Leroy Dzenga and Talent Gore —
Having faced severe criticism for grooming textbook professionals, whose mastery does not stretch beyond the classroom walls, education policymakers have come up with a response method aimed at fixing the anomaly. The just started 2017 school year will see the second stage in the shift to the new curriculum — the implementation stage.
It is in this stage where the ideas formulated in the curriculum will start being practically applied in the education sector. Observers say the move is set to transform the primary and secondary sector in Zimbabwe.
Key among the elements is the continuous assessment model which will be applied starting this year. According to the narrative report by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education on the new curriculum, pupils’ aptitude will no longer be tested solely by public examinations.
“Continuous assessment combined with other assessment strategies such as end of term assessments and public examinations must be implemented in the new curriculum,” reads the report.
The model will be similar to the one in tertiary institutions where a students’ performance is measured through marks accumulated over the semester and a final examination result.
“Learners completing every form should be provided with a school leaver track report as proof that they have completed a particular level at such a skill grid which can be used for further education or employment,” the report continues.
Various innovative methods will be used to assess pupils depending on the level. The ministerial report further reads that: “Continuous assessment is formative, process-oriented, informal, internal, learner involved, and or self-referenced in nature. It can take the form of daily work, for example essays and quizzes and practical laboratory work.”
The Ministry says the major advantage of continuous assessment is the prospect of an everyday evaluation of learner performance. However, the continuous assessment system will not entirely replace the public examinations system which the country has employed since Independence.
“Public examinations must be complemented by other methods such as school based assessments. Assessment must account for a broader range of skills and competence,” the report said.
Parents however, are warming up to the idea, saying it will give students with technical abilities a chance to prove their mettle. Mr Jason Nyambudzi, a father whose two sons are in primary school, lauded the development.
“If the programme allows students to be tested as they learn, this will give students who are gifted in other ways a chance to shine,” he said.
Mr Nyambudzi said the absence of continuous assessment was the difference between the developing and the developed world.
“Talent needs to be identified at a very early age, this will allow the students to direct their efforts towards areas they are comfortable in.
“Sometimes children are destined to be football players or artistes but we force them to follow the conventional academic path, limiting their potential in the process,” Mr Nyambudzi said.
Mrs Chiedza Madenga said the model was the best way to promote creative thinking among pupils.
“Truth is, everyone is different and sometimes public examinations are not a true measure of a child’s capabilities.
“Forcing them to achieve the same things at school will turn them into identical academic zombies who do not have much to offer the country.
“With Zimbabwe driving towards value addition through the ZimAsset blueprint, innovative pupils are key in changing the country’s prospects.”
She said since people are living in a dynamic world where things are changing every day, especially through technology, children need as many skills as they can acquire.
“The current job market requires people with multiple skills as organisations are continuously looking to cut costs,” she said.
“Teachers know the children better, like we always say that they are second parents to their pupils.”
Mrs Madenga said bearing that in mind teachers’ exclusion from that child’s final assessment does not give a true reflection of that child’s ability and behaviour.
She, however, questioned how the move would affect pupils who sit for international examinations like the Cambridge Examination Board.
Experts said the move would revolutionise local education and change the calibre of local academic products.
Educationist and senior lecturer in the Department of Technical Education at University of Zimbabwe, Dr Peter Kwaira, praised the idea.
“Continuous assessment is a noble idea, it removes the unwanted element of regurgitation of information which makes our students look knowledgeable when they, in fact, know nothing,” he said.
Professor Kwaira said sometimes parents are under the impression that their children are academically sound yet they would have crammed to beat the examination system.
“The beauty of continuous assessment is that it is more natural and realistic. Everyday learning circumstances put students under examination and it paints a true picture of their abilities,” he said.
Dr Kwaira stressed the need to even out resource allocation in the education sector if the continuous assessment is to produce homogeneous students.
“The authorities must also think of the importance of creating a balance between rural and urban schools so that students from a certain demographic will not have an unfair advantage over others,” Dr Kwaira said.
His fears were that if the practical skills provided by continuous assessment are different, they will act as a classification measure for students. Something that goes against the unifying element education is known for.
Dr Kwaira believes that as far as improving life skills go, continuous assessment is the best method.
“The idea is premised on giving a realistic measure of performance. I have seen the curriculum and it touches on social realities like HIV and if students are taught how to deal with cases of that nature, it will remove ills like stigma and discrimination in children at an early age,” he added.
Mr Maxwell Rafamoyo, the Education Coalition’s national coordinator, praised the initiative, describing it as noble.
“It is a good idea basing on the fact that teachers will be assessing the learners during the course of the term rather than just to wait for final exams,” he said.
Questions were raised on the teachers’ readiness to lead the process.
“I am not sure if the teachers are ready to implement the new system since this is the first time it is being introduced into the education sector,” said Mr Rafamoyo.
He said as long as there are teachers and adequate resources, the education sector should not face any challenges with the continuous assessment.
“I don’t think we are going to face any problems if the assessments are conducted properly. The Ministry of Education in conjunction with Zimsec have to engage with parents and teachers so that they understand what this new initiative is all about,” he said.
He also said the initiative would not disadvantage those learning in the rural areas since all schools in the country follow one curriculum. Teachers have also warmed up to the concept saying it stands to benefit both students and their tutors.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) chief executive officer Mr Sifiso Ndlovu said continuous evaluation has always been a part of our education system.
“Continuous assessment is not a new development, continuous assessment has always been there. We should not be worried about its existence but the form it takes in the new Zimbabwe scenario,” Mr Ndlovu said.
He said all keen observers in the education sector should embrace the system as it presents better assessment than the conventional exam setting.
“No single person can be adjudicated on a single sitting; it simply is not enough to measure someone’s aptitude fairly,” he said.
Continuous assessment presents both teachers and students with the opportunity to adapt to the new global environment.
“The concept allows a child to be assessed from kindergarten up until high school. It also gives teachers a chance to improve through professional development as they accommodate new student needs,” he said.
He described professional development of teachers as a prerequisite for any idea to be implemented. Mr Ndlovu emphasised the need for equity and equality in the local education sector, if the new curriculum is to be smoothly implemented.
“Issues of equity and equality must be addressed in the distribution of resources.
“The resources in question also include teachers. You find that tutors in rural and urban schools usually have different resources at their disposal or even qualification,” he said.
He added that there should be well trained and qualified teachers for every student if continuous assessment and other facets of the curriculum are to bear fruit.
Local examination handlers at primary and secondary level, ZIMSEC, said they could not comment to the press on the intricacies of their collaboration with the Ministry as there are ongoing discussions between the parties.
The ever-changing 21st century world requires students who can adapt easily and continuous assessment is an essential way of ensuring that they respond to changes with ease.
Universities have been employing the method for some time and it has worked smoothly. This may be a good omen for the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education that their innovation has an effective precedent to follow.