Teacher Stories

Perspectives on Inclusive Pedagogical Language in Zimbabwe

by Kumbirai Khosa (Author)
©2019 Monographs XXII, 316 Pages


The teaching of English in multilingual contexts such as Zimbabwe, where English is often not the primary language of the Black majority public school student population, is a highly contested issue. Though generally considered as necessary in an increasingly globalized, English language dominated world, this conventionally Eurocentric, elitist-oriented English education system is imbued with colonialist discourses that tend to shape and complicate educators’ understandings about the place of diverse sociocultural backgrounds, ethnic-identified indigenous languages, indigenous knowledge systems, and differently abled learners within its conventional structures.
In Teacher Stories, the author utilizes postcolonialist theoretical lenses and a poststructuralist-inflected narrative inquiry approach to self-reflexively analyze her impressions of three veteran Zimbabwean teacher educators’ interpretations of what they understand to be their experiences of learning and teaching English.
The purpose of this research is to provide English education scholars and policy makers with some insights into what veteran Zimbabwean English teacher educators perceive as the efficacies and challenges of implementing policy-mandated inclusive education pedagogical practices. Since English teacher educators’ perspectives are a much under-researched area of English in a Zimbabwean context, this study makes a meaningful contribution to the international field of English education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For Teacher Stories
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Another Country
  • Identifying the Problem
  • The History of the English Language Dilemma in Zimbabwe
  • Education for All: 1980s to Early 1990s
  • Criticisms of the EFA Policy
  • 1990s to Present: ESAP as Both a Challenge to and Critique of EFA
  • Current Understandings on Zimbabwe’s Education Reform
  • Theoretical/Conceptual Framework Informing This Study
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Framework Overview
  • Postcolonial Theories, Neocolonialism, Globalization, and Multiculturalism
  • Postcolonial Theories: Historical Background
  • Postcolonial Theories in the African Context: The Negritude Movement
  • Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: Fanon, Bhabha, and Spivak
  • Neocolonialism and Globalization
  • Multiculturalism
  • Multiculturalism, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, and the Communicative Approach
  • The Communicative Approach to Second Language Acquisition
  • Current Understandings Around the Theoretical/Conceptual Framework
  • 1 Teaching English in Zimbabwe: Pedagogy and Policy
  • Introduction: My Life in English
  • The Teaching of English in Zimbabwe
  • Introduction to the Problem
  • Elementary Education: The Transitional, Delayed Immersion Model
  • Secondary Education: The Communicative Approach (CA) Model
  • The Multilingual Language Policy
  • Introduction
  • The Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literature
  • The Zimbabwe Multilingual Policy
  • Multilingual Policy History and Inclusion
  • Disability and Inclusion
  • Special Education and Inclusive Education
  • Inclusive Education in the Zimbabwean Context
  • A Note on Inclusive Education, Disabilities Studies, Race, and Special Education
  • Special Education and Inclusion in Zimbabwe
  • Multilingual Policy and Inclusion
  • The Politics of Teaching English in a Multilingual Context
  • Multilingualism and Translanguaging
  • Current Understandings on the CA Model and Multilingual Policy Research
  • 2 Research and the Researcher: Narrative Inquiry
  • Introduction: Research Dilemmas
  • Overall Research Design: Narrative Inquiry
  • Introduction
  • The Hillside Teachers College and Research Participants
  • Data Analysis
  • Presentation of “Findings”
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Critique of Narrative Inquiry Approach
  • Introduction
  • Reflexivities of Discomfort
  • 3 English Language Learning and Inclusive Education: “Stories” of Progression and Disjuncture
  • Introduction: A Postcolonialist Interpretation of Autobiographical “Story Telling”
  • Autobiographical Introduction Revisited: A Self-Reflexive, Postcolonialist Critique
  • What Is a “Postcolonialist Interview”?
  • Simultaneously Appropriating and Disrupting Conventional Interview Approaches
  • Autobiographical Writing in Poststructurally Inflected Postcolonialist Research
  • Research Participants
  • Participant Demographics
  • Participant Confidentiality and Representation
  • Introduction to Research Participants
  • Thematic Analysis
  • Research Analysis Chapters’ Outline
  • Interpretations and Analyses Section for Chapters III and IV
  • English Language Acquisition and Inclusion
  • Inclusive Education: Generalized Participant Understandings
  • Tensions Around Indigenous Languages and English Language Education
  • “Teacher Stories”
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: Community Literacy Learning
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: Classroom Learning Interactions
  • Monolingual versus Multilingual English Education: Generalized Participant Understandings
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: Monolingual versus Multilingual Inclusive Education
  • Current Understandings on English Language Acquisition and Inclusion
  • 4 Cultural Diversity, Social Class, and Inclusion
  • Introduction: An Induction
  • Jean Anyon: Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum
  • Social Class Demographics and Schools
  • Analysis of Anyon’s Interpretations of Social Classes
