Christopher Farai Charamba Review Correspondent
Famed American educationist and politician Horace Mann once said that “Education … beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equaliser of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”
In line with Mann’s statement, education is seen as a priority by many governments and people around the world.
The Zimbabwean Constitution, for example, in Chapter 2 Article 27 states that “the State must take all practical measures to promote free and compulsory education for all children; and higher and tertiary education.
On December 10, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 217 A, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 26 of the UN Declaration reads; “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”
The article in subsection three goes on to state that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
But what happens when parents are denied the opportunity to choose which school their child should attend?
What is the best means for schools to screen prospective students to ensure that each child is given a fair opportunity at accessing the sort of education they want?
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora made a decision to scrap Form One entrance tests and enrol pupils on one day based on their Zimsec Grade Seven results. The Ministry set Friday December 4, 2015 as the date for all prospective students to enrol for Form One.
As of yesterday there were still children without a place for Form One. Stranded parents were desperately looking for schools to enrol their children.
Top schools like Goromonzi had attracted some 600 hopeful students on the Friday but were unable to take them all as the school can accommodate only 100 students.
Despite their arguably noble motives, the Ministry’s plan backfired and has left parents and students in a far worse position than before when entrance tests were a means of screening potential students.
Minister Dokora outlawed the practice of entrance tests saying that it was discriminatory.
“Parents were being subjected to unnecessary financial burden through the payment of the non-refundable entrance test fees or travelling from school to school,” he said.
But leaving the enrolment of form one pupils to a single working day has left parents in a no better position.
The criticism comes from the fact that most parents will rush to schools they consider top in hopes of securing a place at the best school for their child as in the case of Goromonzi.
Should they fail to get a place there on that single day they then have to try another school in whatever time is left or settle for an option they might not be happy with. This has a risk of seeing top students ending up at schools without adequate facilities to cater for their academic needs.
Some parents complained that the ministry directive came after they had already paid for entrance tests and secured places for their children.
“I paid $10 entrance examinations fees at each of the four schools where my child wrote an entrance test in order to secure a boarding place and now that the ministry has set a date what must we do as we had already secured places?” asked Mrs Bhebhe while speaking to Chronicle journalists.
The move to scrap entrance fees and tests is certainly one that has merit as education is a basic human right and a child should not be impeded from receiving it based on their financial status. The fact that free education is enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe means that Government should do everything within its power to uphold this mandate.
By removing entrance tests it levels the playing field for students, particularly those who despite their intellectual capacity and ability, might not be able to make it to the school they desire to write the test based on economic reasons.
This will also prioritise the local Zimsec examinations as those results will be the basis and main criteria used to select students.
Parents and teachers can then know that a child is focusing only on the national curriculum and examinations rather than having to worry about extra lessons for high school entrance tests.
However, the manner in which the ministry has taken its corrective measures deserves some critic.
One day is certainly not enough time to enrol all Form One pupils nationwide as evidenced by the current situation that is taking place and has left parents and students stranded.
The fact that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education selected a single working day for enrolment means that many parents had no choice but to abandon their work stations due to a forced need to enrol their child for form one.
In an attempt to save parents from incurring extra costs in trying to find a place for Form One for their child, the ministry can find that the opportunity cost of single day enrolment is equal to that which parents had traditionally been paying.
Speaking to The Herald, Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister said that pupils who failed to secure places on Friday will naturally be enrolled at schools that were not overwhelmed by prospective students.
“We expected that enrolment would not happen in one day. Obviously the best schools attracted many pupils. And so naturally there is going to be a process of rationalisation where schools that are not full are going to absorb those who would have failed to get places from the schools of their choice,” he said
The downside of this is that some students might be absorbed into schools which they did not want to go to or that are far from where they reside adding additional costs and concerns to parents.
If the ministry had foreseen the issue surrounding the single day enrolment and left the process to continue till the end of this week then they should have found better means to the situation that is progressing now.
One solution would be for Grade Seven pupils to select and apply to a set number of schools that they would like to go to. These applications are then vetted by teachers at their school and at the prospective high schools and the students and parents are informed in advance whether their child has been accepted.
This option is easier on parents and leaves the decision of placing students in the hands of educators.
It also removes any potential corruption of parents bribing headmasters as all correspondence takes place among schools. Parents only choose a list of potential schools they would like their child to go to.
The current situation that sees parents scrambling to schools looking for a place for their child is inefficient and cannot be allowed to continue. The ministry needs to reassess its policy and come up with a better strategy that is accommodative of parents, schools and especially the children.
Feedback: [email protected]