SW Radio Africa (London)

5 February 2013

Zimbabwe: 81 Percent Students Fail O'level Exams

81.6 percent of children failed their 2012 Zimbabwe School Examination Council (ZIMSEC) Ordinary Level examinations, a drop from the previous year's equally shocking 80.5 percent, amid calls for a curriculum review of Zimbabwe's education sector.

Zimbabwe School Examinations Council director, Esau Nhandara, announced on Monday that only 31,767 pupils out of 172,698 countrywide passed in five subjects.

He attributed the decline to an increase in the number of students who registered for the exam, which went up by over 20,000 from last year.

Surprisingly Shona, the mother tongue for the majority of the candidates, the pass rate was only 18%. The pass rate in English was 20% but only 13% for maths.

Education minister David Coltart told SW Radio Africa that the country's education sector remains in crisis and there are a variety of factors that have contributed to the decline in the pass rate.

He said Zimbabwe lost at least 20,000 teachers, especially between 2004 and 2009, at the height of the economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe.

Coltart said it was inevitable that there would have been an impact. "In 2008 there was hardly any teaching that took place in schools. There weren't textbooks and unfortunately there is a batch of children now coming through the system whose education was affected by those calamitous times."

The minister blamed the government for failing to make the education sector a priority and investing adequately into education. He said the government has to cut down expenditure on other sectors, such as the defence ministry, and should spend more on education otherwise the results will continue to decline.

ZIMSEC has not had a more than 25% pass rate since its implementation in 2003. Coltart said this was because Zimbabwe's education sector had an academic bias.

The Nziramasanga Commission on Education reported in 1999 that the education sector needed to be more vocationally oriented as not all children are academically gifted.

"This is why we need to adjust our curriculum to have far more vocational subjects that are examinable at O'Level and A'Level," Coltart said.

Some observers say the quality and assessment of the children who went through the UK Cambridge system seemed to work well before the transformation to the ZIMSEC exams.

But Coltart disagreed, saying ZIMSEC has a very high standard and is an institution that Zimbabweans should be proud of and should maintain through teacher training, curriculum development and financing.

"Cambridge exams are four times more expensive than ZIMSEC exams and parents are struggling as it is to pay ZIMSEC fees. The minister added: "I think it is harder to pass a ZIMSEC exam than it is to pass a Cambridge exam."

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