  • Anyon in the Zimbabwean Context
  • Cultural Diversity, Social Class, and Inclusion
  • Social Class, Culture, and Inclusion: Mr. Nyathi’s “Story”
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: Cultural Inclusivity in a Peri-Urban Context
  • Rural and Urban Working Class Students: Sociocultural and Socioeconomic-based Capacities, Academic Access, and Inclusive Education
  • Perspectives on Zimbabwean Rural Working Class Secondary Students vs. Urban Working Class Students: The Work of Nicola Ansell in Relation to Jean Anyon
  • Inclusion, Social Class, English Proficiency, and Cultural Responsiveness in Zimbabwean Culture
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: Inclusion and Zimbabwean Culture
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: Transforming Rural Working-Class School Culture
  • Cultural Adaptation, Shift, and Resistance to Change: Social Class and Inclusive Education Pedagogical Initiatives
  • A Self-Reflexive Comparative Analysis of Nyathi and Mhlanga’s “Stories”
  • Current Understandings on Cultural Diversity, Social Class, and Inclusion
  • 5 Teacher Preparation and Inclusion
  • Introduction: What Is “Good Teaching”?
  • Entering the Field: Becoming Teachers and Teacher Educators
  • Becoming Teachers: Generalized Participant Understandings
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: A Teacher with a Degree
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: A “Well-Armed” Teacher
  • Alois Chiromo and the History of Teacher Preparation in Zimbabwe
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: Necessary Inclusiveness
  • Becoming Teacher Educators: Participants’ Generalized Understandings
  • Perceptions of Teacher Training Programs and Trainees
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: “Scratching from the Surface”
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: Communication Skills
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: Student-centered Teacher Preparation
  • Inclusive Teacher Preparation as a Postcolonialist Stance
  • Agbenyega and Deku: A Postcolonialist Interpretation of Inclusion
  • Current Understandings of Teacher Preparation and Inclusive Education
  • 6 Inclusive Education Policy and English Education
  • The Communicative Approach
  • Generalized Participant Understandings of Inclusive Education
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: The Communicative Approach
  • The Social Efficiency Model
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: Communicative Discontents
  • History of Communicative Approaches (CA) or Communicative Learning Teaching (CLT)
  • Origins and Purpose of CA
  • The Challenges of “Authentic” Communication
  • (Mis)interpretations of CA
  • A Flawed Legacy and the Post-Method Age
  • CA and Students’ English Language Proficiencies
  • Perceptions of CA Outside Institutionalized Discourses
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: It Is a Process
  • Current Understandings about Communicative Approaches
  • 7 Teacher Educators’ Perceptions of the Multilingual Policy
  • Introduction
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: Multilingualism as Nation Building
  • Generalized Understandings of Participant Perceptions of Multilingual Policy
  • South Africa Multilingual Policy’s Lessons for Zimbabwe
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: Restrictive Language Inclusivity
  • A Minoritized Ethnic-Identified Community Perspective on Indigenous Language Policies: The Tonga People
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: Multilingual Policy and Inclusive Education
  • The Inclusion of Multiple Languages in English Education
  • Ms. Mhlanga’s Excerpt: Adapting to Pedagogical Changes
  • Mr. Bafana’s Excerpt: Policy and Culture
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: “Student-Friendly” Facilitation Headaches
  • Multilingual Instructional Approach to English Education
  • The Multilingual Gap in South Africa and Prospects for a Multilingual Education Policy in Zimbabwe: Current Understandings
  • 8 The Future of English Education in Zimbabwe
  • Introducing the Problem: An Entrenched High-stakes Academic Testing Culture and Inclusion
  • Generalized Understandings of Participants’ Perceptions on English Education Reform
  • Mr. Nyathi’s Excerpt: Elite Student Academic “Failures”
  • Historical Introduction to Zimbabwe Ministry of Education Reform Initiative: Curriculum, Syllabus, and Standards-based Learning
  • Ralph W. Tyler and Curriculum Design
  • Ministry of Education Inclusive Education Reform Initiative
  • Introduction: Flying before Walking
  • Proposed English Education Reform
  • Syllabus versus Curriculum: A Working Definition
  • Inclusive Education in English Form One to Four Revised Syllabus, 2015–2022
  • Overview of Revised Syllabus
  • Themes, Skills, and Pedagogical Strategies in the Reform Syllabus
  • Scope and Sequence of New Syllabus
  • Assessment in the New Syllabus: Introduction of Coursework as Part of Examination Process
  • Skill Assessment in New Syllabus
  • Current Understandings about the Ministry of Education’s Proposed English Education Reforms
  • Strengths
  • Congruence with Participant Concerns
  • Challenges
  • Current Understandings about the Proposed New Inclusive English Education Syllabus Reforms: A Postructuralist-Inflected Postcolonialist Analysis
  • 9 Concluding Understandings
  • Language, Discourses, English, and Inclusive Education
  • Language, English Education, and Identity
  • Language, English Education, and Power
  • Language, English Education, and Inclusive Education
  • Possibilities for the Future: Bridging the Divide
  • Appendix: Zimbabwean Racial Identifications

