Last week government said it was changing the primary and secondary school curriculum to align the country’s educational system with changing global trends. The changes included the examining of agriculture at primary level and the teaching of pure science subjects starting from Form One.
By Moses Mugugunyeki
Grade Seven pupils were previously only examined in four subjects — English, Mathematics, Content and a vernacular languages of Shona and Ndebele, while students in junior secondary education studied Integrated Science and only started learning pure sciences at Ordinary Level. Integrated Science will now be abolished and students will learn pure sciences from Form One.
At Advanced Level, literature in indigenous languages will be introduced, in addition to literature in English and French that are already being taught.
This intent is contained in the draft curriculum framework prepared by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry led by Lazarus Dokora.
The new curriculum which is in line with the Nziramasanga Report of 1999, whose bias is towards the teaching of science subjects, vocational and technical skills training, is a noble idea. But does our government have the capacity to implement such a programme considering we have struggled to improve the standards of education in the country since independence?
Zimbabwe is glorified as having made remarkable improvements in education after attaining independence in 1980 — becoming one of the countries with the highest literacy rate in Africa — but little has been done to maintain such a status. Instead things have been falling apart.
During the early years of independence, education was regarded as a strong tool for social and economic revolution which saw the country investing heavily in the sector.
The country enjoyed a vibrant partnership with the donor community that included the Swedish International Development Cooperation (Sida), Canadian International Development Agency (Cida), United Nations development agencies such as Unicef and Unesco, among others, which poured resources into the education sector during the first decade of independence.
This was in tandem with national educational policy goals that were set in 1980, which included making education a basic human right for every child and adult. All forms of racial discrimination in the sector were abolished.
Primary education was made free and compulsory, while secondary education was provided to all citizens who needed and could afford it. The curriculum was also reviewed to correct the imbalances in education brought by the colonial regime.
Deterioration in education began to be noticed in the late 1990s when the effects of the Bretton Woods institutions’ prescribed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) began to be felt. There was a massive decline in education funding following the pulling out of key donor partners and government’s reluctance to resource the sector.
This prompted President Robert Mugabe to set up the 1999 Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training (CIET), commonly referred to as the Nziramasanga Commission.
The Commission recommended a number of issues which included the importance of Early Childhood Education, as well as the involvement of science, vocational and technical skills training.
It has taken Zimbabwe close to 15 years to implement the Nziramasanga Report and the implementation comes at a time when the country’s economy is not performing well.
The curriculum review has been long overdue and should have been finished way back before the Land Reform and other skewed policies adopted by the Zanu PF government in the past two decades.
Two years ago government introduced Early Childhood Education in line with the Nziramasanga Report, but it did not provide corresponding infrastructure to successfully implement the exercise.
Most primary schools, both in urban and rural areas, have been forced to use their meagre resources to accommodate Early Childhood Education. Overcrowding has become the order of the day, compelling most schools to split children into morning and afternoon classes.
In rural areas and farming communities, the situation is dire. There is a shortage of equipment, even of basic things like desks and textbooks. Most of the schools are dilapidated and classes are held under trees because there are not enough classrooms.
Considering challenges currently faced by the education sector, it would be a mammoth task for government to successfully implement the Nziramasanga Report, let alone the curriculum review.
The proposal contained in the draft curriculum framework that is calling for pupils to go on industrial attachment after completing their ‘O’ Levels will remain a mirage. Did the ministry consider the geographical location of some schools in the country when they drafted the curriculum framework? Where would a pupil at Dotito (Mt Darwin), Gandavaroyi (Gokwe North), Siamuchembo (Binga) and Makura (Gutu East) go for industrial training? Which companies would take those pupils in urban areas on industrial attachment when most of the companies are closing shop on a daily basis?
The same applies to the teaching of Agriculture at Grade 7. Most of the country’s primary school teachers are not trained to teach the subject. The majority of Agriculture teachers do not have teacher education qualification, which is a drawback to the successful implementation of the curriculum review.
In Zimbabwe, Belvedere Teachers College is the only training institution which offers teachers training for practical subjects. The country is already short of 30 000 teachers and it would be a Herculean task to have more for the teaching of practical subjects.
There are a number of issues that government should address before implementing this curriculum review. The review process is not an overnight programme or some political gimmick to win the votes of people, but a process that demands political will coupled by sound financial support.
Government needs to improve infrastructure and boost personnel in education. There is also need to forge partnership with the donor community for financial and material support.