RESULTS of a new study on the country's dismal performance in public examinations over the last ten years blame it on poor teaching rather than the examination papers themselves.
The study, 'School Children and National Examinations: Who Fails Who?' released in Dar es Salaam shows that there is a linkage between curriculum objectives and examination content, in that examination questions tend to reflect the content of the curriculum that was supposed to be followed.
The study sought to find out why over the last five years, particularly the years 2010 and 2011, students' performance in the O Level National Examinations declined, with the majority of candidates scoring between divisions four and zero.
Dr Kitila Mkumbo of University of Dar es Salaam, who is one of the researchers, said that the poor performance in national examinations cannot evidently be attributed to the mismatch between what is asked in examinations and curriculum content.
"There is, however, clear evidence that the curriculum is poorly implemented as the majority of teachers do not aptly understand the requirements of the curriculum and the teaching and learning environment is generally poor," he said. Dr Mkumbo noted that previously, reasons given for failure include a shortage of teachers, poor learning conditions, low morale among teachers and the lack of teaching equipment.
He said previous research did not put into consideration the extent to which exams lead to the failure of students.There was no research to indicate what was in the exams in comparison with what was taught. Overall, he said that teachers interviewed during the study opined that exams from NECTA were okay and represented what was expected to be taught in schools.
"Performance in public national examinations is a critical factor in assessing the quality of education system. For example, out of the 354,042 candidates who sat for the 2010 National Form Four Examinations, 177,021 (50 per cent) candidates scored division zero. Therefore, 86.6 per cent of the candidates failed the 2010 National Examinations and they could not proceed further," he said.
He added that there had been no systematic examination of the factors behind the poor performance in the national public examination in Tanzania with respect to the linkage between what is taught and what is asked in examinations. The results show that the majority of teachers are not conversant with the concept and requirements of a competent based curriculum. He noted, that there is therefore a need, as a matter of urgency to devise mechanisms through which teachers could be given proper orientation on the concept, philosophy and requirements of a competence based curriculum.
In a related development, a majority of teachers reported that they have never attended any professional development training opportunity over the last five years. "This is not healthy. For teachers to be competent, conversant and committed in their profession, they need, among other things The findings coincide with a sharp decline in the number of students passing the National Form Four Examination in which the general performance has fallen for four consecutive years with the majority of candidates either scoring Division Four or failing.
For instance, half of the 354,042 candidates who sat the National Form Four Examination in 2010 (177,021) failed while 136,633 (38.6 per cent) scored Division Four. This means that almost 90 per cent of the candidates scored Division Four or failed. Are students failing national examinations or are national examinations failing students?
This was the main question asked in a study jointly carried out by HakiElimu and the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM)'s Department of Educational Psychology and Curriculum Studies. "There is evidence that the curriculum is poorly implemented because the majority of teachers do not fully understand the requirements of the curriculum. The teaching and learning environments are also generally poor," says the report.
But the government rejected the findings, saying it doubted the competence of the people who undertook the research. "Are the people who carried out the research experts in curriculum? I think the Tanzania Institute of Education should have been given the task. They are the experts in this area," said the acting Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Mr Celestine Gesimba. He said it should be understood that examinations were prepared by teachers, not the government.
Since 2005, the government has been implementing a curriculum that emphasises the development of certain specified key competences. According to the new findings, "very few teachers are aware of the concept and philosophy of this curriculum orientation." "While the content of the curriculum seems to be competence based, the assessment procedures are not wholly based on this philosophy," says the report.
According to the study, majority of teachers are not conversant with the concept and requirements of a competence based curriculum applied in schools. Frequent changes of the curriculum without adequate preparations has also been blamed for poor performance of students. Most of the curriculum developers and teachers who took part in the study said they were rarely involved in preparing national examinations, adding that they had no idea when or how the task was undertaken.
The study says there is clear evidence that the curriculum has always been poorly implemented because the majority of teachers did not aptly understand the requirements of the educational guidelines. An educational curriculum can simply be defined as a path of learning that students are typically required to follow.
Other academicians define curriculum as an organized program of learning, usually segregated by subject area, composed of key main categories: content, instruction, assessment and context. It is stated in the report that the teaching and learning environment is generally too poor to support an effective implementation of the curriculum in the country's schools.
"The study has clearly shown that there is a direct link between curriculum objectives and examination content as examination questions tend to reflect the content of the curriculum," said Dr Kitila Mkumbo, head of the Department of Educational Psychology and Curriculum Studies at the UDSM College of Education Dr Mkumbo noted that poor performance in national examinations cannot evidently be attributed to mismatch between examination and curriculum.
The report shows further that though the government has been implementing the competence based curriculum since 2005 a few teachers were aware of the concept and philosophy of curriculum orientation. Giving an example, Dr Mkumbo said while school continuous assessment was supposed to significantly contribute to the final grading of a student, such a requirement was not met in the country's educational system.
However the report recommended that there was a need to devise mechanisms through which teachers could be given proper orientation on the concept, philosophy and requirements of a competence based curriculum. The report proposed that there was a need to re-examine the role and contribution of school continuous assessment in the final grading of candidates.
It is also advised that the welfare of teachers has to be considered, as expected benefits of educational changes will not be realized if the question of incentives to teachers is neglected. Another recommendation is instituting close collaboration and consultation between the National Examination Council (NECTA) and the Institute of Education so as to have a common understanding of competence based curriculum regarding its concept, philosophy and how its objectives and intended learning outcomes should be assessed.
For the past five years performance in form four national examinations in the country has been declining, with many reasons being given for this trend, including lack of teaching and learning resources, poor teachers' working conditions and poor teachers' qualifications. The study was conducted in Mwanza, Tabora, Kilimanjaro, Singida, Morogoro and Iringa regions, involving teachers as main participants. It was conducted on a collaborative basis between the Department of Educational Philosophy and Curriculum Studies at the Hill and HakiElimu.