← xvi | xvii →



The teaching of English in multilingual contexts such as Zimbabwe, where English is often not the primary language of the Black majority public school student population, is a highly contested issue. Though generally considered as necessary in an increasingly globalized, English language dominated world, this conventionally Eurocentric, elitist-oriented English education system is imbued with colonialist discourses that tend to shape and complicate educators’ understandings about the place of diverse sociocultural backgrounds, ethnic-identified indigenous languages, indigenous knowledge systems, and differently abled learners within its conventional structures. In this book, I utilize postcolonialist theoretical lenses and a poststructuralist-inflected narrative inquiry approach to self-reflexively analyze my impressions of three veteran Zimbabwean teacher educators’ interpretations of what they understand to be their experiences of learning and teaching English. My primary focus in this research is on the efficacies and challenges of utilizing inclusive pedagogical practices in facilitating English language acquisition in a culturally responsive manner. This includes what my participants understand to be the place of indigenous languages in education, and the possibilities and challenges that the 2013 Zimbabwe constitutional amendment’s new multilingual policy presents in their professional practice. ← xvii | xviii →

The purpose of this research is to provide English education scholars and policy makers with some insights into what veteran Zimbabwean English teacher educators perceive as the efficacies and challenges of implementing policy-mandated inclusive education pedagogical practices. Since English teacher educators’ perspectives are a much under-researched area of English in a Zimbabwean context, I hope that these contextualized, nuanced representations will make a meaningful contribution to the international field of English education.

Through my self-reflexive interpretations of my interactions with my participants, I also question, analyze, and critique some of my own perceptions, assumptions, and biases as they are situated in my own interpretations of what I understand to be my experiences of being educated in Zimbabwean public schools. By so doing, I hope to unsettle the idea of the “objective” researcher, and challenge fellow education research practitioners, particularly those who work with underrepresented populations, to be mindful of how Western discourses and research methods impact our interpretations of our interactions in the field. This goal of being a mindful researcher who is critically aware of her own positionalities and intersectionalities, and how those inform her interpretations, is an ongoing project that transcends the research area and subject matter of this work.

← xviii | xix →



I must begin by thanking the Zimbabwe Ministry of Higher and Tertiary education for granting me permission to undertake this study. The University of Zimbabwe’s Curriculum and Instruction Department, and the Curriculum and Development Unit, provided valuable resources. Thank you for sharing your time and resources.

