FINAL public examinations for Grade Seven, Ordinary and Advanced Level students, which are normally taken in October and November each year, might be deferred to next year as the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) seeks to ensure learners complete the school syllabuses before writing.
This follows a directive by Cabinet last week to defer the planned reopening of schools on July 28 to curb the spread of Covid-19, which has seen local transmissions spike in recent weeks.
ZIMSEC chairperson Professor Eddie Mwenje said examinations will only be written when students have completed the syllabus and when it is safe to do so, even if it means pushing the examinations to December this year or January next year.
He, however, highlighted that the examination management body would this week start preparing for the examinations, with dates for sitting for the tests set to be announced after consultations with various stakeholders.
“We are finalising the writing of June examinations, which are going on well and will be completed next week,” said Prof Mwenje.
“As soon as the June exams are done, we will start printing the November examination question papers. However, once the President announces new opening dates, we will sit down with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education so that we come up with dates for the examinations.
“November 2020 examinations will be written, but they will only be written when students have completed the syllabus and when it is safe to do so, even if it means the examinations will be written in December or January next year.”
He said ZIMSEC understands that there was little time for students to prepare for examinations given that schools closed in March this year.
Prof Mwenje, however, said ZIMSEC would not compromise the quality and substance of Zimbabwe’s education by lowering the pass mark for students to score better grades.
Instead, they would ensure that the syllabus is completed before students sit for exams.
“Remember, some of these students will be going to tertiary institutions, they have to be properly examined and given the right grade,” he said.
“That is why we are saying there is a possibility that the examinations may be written in December or January next year. However, all this will be finalised when we meet with the ministry when reopening dates are announced.”
Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo also said setting examination dates would largely depend on schools reopening dates.
“It is a bit difficult to know the exact dates of opening schools at the moment given the current trends of Covid-19 local transmissions. These trends will largely guide when schools will open,” he said.
“Unlike the June examinations, November examinations need a lot of preparation, so examination classes will be given sufficient time to prepare. We will have to work the dates around their schedule.”
Schools were closed on March 24 this year and were set to be opened next week.
However, last week Cabinet deferred the opening of schools citing soaring Covid-19 cases.
Teachers’ unions have been calling on Government to cancel this year’s school calendar.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Dr Takavafira Zhou said teachers’ unions recently submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to have the examinations written in February next year.
“We made a two-part proposal to Government for schools to be opened in September or October this year, then schools close in December, then we open early next year with national examinations written in mid-February to March. Then instead of having three terms we have two terms,” he said.
“The other proposal is to have schools open in September or October and then we have a crush programme this year. However, opening of schools hinges on Government’s ability to provide adequate personal protective equipment to teachers and learners, as well as well as providing structural requirements more teachers and additional classrooms so that there is social distancing.”
Educationist Dr Cephas Nziramasanga said it was important for students to have at least three months of learning time before writing exams, adding that it was high time for Government to seriously consider continuous assessment as part of the learning system.
“Students have already lost over five months of learning, so they need about three months with the teachers before sitting for the exams,” he said.
“Learning is done when student and teacher meet physically, that is why I think online learning is fictitious and besides, the majority of students do not have access to online learning. So there is need for students to have time with teachers before sitting for exams.
“However, going forward Government should adopt continuous assessment, which was recommended in the Nziramasanga Commission. It is a system that enables students to be tested while learning and this exerts less pressure on final examinations and would come in handy in such situations.”
He said a lot of intelligent students had been lost through “final examinations”.
Continuous assessments are part of the recommendations of the 1999 Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Education and Training.
Opening schools during the ongoing pandemic has been a contentious subject worldwide.
South Africa recently reopened schools, but teachers’ unions have been calling for the closure of schools due to an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases, which has also affected learners and teachers.
The Kenyan government recently announced that schools would remain closed until January 2021, with final year exams, usually taken in October and November, also being cancelled.