Govt must suspend 2018 science practical exams

HARARE - The new curriculum launched in January 2017 by the former Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora, which among other changes requires “O” Level students to sit for combined science practical examinations, is very progressive.

It is inspiring in terms of government’s long-term plan of addressing Zimbabwe’s high unemployment rate through teaching students skills commonly needed in the local workforce by giving learners hands-on experience of the content they would have theoretically learnt in class.

Sadly, its introduction was ill-timed and rushed as it was imposed on unprepared schools lacking the necessary human capital, infrastructure and most importantly laboratory equipment which students must use during the combined science practical examinations. It is therefore surprising that despite the fact that students are clearly unprepared, the first batch of students are supposed to sit for the combined science practical examinations in November.

To make matters worse, most science teachers who are undergoing capacity building training supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund haven’t yet finished the exercise. The Education ministry has also not taken measures to assist rural schools most of which do not have laboratories.

Last year, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) revealed that 98 percent of sampled schools in rural areas were not ready to implement the new curriculum. A recent field research by Artuz noted that the state of preparedness of rural schools to handle the practical science examinations is disturbing.

It also noted that teachers were resorting to using lecture method and classroom demos due to the high teacher/student ratio (I: 80), with students in these schools lacking appreciation of basic lab glassware equipment which they are expected to use come November.

It is pertinent to note that the greater number of secondary schools do not have financial capacity to acquire the required apparatus that each student should use during the examinations. The ministry needs to conduct a survey on the readiness of schools for the practical examinations especially those in rural areas where some schools also have no water and electricity. One wonders where these practical examinations will be conducted.

Because of the limited equipment available and high numbers of candidates per class, schools may break the classes into groups which will potentially compromise the exam process and expose it to question paper leakages.

Given the foregoing, the ministry and the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council need to suspend the practical examinations this year and revert back to the previous system until everything is in place.

Continuation of the exams under the current situation will bring chaos and disrepute to the national examination system.

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STEVE BANNER - 9 July 2018

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