6 February 2013

Zimbabwe: O-Level Failure Rate a Cause for Concern

Photo: Unicef/IRIN
School kids sharing text books in Zimbabwe.


The November 2012 Ordinary Level results that were released on Monday put a dent on the reputation gained by the country in education since independence in 1980. The fact that nearly 141 000 pupils flunked the public examinations must jostle the authorities to sit up and take stock of the consequences.

Failing to score passes in five subjects is an issue taken seriously by Zimbabweans.

Yet only 31 767 pupils out of the 172 698, who sat for the 2012 public examinations managed to attain passes in five subjects. There are some, who may view this failure rate as positive, and they may seem right in their argument.

Such people argue that the high failure rate is because the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council is maintaining the standards by upholding its grading system.

While we are not calling for Zimsec to bend the rules to accommodate those who are not up to scratch, the failure rate still remains a cause for concern.

With so many pupils failing, whatever justification proffered would not convince any observer. The failure obviously spells disaster for the education system and shows something has gone wrong in the sector.

Critically, the failure rate is an assault on the country's status of having the highest literacy rate in Africa. Alarm bells must be ringing in the corridors of those responsible for this crucial sector that has made Zimbabwe's human resources capital base one of its trump cards.

The story of Zimbabwe's remarkable success in education after independence is now under threat because of the unacceptable failure rate.

The huge investments made in that sector since independence, with the education sector commanding one of the biggest shares of the national budget, are on the verge of coming to naught.

The education sector, in fact, continues to consume the little that is available through the teachers' salaries, but the results are not justifying such spending.

There are a number of issues that the Government has to look into to improve the pass rate.

The education sector was almost "dead" during the times of economic hardships caused by illegal sanctions that were imposed on the country by Britain and its allies.

Admittedly, thousands of teachers crossed the country's borders in search of the proverbial greener pastures, but many have since come back to the motherland, thanks to an improved economic environment.

Many cite this as the major contributing factor to the low pass rate. This means the Government has a lot at its hands to ensure that the education system returns to normal.

But this can easily be solved by deliberately allocating more resources to the sector to ensure that teachers get better salaries.

Relying on incentives for teachers is not the ultimate solution as these cause more confusion because they differ with each school.

Motivating teachers could be the first step to ensure that the pass rate improves as they would put more effort. A lot more resources need to be directed towards the provision of enough textbooks in schools.

The results show that most of the pupils who passed the exams were from "established" schools that have enough textbooks.

While the Government and its partners, namely Unicef, did a lot through the Education Transition Fund to make textbooks available, especially to primary schools, we hope that the programme would also target secondary schools.

There are too many schools with relief teachers who are accused of contributing to the failure rate because of their inexperience.

With all the teachers being churned out of colleges each year and more others still waiting to be re-engaged after leaving the service during the hard times, we wonder why we still have the shortage of trained teachers.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti must remove the recruitment freeze on the civil service to ensure that more teachers are engaged.

Parents have to play their part to ensure they employ a strict disciplinary regime to ensure their children concentrate on studying.

But then, even if the teachers' working conditions improve, textbooks are made available and parents become strict, it will all boil down to the pupils' attitude towards learning.

Failing is not a pleasant experience and we urge pupils out there not to take schooling for granted.

In all the cities, it is not rare to see school children in uniform loitering on the streets or visiting movie houses during time for lessons.

With the advent of new technologies and social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp, many pupils have been found wanting as they spent most of their time on these social networks instead of reading their books. Yet they should be taking advantage of the availability of information at their finger tips to research on topical subjects at school.

With the O' Level pass rate declining in 2012, we risk having the mushrooming universities becoming "white elephants" as there would be few students to enroll.

The majority of the 141 000 pupils who failed the 2012 examinations will obviously look for places to repeat the subjects and they will put unnecessary pressure on the school system and create a vicious circle.

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