Is the obsession with university learning killing our innovativeness and inventiveness as a people?

Before theory there is always the practical.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana


That is how major inventions and innovations came about.

Our early inventors and innovators did not have much in the area of theory to work from, so all they did was to observe how things worked around them – then, they came up with their theories.

Just imagine Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, and an apple falling onto him. There was no theory to work from, but he observed this phenomenon, questioned what was happening, and after several experiments, came up with his theory of gravity.

The same applies to Albert Einstein. Some of his theories came from merely observing how rain drops were falling from the sky, in relation to other movements on the ground.

Then the theories came later.

However, the problem I have with today’s academics is that, they are starting from the theory, and intending to be innovative.

That is placing the cart before the horse.

That simply does not work.

As long as one is already limited by theories – meaning, something that has already been innovated and discovered by someone else – the possibility of thinking outside the box is very minimal.

The likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg were geniuses indeed. But, what distinguishes them from numerous other geniuses – who have never come up with any meaningful inventions or innovations, besides passing exams with distinctions – is that they began from the practical, without ever being limited by any theories.

As far as I know, all these guys started tinkering with computers and computer software, from a very young age, before they even knew anything about coding.

We can even include Henry Ford – who started breaking down and reassembling watches, and then engines from a very young age.

In that way, they were already discovering things about computers and engines for themselves, thereby, coming up with their own way of doing things – which were not in some computing and mechanical engineering handbook.

By the time these guys reached high school, they were already innovators of note.

That is why they dropped out is college, because they found the learning (in effect, being inculcated with other people’s theories) limiting and constricting the innovative process.

As a matter of fact, I think it was Microsoft which rolled out a program encouraging young people not to take the university route, but actually paying them a grant to focus on innovation.


Microsoft made it clear that university learning limited an individual’s creativeness and creativity.

That is exactly the problem we also have in our country, and government.

How can we be innovative when we have a leadership of academics? They are incapable of thinking outside set economic, scientific, etc theories and guidelines.

We need a person who studies how things are working in the country, and our world, and – without any academic and theoretical restrictions – come up with their own understanding and theories.

That is how we can finally have true success.

Just an addition, Albert Einstein was actually dyslexic – and did not do well at school, but considered a slow leaner and idiot.

I honestly believe our universities were actually producing the desired results, before the government started trying to change them into something else. They were already doing exactly what they were intended to achieve.

This is a very interesting topic that I have discussed a lot with those around me.

I always ask them why they are always intent on sending their children to university.

Do they actually know what universities are supposed to do?

I have said, yes indeed, our country’s economy has gone down the drain, and there are very few job opportunities out there.

But, let’s face it, when you send your child to university, do you (parent and child) truly understand the route they would have chosen?

It is an academic route – that was never intended to produce workers and those engaged in the practical side of life.

I always blame our career guidance, which has failed both our children and parents.

We have grown up glorifying universities, and building these dreams of going there – as some deluded sign of intelligence and achievement.

But, to do what exactly?

When a student wants to be an electrical engineer, for example, why should he aspire to go to university, and do some bachelor of science degree?

Universities by nature were created for those who wanted to take the academic route of any profession.

So, when one chooses to study electrical engineering at university, what they have actually signed up for is to only learn the theoretical part.

They would have chosen a career in research and teaching. Those were the teachers we had at high school teaching us physics.

But, if one’s desire is to be an electrical engineer working for ZESA (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority), and involved in the nitty gritties and practicalities of engineering on the ground, then they should have gone the industrial route – taking up apprenticeship courses offered by companies such as ZESA itself, ZISCOSTEEL, and polytechnical colleges.

So, why should a person who chose to study for a BSc in electrical engineering be complaining that they can not find a job?

What job did they expect to get, outside of teaching or researching?

That is why I find these efforts by the Zimbabwe government to reform university education quite misguided.

Universities are doing what they were supposed to do, and producing exactly the people they were meant to produce.

If the govt wants graduates with knowledge of working on the shop floor, and at least being innovative, then they need to focus more on establishing polytechnical colleges, and attracting investment by companies that offer apprenticeships.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and political commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263783283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email:

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