Bulawayo, October 16,2013-The 2013 Grade 7 Ndebele final examination paper contains slang and inappropriate language for primary school pupils, it has been reported.
Parents and teachers are up in arms over the Grade 7 Ndebele paper that was written last week and contained words that most pupils are not exposed to both at home and school. The final exam being overseen by the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) has sparked fresh criticism. Some veteran educationists, parents and teachers from the region are now questioning the quality and the standard of the paper.
The question that triggered controversy the most was under the grammar section Ulimi in Paper One as the sentence contained derogatory and unpalatable words such as ikhikhitha, isifebe and umangumba (prostitute).
These are not words most 12-year-olds are expected to know as they are not taught in primary schools.
Teachers also condemned the comprehension passage saying words used such as otopi (fathers), amasalala (Westernised people), and makhiwa (bosses in slang, but white in proper Ndebele) were wrongly used and they were not proper Ndebele words.
Such slang compromises pupils’ writing skills and ability to grasp correct words that the syllabus dictates them to know, the parents said. The teachers said setting such a paper undermined the system and caused deep distress to pupils who have worked so hard only to come across material, which was not taught in schools.
There was sharp criticism that the paper was discriminatory and created an unhealthy and unequal competition among rural and urban pupils because while some Bulawayo pupils may grasp the slang, such as makhiwa as it widely used by kombi touts on a daily basis, the word means a completely different thing to a rural pupil.
The slang word amasalala may even be unheard of in some rural areas.
“Will examiners take these mistakes into consideration when marking papers containing such glaring errors to make sure pupils are not disadvantaged?” questioned one disappointed headmaster.
He said the language used will affect pupils when they sit for Paper Two because they will think that they were allowed to use slang.
“Our syllabus does not require us to teach slang, so how does one examine someone on the grounds of slang?
“This is grossly unfair and these children won’t be able to differentiate between proper Ndebele and slang,” he said.
Language specialist Reverend Paul Damasane said the paper did not represent the Ndebele community in its broadest sense since the comprehension passage was only limited to slang spoken in Bulawayo.
“If the comprehension passage is rooted on slang that is not universal to other Ndebele communities such as the Midlands, Matabeleland North and South respectively, it means that the validity of the examination is compromised because it would have failed to capture all the key concerns that should be addressed in an examination,” he said.
Damasane said although he had not seen the paper, he had heard about complaints that it disadvantaged pupils in other communities.
Veteran educationist, historian and cultural commentator Pathisa Nyathi said the paper should have been moderated and thoroughly revised so that it did not disadvantage children in other communities.
Nyathi said the paper was “rather misguided” as it captured words that were derogatory and obscene and there was no parent who wanted his or her child to be associated with bad language.
“I think those who set the paper were overzealous and overlooked the aspect of culture and respect,” he said. “Words such as isifebe, ikhikhitha, omangumba and umsuzo (fart) are not words that can be known by 12-year-old children,” he said.
“If they had used such questions at ‘O’ Level, no one would have challenged them,” he said.
A Zimsec official from the public relations office, who identified himself as Alex Charidza, had promised to get those responsible for setting the controversial paper to contact our correspondent, but had not done so and could not be reached at the time of going to print.