There was a time when upon query by a relative on what they were now doing, young people would proudly say, “Ndakapedza chikoro” (I am done with school).
Their parents would equally respond, “Akapedza uyu” (she/he is done with Western forms of education).
By that they meant completing a four-year secondary course culminating in Ordinary-Level examinations, regardless of whether they passed or not.
Yes, they had simply “finished” school!
The thinking behind this was that beyond O-Level, there was no more school or anything else for a child with less than five passes.
In 1952, sixty-two years after settler occupation, there was no secondary school for coloureds and Asiatics (Asians); and there was one high school (Goromonzi established in 1946) for Africans.
In 1968, there were only six secondary schools for Africans with only two of them offering Advanced-Level classes.
Only two percent of black children were allowed into Form One, and only one percent were allowed into O-Level.
Just a handful of those allowed into O-Level would make it to A-Level.
With only one university before 1980, the bottlenecking continued to hinder progress in the academic direction for blacks.
The colonial agenda was to see to it that blacks would not outnumber whites at university. In the 1960s only a third of the 300 students at the University of Zimbabwe (University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland), which opened its doors in 1952, were blacks and less than a dozen of them were Asians and coloureds.
Hungry for education in a quest to improve their lot, and conscious of the bottleneck system against them, the two percent of black children allowed into Form One would achieve at least a 70 percent pass rate through hard work and determination.
For the 98 percent of black children, school practically ended at Grade Seven, hence, the pride exhibited by those that got to O-Level, albeit, without any passes.
Trained to be employees, black youths found themselves with so much time on their hands and nothing to do after “being done” with school, thus compounding an already precarious socio-political situation.
The colonial education system was a repressive non-thinking machine subtly designed to keep the African poor; physically, politically, socially, spiritually, mentally and psychologically.
The African was never given opportunities to acquire skills. It was a collective project that taught black people to be docile and obedient consumers of instructions dubiously called knowledge or education.
The teacher in such a system is erroneously depicted as someone with control and monopoly of knowledge, which knowledge he/she can either hold on to or give in relation to set rules of compliance, with his/her charges portrayed as automatons requiring guidance from the “master”, thus justifying colonialism as an enlightenment vehicle.
The deliberate colonial tilt was in favour of whites, whose education was made compulsory and free up to university level. The syllabuses were also mischievously distinct, so that the colour bar could be discernible, with the master-servant relationship heightened.
Independence in 1980 has not only opened up opportunities for blacks through increased numbers of primary and secondary schools, but offered avenues for academic pursuit in institutions of higher learning.
By 2018, there were 2 871 secondary schools in Zimbabwe as compared to 177 in 1979. In 2018, there were 6 288 primary schools, a significant gain on the 1979 figure of 2 401.
In the same year (2018), 239 441 candidates wrote ZIMSEC O-Level examinations. In 2019, 296 464 sat the examinations with 31,6 percent of them attaining at least five subjects, down from the 32,83 percent recorded in 2018.
Based on numbers, 93 682 candidates passed at least five O-Level subjects in 2019, thus marginally gaining on the 1980 (7 800) and 1990 (66 000) figures.
In 2019, 50 774 candidates wrote two or more subjects at A-Level with 42 169 of them obtaining Grade E or better in two or more subjects, translating to 83,1 percent pass rate, an increase of 1,2 percentage points from 81,9 percent recorded in 2018.
The number of female candidates that sat the 2019 A-Level examinations was 19 877.
Out of this number, 19 689 wrote two or more subjects and 17 525 passed two or more subjects, yielding an 89 percent pass rate. Zimbabwe now boasts of 13 polytechnics, 13 teachers’ colleges, 43 vocational training centres and up to 16 quasi-Government and independent research institutions. In addition, the country has 13 State universities and seven private ones. While these figures may be impressive, more still needs to be done in terms of creating a complete individual with the agency to probe the reasons for being and interrogating the world around him/her without having to adhere to inflexible set curricula. Examinations should not be used as determinants of intelligence, for knowledge goes beyond bookish learning. Individual destinies are not only shaped by academic achievements.
As Karl Marx avers, “Education must constitute the basis of Man’s development of his vocational, cultural and political growth.”
Hence, the individual should be able to contribute to his own vocational, cultural and political growth, and that of the broader constituencies that make it possible to change outcomes for the common good.
African governments should move away from the colonial curricula aimed at creating employees, and not employers.
There is a need, therefore, to relook at the curricula used in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions for them to be able to mirror societal needs.
This is why the recent pronouncements by Primary and Secondary Education Minister Ambassador Cain Mathema that starting from this year, all examination classes will be subjected to a new model which will combine marks for continuous assessment and final examinations, are apt and commendable.
According to the new structure, the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) examinations and the Continuous Assessment Framework will now comprise the weighted contribution to learner performance results in Grade Seven, Form Four and Form Six public examinations.
Not only will the framework ensure fair marks for pupils, but it will take into cognisance pupils’ different abilities, including knowledge basis, skills, abilities, values and other achievements in class, which will be incorporated into the final examination marks.
Learners’ individual talents, gender, disabilities, socio-economic background will also be taken into consideration, along with ability to engage information communication technology (ICT) enhanced platforms, and the Unhu/Ubuntu philosophy.
Through the Continuous Assessment Framework, learners are groomed, not only to know, but do whatever they would have learnt in school and acquired via non-formal instruction, starting from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to secondary level.
The 2021 Grade Seven candidates, whose input will be assessed from 2017, when the new curriculum came into effect, to date, will benefit from the competence-based framework.
Ultimately all learners will benefit.
The new approach will eventually contain the challenges afflicting many African governments stuck with hordes of degree and diploma holders who cannot tell six from nine, because they have been made to believe that Western education forms are the gateway to the good life.
It is worrisome sometimes to know that a nation may invest vast resources in individuals who may not even be worth it in the end.
But where exactly is this stemming from?
African governments inherited an education system believed to be the alpha and omega to success.
Having been programmed to copy and paste workloads in an attempt at changing outcomes, today’s graduate finds himself/herself not only incompetent due to lack of practical skills, but willing to work for whatever may be offered in a world too practical to be driven by theories.
Knowledge should have a basis as determined by society.
The body of knowledge that a society draws from should be imparted on the individual in such a way that he/she will be able to use the same knowledge to evoke his own untapped inherent knowledge so that he/she not only improves himself, but the society that shapes him/her.
Because it is generally tailored towards some definite direction or purpose where goals considered by a community to be appropriate are achieved, the curricula across the board, should, therefore, mirror both the social and political aspects of that particular society. The curriculum has purposes, aims or objectives which reflect general societal aspirations.
Society plays a significant role in determining what is considered worthwhile knowledge, desirable attitudes and relevant skills in the shaping of a complete individual.
However, because knowledge is dynamic since it constantly changes with the coming on board of new truths in the ever-changing universe, policy makers should always be privy to any shift in expectation, so that what is considered as knowledge remains relevant to societal needs.
However, for effective implementation, the benefits of continuous assessment must be inculcated in learners, teachers and parents so that they fully understand what it entails, rather than leaving everything to chance.
Although more still needs to be done to shift from the colonial mind-set of perceived knowledge, continuous assessment at primary and secondary levels may be the starting point, where other talents and psychomotor objectives are factored in to complement cognitive abilities.