The Herald (Harare)

15 March 2012

Zimbabwe: Local Education Step Ahead ?

opinion

Africa's socio-economic development will depend largely on the scope and effectiveness of investment in human skills development. Essentially, this is deeply rooted in a country's primary, secondary, vocational and tertiary education system.

Zimbabwe has been among the top African economies with the best education systems.

However, this position had been threatened by the socio-economic challenges that the country grappled with during the period, 1997-2008.

This led to emigration of the skilled teachers/lecturers to other economies and deterioration of the education infrastructure. Consequently, most Zimbabweans had been focusing on sending their children to private schools and regional colleges.

The recent statistics on national examination results by the Zimbabwe Examinations Council (Zimsec) drew mixed reactions from the members of the public.

This revelation clearly lays credence to the public's lack of confidence in the education system. This is expected given the chaotic nature that characterised the way examinations were being conducted, relations with examination markers and general negative views about Zimsec.

Thus, the national examination board, Zimsec should be concerned about the continued negative perception by the members of the public. The public lacks confidence in their system.

Despite the concerns about Zimbabwe's education system, my view is that Zimsec has done a commendable job since the dollarisation of the economy. It should be applauded for their efforts.

However, Zimsec might have squandered a massive opportunity in enlightening the public what interventions they have introduced in the education system to ensure the high pass rate as published in the media recently. The education authorities should also advise if curriculum has been improved to keep pace with market conditions.

There is clear evidence that the curriculum should be revamped so that our education system can produce products that are relevant to society. Revamping of the curricula, quality control, supervision and monitoring of the education processes is at the heart of the education system and Zimbabwe is no exception.

Zimsec has introduced standardised marking, to ensure consistency in marking and e-marking has also been implemented. Thus turnaround times in marking have been significantly reduced.

This has helped to reduce the challenges that the yesteryear system had to deal with. The longer it takes to mark and publish the results, the greater the negative issues that it raises. People lose confidence in an inefficient and error-prone system.

It is also a widely acclaimed view that Zimsec examinations are significantly tougher than Cambridge examinations. What continues to amaze is that our children continue to defy this and the pass rate has improved across all levels.

It is interesting to note that, largely students sit for both the Cambridge and the Zimsec Examinations. In most instances the pass rate is lower at Cambridge than at Zimsec.

The advent of the information superhighways has also contributed to the ready access to the Internet. Zimbabwe's telecommunications penetration rate has risen to about 72 percent from below 20 percent in the early 2000's.

Most students particularly in the urban areas have access to technology and student help guides like past examination packs with answers are now readily available. Children have suddenly become smarter nowadays.

Barring resource constraints, the Education authorities in unison with the Ministry of Information Technology should embark on a national programme to empower schools with computers with access to internet. This is crucial.

It is public knowledge and common place that most of the teachers and lecturers have left the Zimbabwe education system owing to a myriad of factors, but largely on economic and social factors.

Notwithstanding this, the country still continues to record improvements in the pass rates whilst the experienced teachers and lecturers have gone regional and some internationally seeking for better pay and working conditions? Generally, poverty is pervasive across the country.

This can be attributed to the state of the economy owing to economic sanctions, and most of the teachers resort to moonlighting to augment their salaries.

Hence the private lessons that are a now widespread in the country particularly in the urban areas could have played a role in enhancing the pass rate over the past years.

Teacher absenteeism is chronic, thus disrupting learning and eroding public confidence in the value of public education. The shortage of learning materials also constraints learning particularly in Government institutions.

What could also be gleaned from the Zimsec statistics is that, rural and urban schools continue to perform poorly. Schools in the peripheral areas could be affected because of the allocation of resources.

The fundamental question is what could be the challenges that continue to affect schools in the urban areas?

Studies in Korea have indicated that, the amount of learning outside school may be key to high student achievement.

Lee (1997) noted that Korean students' high achievement rate is not because they study long hours in schools, but because they study long hours at home and thus the significance of private lessons in most urban set ups, but what is instructive from this, is the mere fact that, the results in the urban areas continue to lag behind, the missions and boarding schools.

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