In contrast, investment in education has continuously decreased in a country that had once the best education policy and highly literate population in Africa. Faced with economic challenges, teachers and professors in Zimbabwe haven’t received decent salaries while families still have to go out of their way to pay tuition fees in an increasingly restrictive environment. This to me, came as an eye opener around the topic of global inequality and development.
What was intriguing for me was my first day in class. The environment was so flexible and less hierarchical, with the course leader conversing with each student before the class commenced. Of note is the high levels of academic freedom, students freely speaking and communicating their educational needs as compared to rigid educational structures. The solution oriented and student focused education philosophy that the system exhibits is exceptional. I was used to the top down approach system that prepared us to complete the syllabus and pass examinations. However, the more flexible and solution-oriented education system in Norway also requires students to take initiative and be responsible, a quality that I have struggled to develop but ultimately improving towards. For example, in the Global Development Theory and Practice masters class, much focus is on student groups, student-led lectures and solution oriented and practical learning such as in the Development Practice module.
Through all the obstacles around culture, such as being part of a minority group of African students in Norway, I must admit that being an immigrant student has come with lifetime discoveries. The adventure has accorded me an opportunity to see the broader version of the world, connect my personal point of view with a world view. It has also helped reorient my priorities and purposes of learning.
Most importantly the opportunity has helped me reflect and appreciate the hard work that Zimbabwean families and children invest in education and other things despite the limited opportunities and resources available.