Zimbabwe: Zimsec Grade 7 Results a Cause for Worry

6 December 2019

- All top 10 performers are Greater Harare private schools

- 510 schools with 10% or less pass rate

- 45 schools with 100% pass rate

- 87 schools with 0 pass rate

- Bottom 10 performers all in Matebeleland areas

- Number of candidates decreased

- Pass rate lowers

The Grade Seven results released by the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council are a cause to for worry on several fronts. The number of learners registering for the exam is lower than in the previous year, bucking trends where we have ever increasing birth rates. The pass rate is also lower and schools in rural areas remain at the bottom of the feeding chain.

Where are the missing learners?

There is a 5.18 percent reduction in the number of learners sitting for the exam as compared to 2018. But if we dig deeper the percentage of the drop is higher. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency Facts and Figures Report 2018, there were 358 428 grade five pupils in government and state registered schools in 2017.

This is the stream that then wrote their grade seven exams in 2019. That is a whole ‭31,743‬ pupils who have fallen off the map. Even putting natural attrition into consideration, at almost 9 percent dropout rate over a period of two years, the figure is too high. ‬

We must ask what is happening to the other streams below and above the current grade sevens? Probably the picture is the same or worse. With secondary school fees steeper than primary levels, it is possible that the dropout rates at higher levels are way above that percentage.

There is urgent need to investigate how and where the learners fell off the grid and provide solutions for the problems for similarly disenfranchised learners. If the missing learners have dropped out of school, as is most likely, then there must be systematic efforts to bring them back.

The effects of current economic challenges must not be allowed to create a whole lost generation. For most kids a year or two out of school is tantamount to permanently lost access to basic education.

Resources and location

Analysis of the rankings clearly shows that learners in urban communities or boarding schools in rural areas have higher pass rates than their rural day school counterparts. The issue of resources cannot be ignored.

In general, rural schools are poorly resourced, period. Some learners cannot afford basics likes stationery and textbooks are scarce. The programme to put textbooks in schools was a few years ago and it is possible that the books are no longer usable. Also with the new curriculum and tweaking of syllabuses, there is need to ensure that all learners have access to textbooks.

There is need for another textbook programme. Though it needs to be an improvement on the last one that almost single handedly shut down the Zimbabwe book industry. But that is a discussion for another day.

These communities are disadvantaged which means levies are necessarily set low while compliance rates are also low. With a system that requires parents and guardians to fund about 96 percent of education operational costs, it means that such schools in such areas lack basic learning and teaching equipment and no positive results can be expected until that situation is addressed.

Human resources are another steep challenge for schools in remote rural areas. Teachers prefer to work at schools in urban areas, growth points or boarding schools. Other schools that have easy access to amenities and offer affordable housing with electricity and running water are also desirable.

That means the remote rural school tends to be staffed by newly qualified personnel who are only using it as a departure lounge while trying to secure transfers to more attractive locations. In most cases, the schools are staffed by unqualified teachers for critical early levels.

Lessons to be learnt

Naturally there are analysts coming out with explanations as to why the pass rate has dipped. Some of these theories are clearly self-serving with the agenda of the speaker taking primacy over a 360 degree view.

In my opinion there is a need to avoid too broad generalisations and assess each school within its own context or as part of a group of deliberately matched institutions.

The top 10 schools according to the Zimsec rankings are all private schools from Greater Harare. The 10 worst performing schools are all from rural Matebeleland provinces.

It is easy to jump to the several erroneous conclusions based on the two facts highlighted above. But Matebeleland provinces do have five schools with 100 percent pass rates and Harare has a private school from the northern suburbs with a less than 10 percent pass rate. Therefore each institution must be analysed as an entity first before being lumped into a category.

There are experts and analysts who have rushed to say that the results show that the public education system is in shambles because of lack of resources and poorly remunerated teachers.

Therefore we must analyse government schools like Dudley Hall, Beatrice Government and Selborne Routledge that performed quite well.

There is need to make a case study of the public schools that have managed to produce good results in spite of those highlighted challenges. Do the schools have some form of revenue streams that they can leverage? Are the school development associations taking actions that have positive impact on learning outcomes? Is there extra care being taken of staff welfare?

Bottom line is that action must be taken now, to avoid even more dismal results for 2020 Zimsec Grade Seven results.

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