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Opinion

Zimbabwe 2020 ‘O’ Level results disastrous

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By TAKAVAFIRA ZHOU

THE Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) has released Ordinary Level results for the 2020 academic year. 

A total of 184 249 students wrote five or more subjects and 45 644 passed five or more subjects with grade C or better, giving an average pass rate of 24.8%. This represents a decrease of 6.8% from the 31.6% pass rate for 2019. 

It is also noteworthy that 15 813 other candidates wrote less than five subjects because they were ill-prepared to write more than five subjects, or failed to get money to register for more than five subjects. 

Furthermore, more than 16 000 other students did not write examinations after realising that they had not prepared well or at all for examinations. The 24.8% is not, therefore, reflective of a greater disaster that would have ensued had the more than 32 000 other students not accounted for in Zimsec statistics written the examinations or more than five subjects.

In light of this reality, it is therefore puzzling that Zimsec perceives the 24.8% as a commendable outcome and has the temerity to justify such poor performance (compared to previous good results), citing unnamed countries that allegedly went into national lockdown due to Covid-19 and experienced a similar decrease in pass rate.

The minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Cain Mathema, has also amazingly joined Zimsec chairperson Professor Eddie Mwenje in welcoming and hyping up the 24.8% pass rate.

Mathema surprised many by thanking parents, pupils and President Emmerson Mnangagwa for the “good pass rate” to the total exclusion of teachers.

This is understandable given his commandist approach to the education system, lack of educational taxonomy, and threats to incapacitated teachers that he would employ the principle of “no work, no pay” which unfortunately may worsen the plight of students in the 2021 academic year, as teachers may also apply the principle of “no pay, no work”. 

Mathema should be reminded of the importance of dialogue in resolving these issues and ensuring progress in the education system.

It is important for Mathema and Mwenje to understand that there is nothing to celebrate over a 24.8% pass rate, especially if you consider the previous pass rates of 66.6% in 1980, 57.1% in 1981, 59.2% in 1982, and 54.6% in 1983, to mention just a few. 

The great question that Mathema and Mwenje must answer is: What happened to 75.2% of the students? Should we not worry over this rather than celebrate a 24.8% pass rate?

While the effects of Covid-19 cannot be downplayed, major factors in the demotivation and incapacitation of teachers include limited investment in quality public education, poor infrastructural development in rural schools, and inaccessible pedagogical methods of television and radio lessons adopted by the government in a situation where more than 75% of students in rural areas had no radio and television frequency.

Indeed, the government’s unilateral reduction of teachers’ salaries from between US$520 and US$550 to the current equivalent of US$100-US$130 has left teachers demoralised, dejected and deflated, therefore unable to perform at their best. 

Needless to mention that, before June 2020, teachers’ salaries had gone down to as little as US$35. 

Teachers have been financially emasculated, marginalised and impoverished to an extent that they no longer have the energy and stamina to operate at their maximum. 

The concept of intrinsic motivation is crucial in the dissemination of knowledge – teaching – and where both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are absent, we certainly cannot achieve good results. 

It is dangerous to entrust the future of pupils – which means their lives – to hungry, angry and poverty-stricken teachers. Teachers who have tested positive to poverty and misery cannot produce good results. 

Equally important is investment in quality public education and infrastructural development in rural schools. It is noteworthy that one of the overriding objectives of education is the provision of school facilities. 

The liberation struggle was partly fought for equal access to education by children of all races and ethnicities.

It is thus baffling for the government to allocate a mere 12.7% of the total budget to primary and secondary education against the Dakar framework that agreed on a budget above 22% of the national budget. 

With such a limited budget, it has been difficult to pay reasonable salaries to teachers, let alone invest in infrastructural development in rural schools with the consequent negative effects on pass rates. 

Most students who passed were attending urban schools and mission schools, with very few from rural day secondary schools making it. It is important to note that 80% of primary schools in Zimbabwe do not have electricity, while 65% of secondary schools do not have power. 

The majority of students, therefore, do not have basic facilities and tools in the 21st century where education is driven by information communication technologies. Computers are accessed by only a few schools, with the majority remaining offline. 

With a restricted education budget, the government is not able to give educational equalisation funds to help most rural schools to catch up with urban and mission schools. Such schools have continued to produce dismal results.

After Covid-19 there was a need for new pedagogical teaching methods such as e-learning. But with most schools having no electricity and computers, this was futile.

While the efficiency of radio and television lessons is not in doubt, it is also puzzling for government to adopt such an approach in a situation where 75% of schools, particularly in rural areas, have no radio and television frequencies and reception. 

Connectivity is also a problem. Teachers had designed appropriate class WhatsApp groups for primary and secondary schools, but then needed data bundles for effective communication with students. 

As such, if the monies from the United Nations Children’s Fund were channelled towards teachers’ data bundles and the purchase of educational gadgets for a few pupils whose parents or guardians had no phones, an appropriate way would have been designed to ensure that students continued to learn effectively even during Covid-19 period.

Our politics has trumped pragmatism and realism, leaving a legacy of failure which we must collectively overcome. De-industrialisation, corruption and predatory leadership have collectively destroyed our education system in Zimbabwe, just like all other sectors of the economy and society.

We need to retool our industries, be productive and inspire students to have hope in our country.

A country that has largely become a supermarket for products produced by China and neighbouring countries, let alone reduced to a nation of street vendors, cannot inspire students to pursue education. 

Our education system has also remained largely academic-oriented and examination-driven at a time we must be focusing on functional literacy or life-serving skills. Examinations are certainly not the best means to measure learning achievements. 

A situation where the vast majority fail and have nothing to do is not enviable in society. Worse still, even those who pass have limited opportunities in a shrinking economy. 

This has also instilled a negative attitude towards learning and contributes to low pass rates at all levels, and thus social ills.

When students think better opportunities for the future lie in becoming a border jumper into South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, or even in engaging in the growing practice of illegal gold digging and panning in rivers, then there is a big problem.

The government has to come up with robust plans to inspire confidence among the youth to learn, and that can only be possible if the education system has utilitarian value in practical life.

It is also noteworthy that when teachers were earning salaries above US$500 in the 1980s and 1990s, the pass rates at Grade 7, “O” and “A” levels were very high.

The issues of welfare of teachers, government support for teachers and conducive teaching and learning environments are crucial in driving a skills-focused education approach that students can use in life or beyond the classroom. 

It is therefore prudent to invest in the knowledge, innovation and motivation of teachers so that they can effectively blend theory and practical experience in learning and teaching. That feat can never be achieved by incapacitated teachers. 

Teachers are the heartbeat of the economy and society; for they produce all other professionals and lead by example in most cases.

They are role models or ought to be. To perform those roles properly, they need support from the government and communities. 

It is critical for the government to focus on key issues such as education and not waste time, energy and resources pursuing retrogressive political and power retention agendas.

Venceremos (we will overcome or win)!

*About the writer: Dr Takavafira M. Zhou is Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president.

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