EDUCATION: Grade 7 exam fee debate

Rural pupils to be hardest hit
We are cash-strapped: Zimsec
Calls to scrap Grade 7 exams
Concerns have been raised as to the logic of asking poverty-stricken children like these, at Chingwizi Primary School, pay Grade 7 examination fees
Concerns have been raised as to the logic of asking poverty-stricken children like these, at Chingwizi Primary School, pay Grade 7 examination fees

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number two which advocates that every child in the world should — starting this year — be able to complete a full course of primary education is vital as it is central to meeting all the other MDGs.

It is even more vital in sub-Saharan Africa where most countries are struggling to defeat poverty and diseases such as Aids, malaria and Ebola.

Because of that, there is a general consensus among African leaders that educating children gives the next generation the tools to fight these adversities.

It was probably through such an understanding that Zimbabwe, like many other United Nations members, consented to the MDGs blueprint.

However, several rights groups and parents are concerned that the introduction of Grade 7 examination fees might erode all the gains achieved so far.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Dr Lazarus Dokora, has said that the fees are meant to financially cushion the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec).

Rights groups believe it is the State’s obligation to meet the costs of education as prescribed in the Constitution.

According to the Zimbabwean Constitution Chapter 2 section 27 (1) (a): “The State must take all practical measures to promote free and compulsory basic education for children . . .”

While some parents welcomed the move, a lot said economic hardships obtaining in the country will make it very difficult for them to pay the exam fees.

Government is yet to announce the actual amount, but speculations have put the fee in the region of between $1 and $1,50 per subject.

Should Government go on with the decision at those amounts, parents will have to fork out between $4 and $6 for their children to sit for their Grade 7 exams.

“Fees in their nature are prohibitive in any society, therefore the introduction of the Grade 7 examination fees is contradicting our ambition as a nation to have free primary education for all,” said Education Coalition of Zimbabwe director Mr Maxwell Rafomoyo.

“The move will eliminate some children from accessing education since some of them come from extremely poor families.

“It does not matter what the fee will be, even if it is a dollar per subject it discriminates others because there are people who genuinely cannot raise that money.”

Mr Rafomoyo said the fee will make it difficult for the country to meet the MDG 2. Other organisations such as Tag A Life Trust (Tali) have also condemned the idea.

“It is shocking that the Government introduces these changes at a time

when the rural folk and many low income-earning communities are struggling to make ends meet,” Tali executive director, Nyaradzo Mashayamombe was quoted as saying in a local daily paper.

“The shrinking economy and rapidly closing industries have left many parents and guardians jobless, thereby leaving the majority hard pressed to survive.”

Mashayamombe said the introduction of the exam fees will force some underprivileged children to drop out of school and this will expose them to under-age marriages, child labour and other criminal activities.

Observers also say education has not been accessible to the marginalised and the introduction of the fee will widen the gap between the few elite and the majority.

“This is bad news particularly for me, I have two children writing exams this year, one is in Grade 7 and the other is in Form 4,” said a Harare vendor, Agnes Mabhowo

“After paying their exam fees I will have to pay for their third term school fees. Where will I get the money? I am just a mere vendor.”

However, despite concerns from parents and the civil community, the fact that Zimsec is financially hamstrung sticks out like a sore thumb. According to reports, the examination board has not yet fully paid last year’s Grade 7 examiners.

“Zimsec, enough is enough. Give us our marking dues as per our contracts. How will we pay exam fees for our children? A tamper proof system is nothing if markers are disgruntled,” protested one tamper proof examiner.

According to the contractual agreement, each marker was supposed to be paid 30 cents per paper marked. Each marker was supposed to mark an average of 500 to 600 papers.

As a result of the payment delays, the markers have vowed not to mark this year’s examinations without full payment from Zimsec.

This situation highlights one of the challenges that Zimsec is facing in trying to deliver credible exams. While much attention has been given to the introduction of Grade 7 exam fees, some scholars have questioned the relevance of the exams altogether. Their argument is premised on the fact that Grade 7 results, regardless of pass mark, only constitute the basic proof that someone has attended primary education and thus are not decisive.

According to some schools of thought, it is wise that the country does away with the examinations and only certify the students on completion of the course using examinations conducted at the respective schools.

Those who support this idea believe that this will save a lot of money since a certificate of completion uses far less resources than an examination certificate.

“We do not need to be spending a lot of resources examining Grade 7 pupils when only the certificate and not results count.

“What we only need is a certificate of completion which is required for one to progress to secondary school,” said a developmental expert from a local NGO.

“A student who acquires four units at Grade 7 and the one who acquires 36 units all go on to secondary school. So what use do the results provide?

“We read that about 15 primary schools had 0 percent pass rate in Matabeleland last year, but I would bet that two thirds of them are in secondary school now,” he said.

Mr Rafomoyo, however, said that Grade 7 results are relevant as they affirm that one would have gone through primary level and also reflects his or her performance at that stage.

“They are relevant because they affirm that one has actually passed through primary school. They actually test and reflect one’s performances and ability,” he said.

Mr Rafomoyo said Grade 7 examinations differ from the ZJC examinations since the latter was not formative.

Meanwhile, Government finds itself in a catch-22 situation, on one hand trying to raise money to run the exams and on the other trying to fulfil a Constitutional obligation — that of promoting free and compulsory primary education.

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