SINCE the beginning of the Form One entrance examinations season this year,
(the season starts mid-May and lasts until the end of the second term) Gladys Mazhoni has attended four sessions, and next week she will be at a fifth school.
At each session, she has paid US$20 to the schools and this figure excludes transport and food expenses.
Her twin brother Gladmore has attended two and next week he will attend his third. The most he has paid to take the entrance tests was US$30 and their father, Mr Filback Mazhoni, said if both fail now, he is abandoning the whole exercise.
“I don’t know what to call this. Schools are fleecing parents with these Form One entrance tests. The major culprits are the popular schools. How can a school in its earnest invite 2 500 pupils to fight for 80 Form One places and ask each pupil to pay US$20 each?” queried a dejected Mr Mazhoni.
Parents with children sitting Grade Seven public examinations seeking to transition to secondary education have accused some boarding school heads of ripping them off and illegally fund-raising through Form One entrance examinations.
As has become the norm in Zimbabwe, parents and their children hop from one school to another around this time in search of entrance tests that would guarantee a Form One place the following year.
But the entrance tests come with a cost as each pupil has to pay between US$20 and US$55 per sitting. The amount is termed “administrative fees”. The pupils have to bring their own pen, pencil, rubber, ruler and such items as may be needed for the tests.
The parents have accused the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture authorities of complicity in the rip-off as they seem to have failed to tame the jungle that the Form One entrance examinations have become.
They say the ministry should enforce the use of the Grade Seven public examination results as the measure for entrance to Form One.
“Pupils cannot proceed to Form Five before these results are released. The same with those wishing to enroll for tertiary education. And we know how late the Ordinary and Advanced level results are released. Parents and school authorities patiently wait. Why hurry the Grade Seven ones? This is promotion of corruption,” said an irate parent, Mr Isaac Chinyani.
But Deputy Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Cde Lazarus Dokora said there was nothing wrong with the entrance tests.
“Entrance tests are acceptable. The fees have to be within a reasonable range. A simple mission school cannot demand US$100 as entrance fees. A school that wishes to enroll 100 pupils can invite up to 300 to 400 pupils, not anything more than that.
“In fact, the school development assemblies agree with the school authorities on how much to charge and they apply and get approval from the ministry. It is up to the parents at a particular school to demand to know how these funds are used,” said Deputy Minister Dokora.
Parents insist it is unfair for their children to be invited in their thousands at one school competing for only 80 or 100 vacancies.
“At one school where my child recently sat for a Form One entrance test, there were 2 500 and each child paid US$20. They were asked to bring a pen, pencil, ruler and rubber, except for writing paper. The school only needed 100 pupils. Simple arithmetic shows the school made US$50 000 on just that day,” said Mr Chinyani, whose daughter has so far attended two entrance test sessions.
Cde Dokora said in some instances parents are to blame for wanting to take their children to schools that are far off their local area.
“The search is on for a good school with a track record for good results. But parents can help their local schools to match those schools so they do not need to travel to faraway places in search of a better school,” he said.
He applauded recent efforts by some Hurungwe parents who demanded that two teachers at their local school be expelled after they got a zero percent pass rate for
their Grade Seven classes. This, after they had demanded incentives.
A retired educationist who declined to be identified said the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture was letting the nation down by not putting its foot down.
“The authorities know the corruption surrounding the issue of Form One entrance tests, but are unwilling to act. They seem to connive with favoured headmasters in this chicanery. Action must be taken and stop this nonsense,” he said.
Parents have said the selection was becoming muddied in some of these schools as those parents who were willing to pay bribes would secure the places even when their children failed.
But some parents told The Sunday Mail that there was no problem with the controversial tests.
“Entrance tests should not be stopped. Let there be competition amongst pupils and schools must be allowed to create that platform. These Grade Seven examinations you are talking about have lost credibility. In fact, high-achieving schools don’t even use them. Zimsec must first sort out issues of credibility
surrounding the Grade Seven results,” said Ms Bertha Nyamasoka, whose nephew recently sat and passed the entrance test at the Dominican Convent in Harare. Ms
Nyamasoka argued that as long as the public and the authorities have lost confidence in Zimsec Grade Seven examinations, entrance tests would remain the next best method of Form One recruitment.
“The fact that the ministry is allowing the tests means they have also lost confidence in the public examinations administered by Zimsec. Otherwise, the authorities would have insisted on using these results, just like they do for O and A level results. Problem lies with the authorities. If they stamp their foot, we won’t have them.
“If I was in charge, I would actually scrap the Grade Seven examinations as they are a waste of time. They are not serving any purpose,” said Ms Nyamasoka.
Some parents argued that the early tests actually assist them to prepare for their children’s transition.
“If my daughter secures a Form One place this June, that means I start buying her school uniforms and other items. Now, if we wait until the results are released in December, things will be too hectic,” said a mother who refused to be identified.