The Hillside Teachers College family, including the administrators and their administrative staff, the lecturers, librarian, and students, informed what became the primary focus of my research. I do not know how to begin to thank my participants for their kind hospitality, their collegial friendship, and for generously sharing their “stories” of learning and teaching English with me. You all have remarkable perspectives and insights, and it was a privilege to be able to share a small glimpse of my representations and interpretations of our interview interactions with a wider community. Ngiyabonga.

I would not have been able to commit this research to paper without the guidance of Dr. Janet Miller, an incredible educator, mentor, and writer. I am truly humbled by the breadth and depth of her knowledge across diverse areas of curriculum and instruction theory and practice, English education, and narrative inquiry. I could not have asked for a more constructive critic. I am a better scholar, researcher, and writer because of her. Dr. Ernest Morrell’s “postcolonialist ← xix | xx → eye” and humorous critique of my theoretical framework as applied to my methodology and writing are highly appreciated. Dr. Maria-Paula Ghiso’s work in the teaching of English to speakers of other languages helped to broaden my understanding of English education, especially with regard to conventional constructions around language learning.

Drs. Marjorie Siegel and Makila Meyers, with whom I collaborated on a research project with New York City secondary educators, greatly informed this research. I am also grateful to my friend and colleague Dr. Eun Jeong “E.J.” Jun, who was a great source of support.

Finally, I owe a great debt to my family in Zimbabwe who helped initiate and facilitate my work with the Hillside Teachers College in the years that I was studying in New York. My extended family and friends around the US, in Zimbabwe, and in Jordan provided some much-appreciated support and encouragement. Thank you. Ndinotenda. Shukran. Last, but certainly not least, I must thank my partner in crime, Tom, for all his support during the time that I worked intensively on writing what was to become this book. Here, finally, is the “great opus!”

K. K.

← xx | 1 →


Introduction: Another Country

My interest in the teaching of English began as a student in Zimbabwe’s public school system in the early years of the country’s independence from British colonial rule. Attending newly integrated formerly White-only schools, I encountered a world that was different from the segregated Black1 community I had known for the first seven years of my life. It was an ascetically clean, orderly world that smelled of what I now realize was probably disinfectant masked by air freshener. Clean-swept pavements, manicured lawns, and dark, shiny asphalt replaced the unkempt, dusty terrain of my under-funded, segregated Black school (Godwin & Hancock, 1993). I was issued textbooks and drill/skill exercise books that were immaculately covered in thick, high quality plastic by my teacher. My teacher even glued child-friendly pictures, like a smiling green hippo, on the covers of my exercise books. Child-level shelves stocked with books, colored pencils, and multicolored abacus counters created a border around the hushed, carpeted room. With some trepidation, I learned how to swim in the sparkling blue, chlorinated school pool. I learned words like “snack” and “homework,” and how to sing to the accompaniment of a piano. A memory that still makes me smile is my childish delight at not having to perform the dreaded chore of cleaning my shoes as regularly as I had to at my previous school. At the “White” school, I returned home with dust-free shoes. ← 1 | 2 →

This resource-filled world that had existed parallel to the one I was born into, this world that I never knew existed until my parents miraculously made it appear at the end of a long drive into an unfamiliar, leafy neighborhood, was the beginning of my journey into what I term my “postcolonial experience.”2 Its currency was represented in mastering the English language, and with it, the Eurocentric culture in which all my learning experiences were situated (Abdi, 2007). The irony of being steeped in a White-dominated world in a newly independent, Black-majority country was not something I had the time, or the intellectual maturity, to consider at the time. I was merely trying to survive in a world my older brother once wryly remarked was as foreign as living in another country.

