Zimbabweans have become masters of innovation, their creativity driven predominantly by external factors such as the world’s highest inflation rate, political turmoil and violence, diseases and shortages.
No ambulance? Bring the sick to the clinic in a donkey cart. No supplies? Cross the border, stock up, return, sell – and repeat the process. No free press? Circulate political jokes by cellphone text messages.
Collence Chisita, a deep-voiced lecturer in information sciences at Harare Polytechnic, says his institution is not being affected by powercuts, due to its location in the centre of the capital. Classes for the 3000 students started on time last month and he gets paid – unlike his primary and high school counterparts. Like many Zimbabweans, however, his family has been affected by the current cholera outbreak.
The 39-year-old spoke on innovation driven by technology, not desperation and the need to survive, at one of the last sessions at the conference, ably chaired by South Africa’s Anitha Ramsuran, a former unionist now with the Innovation Fund, a government-funded body which encourages the commercialisation of scientific discovery.
Collence shared the panelists’ polished wooden table with e-health researcher and Facebook fan Kedibone Aphane of South Africa’s health research powerhouse, the Medical Research Council, who spoke on a project combating the shortage of scientists by using real-life experts transferring web and media knowledge to students, and South African-born ‘’global citizen’’ Margeurite Maher, who spent years in New Zealand and is currently based in the education department at Australia’s Charles Darwin University, on tackling the severe shortage of maths and science skills among preschool teachers and student teachers by sharing curriculum-related e-portfolios online and forming a longterm community of learners in a successful pilot project.
He is technopreneurial. ‘’Technopreneurial skills might be setting up a laboratory science business,’’ Collence explained prior to his talk.
‘’The turbulent economic situation in Zimbabwe has adversely affected higher education institutions capacity to generate new knowledge but overall, such unusual situations demand unusual solutions,’’ he said during his presentation.
However, he was full of hope. ‘’When we view chaos from a dialectical context, chaos can be turned into a welcome interlude for technological innovations,’’ he told the audience.
‘’Institutions of higher education have taken the initiative to create conditions for technological innovations despite the economic hardships.’’
One programme takes college students to the distant rural areas, nearby informal settlements and even neighbouring countries such as Mozambique. There, they transfer technological skills in areas like welding and farming, in what is known as the integrated school outreach programme.
In another collaboration, efficient drip irrigation schemes are done to improve food productivity in areas of low rainfall, and is done by staff and students from departments of mechanical, civil and electrical engineering.
Rural coal-using bathing geyser, tobacco seed germinator and several other projects were listed in his presentation.
Collence’s mother tongue is Shona but he has a non-tribal outlook, counting friends and family among all the so-called tribal groups in Zimbabwe. We think he is a man of the world – and the future!
Christina Scott, SciDev.Net