Despite the seemingly militant and violent attitude of Zimbabwean students as demonstrated by a series of strikes and boycotts at the University of Zimbabwe and the massive destruction of property both at the University and at Dadaya Secondary School, for example — students are , in fact, obedient, self-disciplined and polite. They also honour their parents and elders, according to research by two University of Zimbabwe lecturers, Dr Kathleen Myambo and Patrick Chiroro.
The quest of power is their least priority ranked number 10 out of 10 motivational categories of values. They are, however, ambitious and strive for personal success.
The research paints a completely different picture to the one that parents and politicians seem to worry about most — that they are arrogant, self-seeking and politically motivated. The research was based on responses from 200 black secondary schools students drawn from the upper form of secondary schools in Harare. They were asked to complete a set questionnaires without consulting others. The research was conducted with the permission of the Ministry of Education and was completed during normal class periods.
The values they were asked to prioritise were: power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, security and restrictive conformity.
Power was defined as social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources and also included the quest for social power, wealth, authority, social recognition and preserving public image.
Achievement was aimed at establishing whether a person wanted personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards and whether a person was successful, ambitious, capable or influential.
Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself (that is pleasure and enjoying life) was classified as hedonism while stimulation meant excitement, novelty and challenge in life. It also sought to find out if a person was daring, wanted a varied life or an exciting life.
Self-direction was defined as having independent thought and action, choosing, creating and exploring and encompassed creativity, freedom, curiosity, independence and choosing own goals while universalism referred to understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection of the welfare of all people and for nature. It also included the quest for social justice, broad mindedness, world peace, wisdom, a world of beauty, unity with nature, protecting the environment and equality.
Respect, commitment and acceptance of customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion impose on one-self constituted tradition while security referred to safety, harmony and stability of society, of relationships and of self. It also covered family security, national security , social order, reciprocation of favours and sense of belonging.
Restrictive conformity was defined as restraint of actions, inclinations, impulses likely to upset or harm others and violent social expectations or norms. It also covered obedience, self-discipline, politeness, and honouring parents and elders.
The students ranked restrictive conformity as their priority followed by achievement, benevolence, security, self-direction, universalism, stimulation, tradition and finally power.
The research also showed that black Zimbabwean teachers also shared the same top priorities with the students. Two hundred teachers drawn from local secondary schools and those pursuing further studies at the University said their priority was restrictive conformity followed by achievement.
Teachers were less benevolent than the students and instead placed security in third place and stimulation last. They too had less regard for tradition which came ninth with power slightly ranking higher at number eight.
The values of Zimbabwean students were completely different from those of American students whose sample was slightly larger at 240. They placed achievement first followed by benevolence. Restrictive conformity was placed at number five with tradition last and security seventh.
The full ranking was: achievement, benevolence, hedonism, self-direction, restrictive conformity, stimulation, security, universalism, power and tradition.
Security, however, ranked at the top for Shanghai (China) teachers. Tradition equally played an insignificant role ranking ninth while benevolence was placed second. Their full ranking was: security, benevolence, achievement, self-direction, restrictive conformity, universalism, power, hedonism, tradition and stimulation. That of Zimbabwean teachers: restrictive conformity, achievement, security, self-direction, benevolence., universalism, hedonism, power, tradition and stimulation.
According to the researchers, restrictive conformity and achievement were highly valued in Zimbabwe because these were the goals people were seeking. Achievement which was an individualist goal in which persons sought to obtain personal success was incompatible with restrictive conformity which was a collectivist goal concerned with restraint and social harmony, the researchers said.
Conflicts which occurred when an individual attempted to incorporate two antagonistic value systems led to personal disruption and the disruption in society in general.
The researchers also said security values were responsive to overcoming the threat of uncertainties. In Zimbabwe security values were placed high because of historical reasons like the liberation war from 1966 to 1979 and the dissident war from 1980 to 1987, as well as the destabilisation from South Africa since independence.
They note that the low priority of security in America indicated that people felt less threatened and perceived their everyday life as orderly.
As for tradition, which was given less priority by all groups, they said this suggested that in the modern world with its increasing knowledge, technology and scientific explanations of cause-effect relationships, traditional customs which were originally based on knowledge available in the past, are no longer functional and therefore no longer a priority.