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Zim must move from nationalised education curriculum to a localised one

19 Jul 2011 at 11:09hrs | Views
Exploring the path of mandatory learning and teaching of Mathematics, Science and History, with key stakeholders

In a further pursuit and response to the announcement of the Secretary of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture, that in addition to English Language, learning and teaching of GCE 'O' Level Mathematics, a science subject and History is now mandatory, I would like to share my views on the topic with key stakeholders. For the purpose of this discussion, the key stakeholders include the two Ministries of Education, the Curriculum Development Unit, private and public education providers (individuals, local authorities, missionaries, Trusts, etc), students, teachers, the industry, academics, parents, Parent-Teachers Associations, teaching staff associations (e.g. ZIMTA), guardians, part-time adult learners, colleges, the public, institutions of higher learning and others that I might have overlooked.

According to media reports, the decision to make the above mentioned subjects compulsory has already been taken. Consequently, a Circular might have already been dispatched to schools. Therefore, under no circumstances can the decision be reversed, but I think there is room to make student-centred amendments. Moreover, it is unfortunate that the Education Secretary, Dr Stephen Mahere, seems to have brought the issue to the attention of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology simply to facilitate rubber stamping by the latter.

As I have already pointed out in my earlier article that decisions taken on matters that affect the subject matter and the way children learn and are taught in schools are solely left in the hands of the elite class.  Nothing has changed in the approach we deliberate and implement the syllabi to reflect that we are an independent nation state with nationalised school examination system. The way outcomes are arrived at is not different from the pre-independence era when everything was imposed on us by external examination bodies.

It was through the advice of the minority elite class that examinations were nationalised. Notwithstanding this, the group has since backtracked on their decision. Hence, it is common public knowledge that children who come from advantaged backgrounds attend private schools and sit for examinations set by the likes of the University of Cambridge. Surprisingly, policy makers who ironically occupy the large chunk of the advantaged groups are deceitful to the public on issues pertaining to acquiring the so-called western, imperialist, neo-colonialist and neo-liberal cultures and traditions. They seem to preach bad things about the west but encourage their children to acquire western cultures and traditions. Nevertheless, let us leave this subject to the political domain.

The purpose of my discussion is not meant to influence policy makers to bring back the Associated Examination Board (AEB), or Universities of Cambridge and London to all schools. Such a move would impact negatively on the poor and broaden the gap between those in the centre and those on the periphery. Instead, I am proposing an approach that would move further than nationalised curriculum - to a localised curriculum. This approach might appear weird at first sight, but it has been tried and tested by the Nordic countries, for example Sweden. Sweden is considered to have one of the best education systems in the world. The Swedish approach to education caters for local needs of the people. Additionally, before independence, Zimbabwe had a two-tier (F1 and F2) approach that was close to the envisaged localised curriculum. Although the education system at the time had a 'bottleneck' or failed to absorb all primary school graduates, the F1 and F2 approach worked well with student-centred attributes and embraced the different needs of students.

In order to bring those who were not born at the time or those who were too young to know what was happening, in line with the rest of the readers on how the two-tier system worked, I will briefly discuss it here. The F1 concept is synonymous to the current J.C. and GCE 'O' Level syllabus. On the other hand, F2 schools concentrated on churning out students who majored in technical subjects such as Woodwork, Metalwork, Fashion and Fabrics, and Home Economics. The majority of F2 graduates did technical jobs, and some did apprenticeship training. The F2 graduates were better positioned to train as apprentices compared to students who went through the F1 system and the former passed selection tests better than the latter. This might mean that we are currently training the wrong calibre of students as apprentices. In fact, those who were good in technical subjects were identified at primary school level because primary schools used offer technical subjects.

The F1 schools enrolled the exceptionally gifted students who under normal circumstances had a chance to proceed to 'A' Level and to the only university at the time. Doctors, Lawyers, engineers, architects, surveyors, among others, came from this group. Failure rate was very low at the time, the possible reason being that students were not overburdened with doing subjects that they were obviously not capable to intellectually accommodate. F2 students did Mathematics, English Language and General Science syllabi that were less demanding than their F1 counterparts. Furthermore, the syllabi were tailored to suit the technical needs of the industries. Possibly as a reflection of the demand for technical jobs, in urban areas, there were more F2 secondary schools than F1s.  Similarly, there is rationale or logic for industries to have a say on the education curriculum because they are the end users of those who graduate from the education system.

At the moment, we are assigning the same workload to all students regardless of their intellectual abilities. Most industries in Zimbabwe need a workforce with a technical rather than an academic aptitude, although we might need a few of the academically gifted in leadership positions.

Taking into consideration the aforementioned, I am therefore appealing to all key stakeholders in the education system to think seriously about 'the same-glove-fit-all' approach that we are presently using. Through my research, I unearthed that the Republic of Ireland uses a two-tier approach (Higher and Ordinary Level) in most subjects for its Leaving Certificate (more or less equivalence of 'A' Levels in Zimbabwe). Students who opt to do, for instance, Ordinary Level Mathematics do less demanding topics in their syllabus compared to those who do the Higher Level in Mathematics.

If we were to explore this approach further, we could consider giving students in former Upper Tops or the present day Rural Day Secondary Schools an option to write Mathematics at a Lower level. Lower Level aspirants may cover topics that do not demand a lot of abstract knowledge in Algebra and Geometry. They could do Algebra and Geometry, but leave certain topics for high performers in the Higher Level tier. The more complex abstract knowledge can be left primarily to those who are attending well-staffed and laboratory equipped. The same can be done for Science and English Language. Some students may start by doing a Higher Level syllabus. The final option at which level to sit for a subject, could be left to a collective consensus of the troika of student, parent/guardian and secondary school administrator.

Primary school teaching and learning does not require a complex abstract knowledge in Mathematics and Sciences. Therefore, those who would have passed Lower Level Mathematics and Science could still be considered to train as primary school teachers or be considered for apprenticeship, joining the security forces, the commercial sector, etc. Those with Higher Level Mathematics, Science and English Language can be considered for enrolment in schools offering 'A' Levels, thereafter, proceed to universities. Those who fail to make the grade to enrol in universities may train as secondary school teachers as is the norm now or try other progression routes open to them.

The good or consoling thing about Education Secretary's announcement or "Circular" is that it states that one of the compulsory subjects is 'a science subject'. I interpreted the phrase to mean any of the following subjects: General Science, Integrated Science, Co-Science, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Physics with Chemistry, Physical Science, Human and Social Biology, etc. Teaching and learning of Human and Social Biology, especially in rural areas, is overlooked by the Ministry of Education although the subject has an added advantage of being capable to be taught and learnt with or without complex laboratory equipment. Topics in Human and Social Biology cover a lot that applies to rural communities and those with passes in the subject are best suited to train in Nursing and other allied health professions.

In my opinion, I consider the approach that I have discussed above to be inclusive and capable to close the gap between the marginalised and advantaged groups. It is democratic, student-centred and could reduce failure rates in under-staffed and poorly equipped rural day secondary schools. Furthermore, the approach seems effective and sustainable, and could optimise on the use of scarce financial and human resources within the Zimbabwean education system. My vision of an inclusive education system is informed by past experiences and literature that I sieved through written about education systems around the world, although it is not necessarily a research project. Finally, I would like explicitly state that my observations and recommendations are not foolproof, and can be further enhanced by collective input by all key stakeholders that I have cited above.

Akim Zwelibanzi can be contacted on

Source - Akim Zwelibanzi
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