Why study 10 subjects at school?

In order to acquire this “X” factor, there is urgent need for our children to be encouraged to hone in their passions and dreams.

THE Zimbabwe School Examinations Council Ordinary Level results are out — and we are hearing of the usual outrageous number of subjects passed by single candidates.

This inevitably leads to the usual debate — but is it really necessary for one to sit for, say 20 subjects at O Level, or as happened recently, 10 at Advanced Level?

On my first day of Form 3 at Kwekwe High School in 1989, our class was supposed to be doing 10 subjects, yet by the time we sat for our University of Cambridge GCE O Levels final examinations the following year, I had reduced mine to only six.

In spite of having begun by studying English Language, English Literature, History, Extended Science, Geography, Mathematics, Technical Drawing (Graphics), Shona, Accounting and Core Science — I already knew what path I wanted to follow in life and, as such, most of these subjects were just an unnecessary burden that had to be done away with.

My heart had always been in writing, and thus, a profession in journalism was my main objective — proven by how I would produce a handwritten newspaper for my classmates, and even began contributing news articles to a local Kwekwe weekly in 1989 — subsequently, writing my own regular column when I was in the Lower Sixth Form in 1991.

In so doing, I honestly saw no point in overloading myself with subjects that I considered irrelevant to my quest in life — although a career in law was also on the table.

As much as we were not permitted to drop any subjects by our school authorities at the time — that choice only available at Advanced Level — I was not going to allow anyone to stand in the way of my convictions — a feat I accomplished by simply bunking lessons I did not regard necessary, in addition to not registering them for the final examinations.

I knew that there was really no reason for me to waste my time (in fact, distract myself) — with subjects like Accounting, Technical Drawing and Extended Science — when all I wanted was to be a writer and journalist.

There was need for me to focus and specialise only on that which was really necessary.

That is why I feel a profound sadness and sorrow whenever I encounter news reports of our children who are said to have sat for something as outrageous as 20 subjects at O Level, or 10 at A Level.

All I can ask myself is: What will they be thinking? Do they not know what they want to do in life?

Of course, I do realise and acknowledge that in all likelihood, it is truly not out of a fault of their own — but possibly a lack of proper guidance and advice.

To begin with, the reason we say that someone obtained five points at O Level is because only the best five subjects are taken into consideration — in this case, having achieved As in all of them.

This is the similar story with A Level, when one is said to have obtained 15 points, based on three subjects (with As in all of them).

The reason I ended up writing six, and not five subjects, was simply because O Level Mathematics was regarded as mandatory for tertiary learning entrance — otherwise, I would have dropped that as well.

Let us also undo the misguided thinking among our people that the more subjects and As one gets, the more prestigious is it, and more intelligent he or she is! That is a lie and we are only leading our children down a path of self-deception.

It then boggles the mind when one decides to dilute their focus by doing an unnecessary large number of subjects — which, in all likelihood, are not even necessary for the desired career path.

In fact, this serves as a hindrance — as too much time is wasted on needless concentration and study — which could have been better spent on sharpening one’s understanding and mastery of their chosen profession.

Which explains why, after dropping the unnecessary baggage in my O Level studies — I used the “free time” I had on my hands, as I bunked those lessons — honing my writing and other skills, which I would need in my desired profession.

I spent hours in local media newsrooms — feeding off the vast knowledge of veterans who were already masters of this trade — which produced the writer I eventually became.

Where was I to find that time had I been immersed in the study of Accounting, Extended Science, or even Technical Drawing?

That is a vital lesson that our young ones need to learn.

I am of the strong belief that, by the time an individual reaches high school — more so, O Level — he or she should already be sure of the direction they want to take in life.

As such, he or she needs to be certain of which subjects are necessary, and which are not. At the same time, after offloading the unnecessary baggage — he or she can then utilise that time getting a feel of what they want to do for the rest of their life — by volunteering at establishments where they see their future.

This experience at such an early stage also helps in providing the child with a real understanding of what their profession truly entails.

I remember a story once told of a friend of ours in high school. At A Level, he did Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry fully intending to study medicine at university. Once there, he had a shock of his life when the time came for him to handle and work on a cadaver.

It is said he bolted out of the laboratory (or, wherever they were) — and, immediately switched programmes to engineering. This was a clear sign of his lack of prior knowledge and understanding of what the career, he had dreamt about for all these years, was all about.

Unfortunately, he is far from being the only one — because many people have ended up ditching the professions they, and their parents, had invested so much time, effort and money — only to opt for another later on in life.

Maybe, had they expended more time in studying what their chosen careers really encompassed — as opposed to spending countless hours each day in the pursuit of subjects they really did not need — they would have been able to make an informed decision.

Not only that, but this acquired information would give them a head start by the time they reach university or college — including invaluable wealth of knowledge, which even learning institutions can never provide.

This would be a huge plus on their CVs since, sad as it may be to admit, most of our graduates lack the “X” factor, which makes them unique and outstanding from the rest of those with similar qualifications.

What we find, though, are graduates who appear like mere photocopies of each other — as if created from some mass production line, all from the same mould or template — since they studied identical things.

We now need those who choose to stand out from the crowd, who possess knowledge and skills that the rest of their peers can never dream of acquiring, which can only be achieved by going beyond the realm of the classroom.

That is when the country can seriously begin to dream of genuine innovators and inventors who think, perceive and analyse any given scenarios differently from the rest.

In order to acquire this “X” factor, there is urgent need for our children to be encouraged to hone in their passions and dreams, well before they reach tertiary education. This means specialisation at a much earlier stage than is currently the case.

Honestly, what is the point of studying Biology at O Level when one wants to become a builder?

Sheer waste of time!

  • Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate, writer, researcher and social commentator. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700/+263782283975, or email: [email protected]


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