Zimbabwe: O' Level Results Shouldn't Be End of It All

editorial

The very hard work and dedication of many pupils and their parents means that the damage from Covid-19 and the necessary lockdowns on examination candidates was very limited, with almost a quarter of those who wrote O'Level at the end of last year and early this year getting five C-grade passes or better.

This compares to around a third the year before, so while there was some effect it also means that the effect was not nearly as bad as so many feared.

The lower pass rate was also partly attributable to the industrial action by some teachers, who appeared to believe that withdrawing labour would put pressure on Government, something that failed as first the Government was anxious to pay teachers as much as it could without destroying the economy, but secondly was not prepared to pay salaries that could be sustained from taxes.

First of all we need to congratulate those pupils who, with every difficulty in the book in front of them, managed to study and managed to achieve such credible results.

This "Covid" generation could be one of the more interesting we have seen in Zimbabwe as they move out into the world and in future decades contribute to their country.

At the very least, besides what they learnt in formal education, they also learnt that nothing is impossible to those who are determined, and that giving up is not an option.

Many who would normally have passed should be able to repeat at the end of this year, and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should make it easy for such repeats, at least the rewriting of the examination although if some extra lessons could be arranged this would be a bonus.

The second Ministry decision, that no school can withhold results from such a group, was also welcome. We have seen this in other respects before, putting pressure on deadbeat parents or very poor parents through their children.

Minister Cain Mathema is correct. Disputes between parents and schools, especially of the contractual obligations of parents, need to be kept between parents and schools, and not involve the children.

He is also correct when he encourages schools to lean as hard as they like on the parents. People need to accept that when they undertake obligations they have to fulfil their side of the bargain, although as a matter of practicalities schools need to put in place payment plans for those who simply do not have the cash today.

But the results and the percentage passes also should start triggering debate and thought over what O'Level is, and what success or non-success should mean.

The examination was never intended to be a universal examination and in many cases a failure to achieve those five C-grade passes should not condemn a child to lifetime failure, or even forbid them from receiving tertiary education and post-school training appropriate to their abilities and needs.

It is an examination that separates out the quarter to a third of the population that can succeed in a pure academic educational environment. That is fine, although as we are now starting to realise this does not necessarily produce people equipped to earn a living.

So we are changing some things so that is more likely.

Even when a universal school system is put in place to maximise pass rates, and the old white wing of the Education Ministry in colonial times was specifically designed to do that with small classes and up to six years of classroom teaching before writing, the pass rate is still only 50 percent.

This is why so many education systems have a different path or route for a different set of examinations which can provide useful qualifications, such as entry to most apprenticeships or to other post-school education and training that can fit the children for a worthwhile and active life.

In time it can even be possible to combine the two sets of examinations and the two sets of syllabuses into a single seamless whole. Britain has worked on doing this and such an outcome is common in the United States.

The basic idea is to find out what children can do, rather than split them into successes and failures. In the end every child deserves the opportunity to have the best education and training that their combination of aptitudes, talents, work ability and needs requires and demands.

And our modern economy requires such a detailed discovery of what people can do if we are ever going to build that middle-income nation we all desire.

We cannot say that three quarters of the population are excluded from the good life.

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