There were no culturally responsive3 modifications or accommodations made to the curriculum4 to accelerate my English language learning (and help ease the home-to school transition) by intentionally connecting my learning to my prior knowledge. I, in turn, could not utilize the sociocultural capacities that I brought to the White, Eurocentric learning environment to facilitate an easier transition (Ladson Billings, 1995b; Leander, Phillips, & Taylor, 2010; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Phelan, Locke-Davidson, & Yu, 1998). The pedagogical approach that my White teachers practiced was based on a linguistically structuralist-oriented5 full-immersion second-language learning model, where all instruction was conducted in the English language. This restrictive second language acquisition strategy was applied in a punitive manner that penalized non “first” language English speakers for using their indigenous languages on the school grounds, both inside and outside the classroom. Besides the obvious disadvantage in which this placed me and other Black students, that of not being able to utilize our “first” languages to help scaffold our learning (even within an informal peer learning capacity by giving us the freedom to translate and explain the lesson to each other), it also positioned our “first” languages as at best irrelevant, and at worst inferior to, English within an academic learning environment (Abdi, 2007; Macedo, 2000). I can also remember the social isolation that this pedagogical approach created for students who came in with limited proficiency in the English language, and how I struggled between my desire to communicate with my ostracized peers, and my fear of being intercepted by an adult, or an over-zealous student, and the consequent risk of being assigned detention for breaking the English-only rule.

As a child who benefited from growing up with an older sibling who was gifted in learning languages, I was at least able to communicate in English, even if I lacked some of the cultural nuances involved in engaging in social interaction, and was not as proficient in my academic literacy as my White peers. When I ← 2 | 3 → realized that I was behind my White peers in my English academic print literacy skills, and that those with poor literacy skills in the language were marked as being intellectually inferior, my goal became not only to master the language, but to become proficient enough to perform better than the “first” language speakers. I became a voracious reader, the stereotypical “nerdy” child who gets into trouble for reading in the bath. I also began speaking English at home not only with my brother, but with my parents too. This was a development that startled my otherwise quietly observant mother. I soon discovered the reason for her sudden disapproval of my latest study habit—she feared that I might lose my fluency in my “first” language, Shona. This was not an unwarranted concern—I was already rapidly losing my proficiency in Ndebele, my “second” language, in part because the shaming and punishing that ensued when we were “caught” speaking indigenous languages at school meant that I was not able to practice my Ndebele with friends who spoke it more proficiently than I did at the time. In desperation, my mother (who, like my father, is a fluent English speaker, but unlike him, rarely used the language in the home) began to insist that I speak to her in Shona. Though I found some of our interactions hilarious at the time—me speaking in English, she, firmly and insistently, responding in Shona—I came to appreciate her stubbornness as I grew older. From a clearer, less emotionally encumbered adult perspective, I realize that my mother most likely differentiated between the value of the English language as a tool that would allow me to access the Western-dominated economic marketplace, and the indigenous languages that I would use to navigate the sociocultural spaces of my personal life. English was the language of the public discourse, while Shona was the language of the home, the language of family intimacy (Phelan et al., 1998).

Reconciling the lesson that my efforts to accelerate my English proficiency potentially came at the expense of losing my indigenous language, and thus having to engage in voluntarily colluding with an academic environment that denigrated and excluded my Black African identity (as I understood it at the time) while rewarding my acculturation into a Eurocentric sensibility, was a struggle that I could not clearly articulate as a child. It was a struggle that exacerbated a sociocultural distance that developed between my mother and me during my adolescent and early adult years. This distancing, I have come to realize, was in part based on the generational differences between her racially segregated colonial education, and my racially integrated, more Euro-culturally nuanced postcolonial interactions (Phelan et al., 1998).

