Harare, February 2, 2014 – Screening of Grade Two pupils will not improve the country’s education system, but would, instead create a bloated structure and add a financial burden in the form of examination fees, parents have said. Most parents rejected the idea saying it was an “unnecessary expense”.
The parents’ comments come following a recent announcement by the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Lazarus Dokora that there would be an introduction of an assessment at Grade Two. Dokora said the assessment was in line with the new school Early Childhood Development curriculum which is designed to improve the quality of education.
Most parents who spoke to The Standard last week expressed displeasure at this new concept, and some outrightly rejected it. “Pupils in Grade Two are aged around seven and many are still very immature. It is unfair to make them write an examination,” said Peter Hwata from Sunridge in Harare. Another parent, Isaac Mukumi said, “As parents, we are saying no to this idea of making the children take an exam at Grade Two. At that age, they are too young to be assessed fairly. Those who fail may have low self-esteem issues.”
Mukumi, who was picking up his child at Alfred Beit Primary School in Harare’s Mabelreign suburb, called on the ministry to consult parents and other stakeholders before rushing to make useless policies. Remigio Musimuvi, who was also picking up his child at the same school, shared the same sentiments. “It is our children they are talking about,” said Musimuvi. “We have a say in this and our position is very clear, we do not want this idea of screening children at that level.” Some parents accused the Ministry of Education of trying to “create money spinning” projects at their expense. “We are now convinced that they are just trying to make some money through examination fees.
“If they are really concerned about the quality of education, they should address teachers’ salaries and capacitate schools,” said Sheila Madhuku, a vendor along Sherwood Drive in Mabelreign.
However, some parents supported the move saying it was a noble idea that would improve the quality of the country’s education. “I do not see anything wrong with my child being tested at Grade Two. We all want the quality of education to improve. As long as it is done in a manner that promotes the well-being of children,” said Cleopas Masimba of Ashdown Park in Harare. A senior official from the Zimbabwe School Examination Council (Zimsec), who refused to be named, said government had not yet approached the examinations body, but dismissed the idea as “a misguided mission”. “It does not make sense to introduce an exam at that level and it will not benefit the children,” said the official. “I suspect it might be a psychomotor-based exam. They are trying to find relevance for Hungwe,” he said.
Josaya Hungwe is the Minister of State for Liaising on Psychomotor Activities in Education and Vocational Training. Hungwe could not be reached for comment last week. The social networks on the internet were last week awash with comments from angry parents from across the country dismissing the introduction of exams at grade two level. “Who is going to test these children at primary level whilst we have failed to revive ZJC [Zimbabwe Junior Certificate]. We are merely inviting more costs when the government is broke,” said one Nyikadzino “It’s a good idea where resources are available. Think of constructing more schools, more buildings, more lecturers to train these teachers, more teachers expanding the public service,” Taps said.
The government scrapped ZJC tests in the late 1990s because it had no money to run the exams.
Research has shown that since government scrapped the ZJC examinations and localised ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level examinations in the mid-1990s, education standards have been tumbling. The junior certificate examinations were considered a good way of monitoring the quality of education that is being offered in schools and they served as an opportunity to prepare for the “O” Level examination. “Not only did it monitor the quality of education, but it also inserted some seriousness in students as they would aim to perform better,” said the Student Christian Movement in Zimbabwe (SCMZ).
Former Minister of Education, David Coltart said it was important to understand what exactly the screening exercise would involve. “It is not yet clear what kind of screening the ministry is talking about. Obviously, if it is about an exam it is too early for children that age and it is not going to work.However, if it is a systematic assessment then it can improve the quality of education greatly,” he said. Educationist, Oswell Hapanyengwe who is also the deputy Dean in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zimbabwe, said although he was still to familiarise himself with the development, the issue of testing pupils was not new and could reap huge benefits. “Unfortunately I have not read the article that talks about this development, but if it is the normal assessment then there should not be any problems with that,” he said.
Contacted for comment on Thursday, Dokora said he was attending a lecture at the UZ and would only be available later in the day. Efforts to get a comment from him later proved fruitless.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) shadow minister for education, Concilia Chinanzvavana however said the ministry officials had indicated that it was just an assessment and not an examination. “We engaged some officials from the ministry and they said it was not an examination but an assessment,” she said.