11 March 2013

Zambia: Urgent Measures Needed to Improve Pass Rate in Schools

ON February 15, Education, Science, Technology, Vocational Training and Early Education Minister John Phiri announced that 42 per cent of candidates who sat for the 2012 grade 12 examinations had failed to obtain full school certificates.

The statistics represented a drop in the pass rate as compared to the previous year's results.

Out of the 103,853 candidates who sat for the 2012 grade 12 examination, 60,319 obtained full School certificates and 41,307 obtained the General Certificate of Education while 2,227 failed the examination.

And out of the 60,319, who obtained full School certificates, 35,453 were males and 24,866 were females.

One wonders why the low performance by candidates who are expected to prepare adequately knowing very well that examination Grades include seven, nine and 12.

Is it a question of lack of teachers, infrastructure, teaching materials or lack of seriousness from the candidates themselves?

Dr Phiri was saddened with the failure rate recorded in the last examinations and attributed it to lack of commitment by the candidates to prepare for exams.

"Let me state that the ministry is concerned about the performance of candidates. The pass performance rate of about 40 per cent is a source of concern.

"Central Province recorded the highest proportion of candidates failing examinations at 10.22 per cent compared to other provinces, while Copperbelt had the least percentage of candidates failing at 3.52 per cent," he said.

Dr Phiri said the proportion of candidates who sat for the examinations dropped from 90.35 per cent in 2011 to 84.22 per cent in 2012.

At Grade 12 level, a statement of results is obtained when a candidate passes in less than six subjects, while a candidate who fails to pass in at least one subject is deemed to have failed.

He, however, noted there had been a consistent trend of the output of school certificate holders of about 59 per cent and commended Eastern, Southern, Luapula and North-Western provinces for recording an increase in the number of candidates who obtained full certificates.

In announcing the results, Dr Phiri said all the provinces recorded absenteeism rates of more than 15 per cent, except for Copperbelt and Lusaka provinces which had 11.62 per cent and 11.34 per cent, respectively.

Western and Central provinces recorded the highest absenteeism rates at 23.65 and 21.19 per cent, respectively and in terms of performance, Copperbelt Province recorded the highest proportion of candidates getting certificates at 65.47 per cent.

Copperbel was followed by North-Western with 55.29 per cent, Lusaka with 54.96 per cent, while Northern had the lowest proportion at 43.03 per cent.

The situation was similar with the grade nine results which also showed a drop in the pass rate from the previous year's examination results.

Out of the 291,018 who sat for the examinations in 2012, only 100,824 candidates passed, compared to 124,331 who made it in 2011.

There were 276,840 pupils who sat for the examinations in 2011.

However, at Grade seven level, the situation was different as seven provinces recorded a 100 per cent pass rate to grade eight while Lusaka had the highest failure rate at 19 per cent.

The provinces that recorded a 100 per cent pass rate includes Central, Copperbelt, Eastern, Luapula, North-Western and Western and a total of 284,603 pupils who sat for last year's grade seven examinations were selected to grade eight, representing a progression rate of 93.49 per cent, a marginal reduction from 2011 which recorded 93.80 per cent.

A total of 304,429 pupils wrote grade seven examinations compared to the previous year's 302,890, representing an increase of 0.5 per cent.

Out of those who sat for the examinations, a total of 284,603 were selected to grade eight classes and included 149,016 boys and 135,587 girls.

Dr Phiri also announced that 119 learners with special educational needs were selected into grade eight from 120, representing 99 per cent progression rate.

The Professional Teachers Union of Zambia (PTUZ) attributes the low grade twelve pass rate to examination leakages and absenteeism of subject teachers in secondary schools.

PTUZ general secretary Kangwa Musenga is disappointment with the low pass rate but appealed for measures to curb examination malpractices and absenteeism.

Mr Musenga said there was need to improve teachers condition of service to motivate teachers.

He said there is need to address the teacher-pupil ratio which current stood at one to 70, a situation any hard working teachers could handle.

Mr Musenga said while, admitting that there were several factors pointing to the low pass rate, however, said the gap in the ratio was a major one because it was hard to monitor individual pupil development.

Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) secretary general Newman Bubala attributed the poor results to, among other factors, the low teacher-pupil ratio.

"ZNUT is not impressed with the grade nine results and there are several factors the Government needs to address such as to increase teacher-pupil ratio where a teacher has to cater for many pupils in one classroom instead of a few so that the pupils get the necessary attention," he said.

Other attributes to poor performance further include examination malpractices, more than 316 cases were recorded in 2012 showing an increase compared to 267 cases of examination malpractices in 2011.

Various other organisations such as the Women for Change expressed concern at the low pass rate recorded this year.

Executive director Emily Sikazwe said there was great need for Zambia to look at the structural causes of poor results being recorded in examination grades.

Ms Sikazwe said the pass rate in last year's grade 12 examinations was poor and states hence the need to avert the situation for better development of the country.

"The country needs to find a mechanism of capturing children who fail examinations and have no capacity to continue with their education and we are ready and willing to sit down with the Ministry of Education to see how best the situation can be resolved," she said.

Natasha Mwila, a parent in Kitwe said it was disheartening that some pupils do not want to study for the exams and would rather depend on leaked examination papers.

Ms Mwila, who is a medical practitioner said pupils were to blame for the poor results because they were pre-occupied with unproductive activities instead of concentrating on their academic work.

"Children are becoming obsessed with things like television, social networking and are spending much of their time on their phones rather than studying," she said.

Ms Mwila blamed parents for failure to regulate their children access to mobile phones and other media vices such as television.

She said few monitor their children's academic performance by regular checking of books, home works and ensuring that modern facilities such as computers are used for the intended purpose of researching.

Ms Mwila adviced parents to spend more time with their children and monitor their activities.

Kudos go to primary school teachers who were also praised by the minister for their professional conduct in the administration of examinations.

Indeed the poor performance recorded in the recent examinations are a great concern and needs concerted efforts from all stakeholders, to address the poor performance of pupils and also address the scourge of examination malpractices.

As stated by Dr Phiri, Zambia should see genuine examinations in 2013 and the instruction to the provincial education officers to establish the causes of the absenteeism could not have come at a better time than this.

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