Even with these familial tensions which were caused by my use of the English language in our home, my success in transitioning from a “second” language ← 3 | 4 → English learner status to becoming a fluent, bilingual user of the English language was largely facilitated by my parents’ ability, as part of the professional Black middle class, to not only successfully navigate and access the postcolonial opportunities available to their children, but also to model and reinforce the importance of academic achievement for our future success (Lareau, 2011). For example, I still remember being tasked by my father to read the daily newspaper from a young age, around age eight. This was the era before print newspapers were digitalized and became more portable, and the mechanically typeset newspaper was too wide in breadth for my short arms. I had to lay the newspaper down on the dining room table, kneeling on a chair to be able to read the print and turn the pages. As part of the highest academic track—the science track—in high school, I had access to the best teachers and resources in my racially integrated public high school, and, within a conducive learning environment where high teacher expectations bolstered my own efforts, graduated with sufficient academic scores to qualify for a coveted placement at what was then the only university in the country, which was located in Harare, Zimbabwe’s bustling capital city. However, this success, steeped in Eurocentric cultural sensibilities, came at the expense of my psychosocial and emotional well-being. The generational disconnect between my parents’ and my experience of the acculturation process of attaining an English language-based education, coupled with the less communal, more nuclear-family-based suburban home environment in which my siblings and I grew up, made my educational experience a somewhat isolating, psychosocially and emotionally desolate one (Phelan et al., 1998). Though I could not clearly articulate the source of the inter-generational cultural conflict at the time, I came to understand that though my parents’ own experiences of a Eurocentric education system should have helped to smooth the home-to-school sociocultural transition, their more communal upbringing, where sociocultural learning was considered an integral part of the “natural” maturation process, and their post-figurative cultural background, where parents adopt an authoritarian stance in their interactions with their children, conflicted with my co-figurative interactions with teachers at school. As an advanced student, I was accustomed to working with adults who were open to co-constructing the learning experience, and working in an environment where adults expected me to actively share my thoughts and opinions on issues (Lareau, 2011; Mutekwa, 2013). My parents, on the other hand, at times interpreted my desire to ask questions and offer alternative viewpoints as a sign of disrespect. In addition, my parents’ communal upbringing did not equip them with the capacity to understand what Lareau (2011) terms “concerted cultivation,” where parents seek to explicitly teach their children social ← 4 | 5 → skills and expose them to cultural experiences where those skills can be practiced and reinforced through social interactions (p. 2). They lacked the experiential capacity to explicitly engage my siblings and I, who grew up in a less communally supported, nuclear family structured environment, in a dialogue about the differences between the cultural norms of our home culture and the White discourse. It took them a significant period of time to learn that without the support of an extended family, it was up to them to explicitly teach us all the sociocultural knowledge and skills that would have otherwise been learned through a variety of parent figures in the community. In addition, they needed to situate that learning within the urban, more Westernized context in which we grew up so as to make the learning relevant to our own lives (Gay, 2002).

The misunderstanding that this gap between their perception of child-parent interactions and my own created what I sometimes perceived as an unpredictable, anxiety-inducing home environment. I did not understand why my mother, for example, would respond with frustration or even rage at my lack of knowledge of certain sociocultural practices which, in truth, I had no prior knowledge of and whose significance I did not comprehend. With few positive connections between my home and school environment, I came to expect the acquisition of an academic education to be a process of self-alienation, divorced from a Black African identity that I was assumed, it seemed, to have an innate knowledge of but could not clearly articulate (Lareau, 2011; Phelan et al., 1998).

Yet, even as I struggled with the sociocultural, psychosocial, and emotional aspects of my education, I was aware that my academic success was not entirely based on what our teachers, who called us the “cream of the crop,” would have us believe to be our superior intellect. I was aware that other students were not afforded the same opportunities that we had, and that this made their “failure” a self-fulfilling prophecy (Theoharis, 2009). I knew this because between the age of fourteen and my early adulthood, I had been able to do something that was considered impossible—I (with considerable support from my family) facilitated the high school education of my cousin, who had been raised in a rural community and attended poorly resourced rural schools.

My cousin came to live with us in the city at the age of nineteen with limited English proficiency. Yet she was able, within the space of some seven years, not only to become a fluent speaker, reader, and writer of the English language, but also to successfully complete her high school education. This was my first success story as a teacher, stumbling in the dark, determined to teach a beloved cousin five years older than me. I insisted on teaching her when others thought she was not educable because I had come to realize (without having any knowledge of the ← 5 | 6 → underlying structures that created and reinforced these socioeconomic dynamics) that her predicament was in part based on my experiential understanding that the world was not fair, and that there was inequality and injustice in the world (Theoharis, 2009).

