Schools need to advise kids on examinations

23 Jan, 2023 - 00:01 0 Views
Schools need to advise kids on examinations Mr Sanele Nyanga

The Chronicle

Mbuso Ndlovu, Feature

The recent announcement of Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) Advanced Level results has been followed by a debate among educationists and parents. This is because over the last few years, a trend of pupils sitting for more than three subjects at A-Level has been taking root. The standard Advanced Level examination is three subjects. Three As (15 points) from three subjects is the ultimate and uniform measure of the highest excellence. In both Zimsec and Cambridge examinations, pupils have been scoring unusually high marks of late with Zimsec this year recording one pupil attaining 10 As out of 10 subjects while Cambridge had a pupil with five As in five subjects.


Why are candidates pushing themselves to the limits? Is it abundance of resources in cash and time? Or lack of entertainment and friends?

Scientist and author, Professor Arthur Mutambara says one can say the 20 or 35 pointer has differentiated someone from the rest. However, he goes on to say, taking more than three subjects is not the standard format of A-Level examinations. Very few pupils do that.

More importantly, when they do not take more than three subjects, that must not count against them in terms of excellence. In other words, a 20 pointer is not necessarily more intelligent than a 15 pointer who sat for the required three subjects only.

So who is at fault when pupils seem unaware of the university requirements? School heads say they’re given a list of examinable subjects by Zimsec, who pass the buck onto the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. The CDU designs syllabi for all subjects. They’re responsible for splitting Mathematics into four “subjects” which doesn’t benefit the pupils at all. For instance, Statistics, Pure Maths, Mechanics and Applied Maths are four different subjects at Zimsec but colleges take them as one. So if a candidate scores As in all four, they may claim to have 20 points but colleges say that’s only one subject so it’s only five points.

The University of Zimbabwe’s school of Medicine and Health Sciences selects students based on grades in Chemistry and any other two subjects among Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Zoology, for example. Since we now have more than a thousand candidates getting more than 15 points from more than three subjects, that doesn’t help those with low grades in Chemistry. Say one pupil scores four As in Chemistry, Biology, Pure Maths and Applied Maths, that’s 15 points as the Maths variables will be counted as one subject. There’s no advantage therefore that he has 20 points on paper. Chemistry weighs more in that if a candidate scores a B (four points) in Chemistry but As in nine other subjects, he will have 14 points since only three subjects including Chemistry will be considered. If he does five subjects and gets four As and a D (two points) in Chemistry, the UZ doesn’t consider that as 22 points but 12 points only.

In the Law Faculty, there has been hundreds of applicants with more than 15 points but only three subjects are considered. Of late 15 points from three subjects is no longer shocking so universities have to interview potential students. Taking more than three subjects doesn’t increase a student’s chances but they must concentrate on the relevant subjects to maximise their efforts.
The interviews, according to a university registrar cited in some sections of the media, are designed to “weed out potential delinquencies and those who would’ve been pushed to do Medicine (or any other studies) by their parents when they don’t really intend to by themselves”. They also check for crucial communication skills as some schools concentrate on book work but ignore to groom their students.

Are schools and Zimsec unaware of college requirements? What informs the CDU decisions, for instance, Geography as a subject now has a Statistics component. Statistics is a Maths variable that’s useful whenever research is carried out thus potentially it features in all subjects. But will it be necessary in future to have Geographical Statistics or Historical Statistics like we have Economic History? Where do we stop before we have students studying three degrees at the same time?

Our education system has been the envy of many on the continent but we risk losing it all. The CDU must not try to justify their presence by constantly tinkering with the syllabi. If it’s working, don’t fix it please.

Some parents were of the opinion that taking more than three subjects created more opportunities “beyond Medicine at UZ”. Mr Peter Runesu, a former teacher at Founders High and Milton High schools feels pupils are not being advised correctly by their parents and teachers.

Mr Peter Runesu

Continuous assessment of pupils is supposed to assist teachers in measuring pupils’ potential. As for Zimsec, it boils down to making money. The more subjects each candidate sits for means a bonus to Zimsec staff.

Mr Joseph Mugabe, a Kadoma farmer and property developer, quipped, “a waste of money, time and energy” when asked what he thought on the subject. A colleague, Sanele Nyanga who is also a university student, says there’s a need for parents, teachers and pupils to discuss the subject combinations well before examination registration.

He feels schools and pupils were now focusing on prestige so that they can brag that they attained so many As and newspaper coverage is not helping at all. Once one school records a chain of As and receives the Education Ministry Secretary’s Bell Award, be assured that neighbouring schools will not be watching passively but get down to work.

The recent examination leakage can be traced to this unhealthy competition among schools for the bragging rights. Unfortunately, the brightest pupils are forced to carry the school’s expectations on their shoulders, similar to star players in sport.

Pupils must enjoy studying and not be burdened by societal expectations at such a young age. Career guidance that used to be imparted at school with pupils visiting colleges on Open Day must be revived. It demoralises children when they have to change courses several times at college during the first semester before settling for one.

Prof Mutambara warns that Ivy League colleges such as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Stanford are unlikely to take seriously any applicant with more than 15 points. He says they may suspect grades inflation and the United Kingdom has several examination boards that compete to minimise the scourge of grades inflation. He argues that it can’t be that our students are getting brighter but it could be the standard of the examination, the marking system and grading.

Mr Mugabe says even in the UK, examinations do leak and are thoroughly investigated but we have a Zimsec that will not consider investigating leakages at its printing and setting levels. Zimsec diverts attention to schools yet it’s clear that schools can only access marking schemes from Zimsec staff at its Norton printing press. Why does Zimsec not call in the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to ferret its systems? We can’t rule out grades inflation. It has been seen in South Africa where a normally failing mark is actually celebrated as a Matric pass hence mediocre Zimbabwean students are receiving accolades at South African universities.

Time lost is never recovered and everyone must sincerely advise our high scholars while there is still time.

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