Language Barrier Causing Poor Pass Rate In Matabeleland – Civic Groups

By Dumisani Nyoni

Bulawayo, March 01, 2016 – CIVIC groups in Matabeleland have pinned the perennially poor pass rate among schools in the country’s western provinces to government’s massive deployment of teachers who are not familiar with the local Ndebele language, an assertion first raised by villagers in parts of the region.

This came out at a recent indaba which was organised by civil society to deliberate on the state of the education sector in the region.

Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) programmes officer Mpumelelo Madhlakela conceded the causes of poor performance among schools in the region were multi-faceted but said language barrier was a strongly felt assertion expressed among stakeholders.

“We met as civil society organisations in Bulawayo and identified that schools in Matabeleland region are recording low pass rate compared to schools in other regions,” Madhlakela said. 

“The primary cause we found was the issue of language barrier especially at primary level whereby we have Shona-speaking teacher taking care of primary schools pupils. This makes level of interface hindered because teacher is communicating a language which they don’t understand better.”

Madhlakela was speaking on the sidelines of a “women lead network” meeting which was organised by Wild.

The controversial deployment of non-Ndebele speakers in schools in the region has been met with strong resentment in rural Matabeleland where villagers, backed by secessionist groups, have continuously grumbled over the matter.

However, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora has dismissed claims the poor performance by schools in the region was caused by non-Ndebele speakers insisting there was no relationship between poor pass rates and language differences.

“To associate language and failure on a one-to-one relationship is misleading and is not educational in terms of an analysis of this phenomenon of pass rates or performance of learners,” Dokora said during the National Assembly’s question and answer session.

“If it were true that it is on a one-to-one relationship, I would be getting 100 percent passes in those areas where the teacher is a mother language speaker of that area.”

Meanwhile, stakeholders in the region have also attributed the poor pass rate to poverty, poor infrastructure and inadequate learning facilities.

“…There is the issue of poor infrastructure and facilities where we are talking about the number of schools in the region compared to other regions and also buildings themselves as well as science laboratories.

“Schools offering science subjects are very few compared to other regions in the country. As such, Matabeleland as a region lags behind,” Madhlakela said.

A recent visit by RadioVOP to some schools in Matabeleland North revealed that they did not have adequate classrooms and some children were learning under trees.

This was most common in Binga, Lupane and Hwange where school children also walk long distances to school.

The quality of education has also been compromised by a shortage of qualified teachers as most trained educators are reluctant to teach in remote rural schools.

According to the 2014 ZimSec Grade Seven results, Matabeleland North was the worst performing province with 39,95 per cent pass rate while Matabeleland South had 41,75 per cent.

During the year, 15 primary schools in Matabeleland South recorded zero percent pass rate, up from 13 the previous year.


The trend has been the same with secondary schools which have performed relatively poor to some provinces.