When I returned to my hometown of Bulawayo after almost a decade of teaching English to diverse student populations that included socioeconomically disadvantaged high school students identified with learning disabilities in the United States, and working with Jordanian public school teachers of English as a foreign language in small, less resourced communities while serving in the Peace Corps, I was alarmed to learn that Zimbabwean public school students were increasingly failing to complete their high school education (D. C., personal communication, 29 July, 2014). Since the language of instruction was, as it had been in my youth, still English, I concluded, and the veteran educator I spoke to at the time concurred, that poor proficiency in English was a key part of this problem, among other issues (M. N., personal communication, March, 2013). When I wondered why students were less proficient in the English language than they had been during my time as a student, I was told that perhaps it had to do with the fact that this generation of students was primarily being taught by Black teachers who spoke English as a “second” language. Coming from an experience where I, who identified as bilingual, had effectively taught English to American and Jordanian students, I found this difficult to believe. It was true that White, “first” language English speakers had taught me English during my formative years, but I had also been taught by Black instructors at the University of Zimbabwe during my undergraduate studies—highly competent instructors for whom English was learned as a “second” language. I also remembered my undergraduate experience as the first time that I was able to integrate my Black African identity constructions into my academic learning (Ladson-Billings, 1995b; Moll et al., 1992). It was my first experience of studying Zimbabwean, African, and African American literature, my first experience of not having that unpleasant, out-of-body, anxiety-inducing sensation—the cultural alienation that at times soured my childhood learning experiences. This does not mean that I did not enjoy or appreciate studying Shakespearean drama and British nineteenth century literature; I can still quote lines from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, and I routinely use Wordsworth to teach poetry to my own students. The trouble was that I was constantly the outsider, trying to decipher the code to understand another historical and cultural sensibility that did not acknowledge my own, but rather tended to misappropriate and misrepresent it (Mudimbe, 1998). My undergraduate studies, on the other hand, validated and celebrated my own interpretations of ← 6 | 7 → my understandings in and of the world in all its complex, acculturated messiness. I can still remember reading Tsitsi Dangarembga’s (1988) Nervous Conditions and feeling a kinship with Nyasha, the protagonist’s acculturated cousin, because her struggles spoke to a lived “experience”6 that I could identify with. I strongly believed that, in a postcolonial Zimbabwe, with careful preparation, Black public school English educators should present many strengths, and not shortcomings, in the teaching of English to a predominantly Black student population (Fultz, 2008). I based this belief on my own personal understandings as a learner, and my research on culturally responsive, inclusive education7 as an education practitioner and scholar. I identified four key assumptions that undergirded why I believed Black Zimbabwean educators could be effective teachers of English:

  • They had a better understanding of students’ home cultures than their White peers, and thus could relate to the challenges that students might face in their home-to-school sociocultural transition (Fultz, 2008; Roberts, 2010).
  • Most Black teachers’ proficiency in at least one indigenous language meant that, if needed, they had the ability to code-switch to scaffold student learning. In addition, they would have a greater appreciation of the need to create an inclusive, multilingual learning environment where students can use their first languages with their peers to assist them in accessing the English language curriculum (Lee, 1995; Naicker & Balfour, 2009).
  • Black educators’ own experience of the sometimes self-alienating process of studying a Eurocentric and White-dominated curriculum placed them in a position where they could empathize with their Black students, and be more motivated to create inclusive, culturally responsive learning experiences for their students that utilized their diverse sociocultural backgrounds and what Moll and others call “funds of knowledge” (Ladson-Billings, 1995b; Moll et al., 1992).
  • Black educators would be best placed to not only teach Black students how the Western discourse, including the current dominance of the English language, is constructed, but also how to counter and disrupt the Western discourse’s stereotyping and misrepresentation of Black African people, so that they can perceive the English language not as a cudgel which subjugates and excludes them from participating in Western-dominated socioeconomic and political discourse, but as a tool which facilitates their ability to both access and disrupt the Western discourse for their own benefit (Lunga, 2008). ← 7 | 8 →

My question then became: Why was it that, in a country like Zimbabwe, whose citizens are renowned for their pursuit of academic excellence, as well as their resilience and innovation, were the majority of students performing so poorly? It was this question that I brought to my research study, and to this book.

Identifying the Problem

In the current iteration of Zimbabwe’s approach to public education, which advocates for a culturally responsive, inclusive approach to pedagogical practices in Zimbabwe’s educational system, Black Zimbabwean English educators, I believe, are uniquely placed to create highly effective instructional practices that are situated in the Zimbabwean sociocultural context (Hillside Teachers English Syllabus, 2015; Zimbabwe Constitution, 2013). Why is this not necessarily occurring? I wanted to learn, from the perspective of veteran Zimbabwean English teacher educators, what their interpretations of their experiences of the teaching of English were. More specifically, I hoped to answer three questions:

  • What do the English teacher educators posit as their interpretations of their experiences, both as learners and as teachers, of inclusive pedagogical practices?
  • How, why, and to what extent, do these educators’ understandings of their experiences as learners and educators influence how they choose to prepare teachers to work in Zimbabwean secondary schools?
  • What do the educators believe to be the benefits and challenges of utilizing inclusive pedagogical practices to teach English within a multilingual Zimbabwean context?

