17 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Education Rot - Sweeping Changes Vital

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

THE poor results registered at Ordinary level in 2012 are a wakeup call for the government to introduce sweeping changes to the country's education system, experts have said.

The Zimsec November O'level results released recently showed that the pass rate had dropped from 19,5 to 18,4 %.

Out of the 172 698 who sat for the examinations, only 31 767 candidates attained passes in five subjects or more.

Experts in education said although education was considered the most important thing a parent could bequeath to a child, if last year's results were anything to go by, that may as well remain just a dream from most parents.

Educationist, Francis Mashayamombe said although schools had been performing dismally for a few years now, the trend was intolerable.

"The poor results reflect the sickness in the education sector," he said. "This is a serious indictment of us as a nation."

Mashayamombe said the government should set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the real problems affecting the education sector.

"There is need for facts and not speculation," he said.

"We need to put our heads together to get to the bottom of the problem. This can only be done through a commission of inquiry which can come up with a body of evidence for use by policy makers."

The university lecturer said such a commission should come up with a clear report whose results are published and implemented.

He said it was unfortunate that most recommendations made by the 1999 Nziramasanga Commission on Education were not implemented.

"Our problem as a nation is inertia and unwillingness to implement things," said Mashayamombe.

Among many other things, the Nziramasanga Commission recommended a nine-year compulsory basic education (junior school) cycle for all pupils in order to cultivate the habits, attitudes, interests, skills and entrepreneurial opportunities which would prepare them to be good citizens.

It also recommended an outcome-based curriculum which is broad-based in terms of subject offerings and which focuses on learning areas, employment- related skills and other essential skills to be developed across the curriculum.

Another educationist and University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Oswell Hapanyengwi said schools must be equipped with the necessary resources required such as textbooks and qualified teachers.

"The use of untrained teachers is disastrous because they do not know the methodology, psychology and sociology of teaching," he said. "They teach without knowing the impact on the learners."

Hapanyengwi also said the government had allowed a number of "backdoor" schools to mushroom, thereby lowering the education standards.

He said it was unfortunate that some schools were now being established simply to make money.

"Such schools do not care about the results as they are up to make money. They need to be constantly monitored to ensure that there are manned by qualified teachers and operate in a conducive environment," said Hapanyengwi.

He said staff also needed to be motivated in terms of conditions of service. Hapanyengwi said there was a need for government to introduce incentives for teachers in rural areas in order to attract qualified staff.

"There is a need to attract the right personnel and not just people who end up teaching because there are no other jobs available," said the educationist.

Another University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Professor Freddy Zindi said the exodus of teachers to mostly neighbouring countries had taken a toll on the education sector.

In 2008 some 20 000 teachers left their positions, leading to the greatest brain-drain the sector had ever experienced.

He said while the issue of incentivising staff needed to be encouraged, there was also a need for the government to ensure that the teachers do what they are paid for.

Zindi said the government should establish an office of "Standards in Education", where the Ministry of Education would specifically appoint school inspectors similar to those in the past.

"These school inspectors would make surprise visits to schools and look at ensuring that standards are maintained," he said.

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