Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Whole school priced out of O-Level exams
By Felex Share
"HOW can responsible authorities sit back, watch and do nothing when a rural school fails to register a single pupil for Ordinary Level public examinations?
"Why should we keep quiet when a student is left with no option but to drag the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture to court to force him to extend the examination registration deadline?
"Our education sector is in shambles and something should be done to restore sanity," a disgruntled parent complains.
This comes amid shocking revelations that Bambadzi Secondary School in Matabeleland South Province failed to register a single student for this year’s Ordinary Level examinations.
This is despite a deadline extension by the Education Ministry when they realised that thousands of students had failed to beat the initial deadline twice on September 11 and 25.
To cushion the cash-strapped parents, the ministry unveiled a loan scheme, which, however, failed to change their plight, as many could not commit themselves to register their children.
Registration fees for a single subject was US$10 for "O" Level and US$20 for "A" Level.
The loan scheme required the parents to register their children for free and pay the fees over three months.
Bambadzi School Development Association deputy chairperson Mrs Vonolia Ndlovu said most Form 4 students who failed to pay the exam fees dropped out of school while a few opted to join the Form 3 class.
"The entire Form 4 class has collapsed and there are no Form 4 students as we speak," said Mrs Ndlovu.
She said such a crisis requires a bold decision and commitment from both the Government and the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council, as thousands of children have been deprived of their right to education.
According to a Government official from the province, 40 percent of the prospective candidates are not going to sit for their exams and some had joined Form 3 classes.
"Some were not patient and chose to drop out of school, leaving them prone to social vices," said the official.
The crisis reached its peak when a Bulawayo student, Gracious Thambo, dragged Minister Coltart to court in a bid to force him to extend the examination deadline.
This proved a further sign of desperation of many students whose parents failed to raise the money needed to write examinations.
Most parents interviewed said the country should fully abide by the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, which explicitly explains that every child has the right to education and the State has the duty to ensure that primary education, at least, is made free and compulsory.
"The State must recognise that education should be directed at developing the child’s personality and talent, preparing the child for active life as an adult, fostering respect for basic human rights and developing respect for the child’s cultural and traditional values," said Mr James Moyo of Harare.
Zimbabwe is also a signatory of the Millennium Development Goals, which seek to achieve universal education for all by 2015.
Despite efforts to salvage Zimbabwe’s ailing education sector, exorbitant fees are driving away thousands of poor Ordinary and Advanced Level students from writing their examinations, which are a passport to higher education and formal employment.
Surprisingly, while parents complain, Minister Coltart believes the examination fees were "cheaper" compared to Cambridge.
He said this during a question-and-answer session in the House of Assembly last week.
Failure by thousands of prospective students to register for the public examinations prompted analysts to conclude that the low registration level is the "highest in the history of the country".
Former Minister of Information and Publicity Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and founder of the Zimbabwe Distance Education College said the Government should urgently look into the issue.
"An urgent united approach is needed if we are to move forward.
"Are we going back to the pre-colonial era where education was a preserve of the elite with the poor being edged out?" he asked.
While parents worry about their children’s fate, the examination body has decided to hold onto the actual number of students who managed to register.
However, sources within the examination council revealed that thousands of pupils failed to pay the required examination fees.
"They have completed compiling the figures but are refusing to release them because of fear of criticism since the registration levels are so low," said the Zimsec source.
Persistent inquiries did not bear any fruit, as Zimsec remained mum on the issue.
However, Minister Coltart admitted that the registration levels were very low and promised that they would map the way forward as soon as Zimsec makes available the final statistics.
"It is clear that a lot of students failed to register mainly because of poverty but we have to wait for Zimsec to give the final figures and map the way forward," he said.
He also attributed all the problems to poor funding and general poor management that has rocked Zimsec over the past years.
"The nation has lost faith in Zimsec because of its poor performance and people have opted for other exam bodies like Cambridge," he said, adding that Government had no money to undo years of damage.
"Assistance has not been coming as expected so there is no money to subsidise the cost of administering the exams," he also added.
To make matters worse, while students in neighbouring South Africa began writing public examinations on Monday, Zimsec is yet to come up with dates for this year’s "O" and "A" Level examinations.
In the event that the timetable is released, it is likely that exams will spill into December or even next year while in previous years the public exams ended in November.
But what is sad is the fact that innocent children and parents have sacrificed so much to get this far only to be disappointed at the last hurdle.
Hard hit by the chaos surrounding Zimsec exams are children in rural areas and farming communities who travel between 10 and 15 kilometres to school everyday.
However, a large number of those who have managed to register were forced to cut the number of subjects they are sitting for, as they could not afford to pay for all the subjects.
"You will find that students doing eight subjects have managed to pay for only three.
"This defeats the purpose of spending four years in secondary school," said a Harare secondary headmaster who declined to be named.
"This is far beyond what is required when one would be hoping to further studies.
"Students require a minimum of five ‘O’ Level passes to proceed to ‘A’ level or to qualify for an apprenticeship or gain admission to a teachers’ college or school of nursing.
"A school making history by failing to register a single pupil brings to the fore the effect the examination fees announced by Government had on students in poor communities," added the headmaster.
Civil servants have not been spared with many arguing that they do not have the money to pay for their children.
"Where do they want us to get the money considering what they are giving us? It is better for my child to go back to Form 3 and write next year," said Mr Taitus Marimo, a teacher in Seke.