The History of the English Language Dilemma in Zimbabwe

As a beneficiary of the Zimbabwean government’s racial integration of public schools, I grew up with a limited, and in hindsight, privileged perspective of how education reform was instituted in the first two decades of the country’s independence from colonial rule. I still have proud memories of how students from other countries in the region and from other parts of the continent, including Botswana, South Africa, and Cameroon, attended my public high school because of the favorable reputation that our school system enjoyed. At the University of Zimbabwe, I ← 8 | 9 → befriended a medical student from Zaire who shared that he came to our institution because of the high quality of the education, and the reasonable cost of tuition for international students. I have also retained smaller anecdotal fragments of memory, snapshots of external data that validated my understanding that I was part of an extraordinary experiment in social justice outside of my own narrow perception: a United Nations report on television about how Zimbabwe’s education reform was celebrated as an international phenomenal success; my friendships with university colleagues of modest means who grew up in small towns and rural communities but had access to a parochial education that helped them become exceptional scholars; my cousin’s stories about how my maternal family and their neighbors worked with the government to contribute into building the first secondary school in her rural hometown. It was only after I researched the phenomenon for myself that I realized how the dominant storyline belied the underlying factors that complicated and problematized what I had thought at the time to be a modern miracle. The name of this miracle, “Education for All,” is itself both hopeful and awe-inspiring.

Education for All: 1980s to Early 1990s

The story of the transformation of Zimbabwe’s education system after British colonial rule in the 1980s was widely celebrated as an unprecedented success. Based on the new government’s appropriation of Marxist ideology and following the same egalitarian principle that other post-colonial African states such as Tanzania had implemented, Zimbabwe adopted an “Education for All” (EFA) policy. The policy also followed the human capital theory model that ties education to economic development. Though other post-colonial African governments had implemented this type of reform model before, Zimbabwe’s model was unique in the scale and pace at which these changes were instituted. By 1989, primary school enrollment, which rose from 820 000 in 1979 to about 3 million in 1990, was at 98% (Manyonganise, 2013, p. 478). Adopting the neoliberal World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Economic Structural Adjustment Policy (ESAP) in 1991, which stipulated the removal of government subsidies on essential goods and services, including education and health, and the challenges around domestic and international political issues and the 2008 economic crisis, have since negatively impacted this trajectory. At the same time, questions have been raised about exactly how transformational the government’s policy was, and if it indeed succeeded in creating, at least for a time, a more egalitarian society whose gains were disrupted by ESAP (Dorsey, 1989; Manyonganise, 2013). ← 9 | 10 →

Education for All was based on the premise that education is a basic human right for all citizens, and must be as equally accessible as possible regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic status. It was a response to the British colonial system’s education policies, which had devised a racially segregated education system that restricted the Black population’s access to Western education based on its needs, which were primarily to have cheap labor for its agricultural and industrial sector. In fact, the labor market was used to determine Black students’ graduation rates (Godwin & Hancock, 1993; Kanyongo, 2005). This created a tension between the White colonial government, whose coercive introduction of a cash economy had created the need for Blacks to adapt the colonizers’ language and education in the first place, and its Black citizens, who desired access to the same academic-oriented secondary and higher education which White citizens were guaranteed. For the Black population, Western education came to represent the means to not only achieve social and economic upward mobility by participating in the white collar job sector of the colonial economic system, but also provided the necessary knowledge which would enable them to agitate for liberation from colonial rule (Dorsey, 1989).


XXII, 316
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XXII, 316 pp., num. 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Kumbirai Khosa (Author)

Kumbirai Khosa is an English educator, a former secondary teacher, and returned Peace Corps volunteer. She holds a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Khosa currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she works as a college English writing instructor.


Title: Teacher Stories