THE drastic 13,23% drop in the June Ordinary ‘O’ Level school examinations pass rate, though tragic, is not surprising to many Zimbabweans as it is a direct result of the hare-brained and destructive cocktail of policies introduced by Education minister Lazarus Dokora since his appointment in September last year.
Zimsec director Esau Shingirai Nhandara in a statement last week said 194 278 candidates sat for the June ‘O’ Level examinations and obtained an average pass rate of 37, 96%, which was 13, 23% lower than last year’s results.
Nhandara also said the ‘A’ Level pass rate of 51,46% is also lower than that of 2013 which was 54,35% and 2012’s 53%. “Compared with other years, the lowest pass rate is in June 2014 examinations,” Nhandara said without offering an explanation for the decline.
But for Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), “the June results for both ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels are an indicator of the terrific speed by the ministry — in the wrong direction.
“Instead of steering the ship along the recovery path crafted by the previous Minister of Education, David Coltart, the new ministry regime erroneously believes that intelligence resides at Head Office and operates through unilateral policies formulated without teachers’ and stakeholders’ input, let alone consultation.”
Zhou added: “In spite of a strategic plan crafted with the participation of teachers that reflected that they are number one for meaningful learning and teaching to take place, followed by pupils and resources, the ministry has totally reneged on this and considered them as any other business.
“As such teachers’ morale is low and no meaningful learning and teaching is taking place although they have not necessarily engaged in industrial action.”
Among other controversial measures, Dokora has scrapped monetary incentives for teachers in the absence of a corresponding increase in their salaries.
He also banned extra lessons late last year, which have been credited for improving candidates’ overall performance, only to reverse that decision a week before schools closed but only for classes that will sit for public examinations.
However, there is still confusion over that decision, with some schools whose applications had been approved being told this week to stop conducting the extra-lessons.
Dokora, who only assumed the portfolio after last year’s general elections that brought Zanu PF back into power, inherited a ministry on a steady recovery path after the tribulations of the hyper-inflationary era which came to a head in 2008, forcing many teachers to abandon their jobs.
The education sector recorded gains from 2009 under the stewardship of former minister Coltart, who came in during the inclusive government of 2013.
The ‘A’ level pass rate in 2009 stood at 76,88%, up from 67,43% in 2008.
According to an analysis which Coltart presented to cabinet in April 2010, “pass rates had improved because teachers had been working hard during vacations to prepare their students for examinations, while parents/guardians went all out to mobilise resources and ensure their children accessed extra tuition”.
The 2011 national percentage pass rate for ‘O’ Level was 19,5%, up from 16,5% 2010 results, while for ‘A’ Level there was an increase to 85,25%, up from 75,99% in 2010.
The gains were achieved against the background of progressive policies that included the introduction of financial and other incentives to cushion teachers against their meagre salaries.
Teachers were also allowed to conduct extra and holiday lessons as the average US$300 monthly salary was seen to be woefully inadequate.
But the appointment of Dokora has reversed most of the gains made during the inclusive government. It seems Dokora, formerly Coltart’s deputy, learnt nothing from his predecessor, but is instead undoing some of Coltart’s morale-boosting policies that catalysed the gradual recovery of the sector.
In addition to scrapping the incentives, Dokora’s other unilateral policies include plans to re-train those already qualified. The ministry has also decided to extend primary education to nine years from the current seven by adding two years of early childhood development, while they would be tested at Grade two and Grade six, in addition to the Grade 7 examination.
It is not yet clear when these measures would come into effect, but there is a feeling the ministry should prioritise improving teachers’ conditions of service.
Despite revealing to the Bulawayo Zanu PF leadership that there was a critical shortage of trained mathematics and science teachers in the country, with more than 1 500 vacant posts, Dokora has astonishingly made a commitment to send an unspecified number of English and science teachers to the Republic of South Sudan.
According to the state broadcaster, the teachers will be sent to South Sudan “on a 12-month exchange programme in an effort to help Africa’s newest nation build its learning institutions.”
Such altruism would be welcome if government had first addressed the crisis on its door-step, especially in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces which have vacancy rates of more than 55%.
Some schools in Binga and Gokwe districts have been manned by untrained personnel since Independence — a development which Dokora could help redress by committing more funds to colleges for training programmes.
A headmaster from a school in Binga, who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, queried how his school could be expected to produce decent results when all the 18 teachers, except his deputy and himself, are ‘A’ and ‘O’ Level school graduates without any formal training.
Rather than re-training already qualified teachers, Dokora should be committing more funds to training unqualified teachers and ensuring that qualified teachers are also deployed to rural schools.
The situation can still be salvaged, only if the ministry reverses its policies and improves teachers’ working conditions.
But as things stand, teachers have, according to Zhou, “mentally resigned although they physically remain at their stations — a dangerous scenario for any profession.”