The low-down on curriculum reforms

Following a media briefing in Harare last week where Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora made a presentation on what he later described as an updated curriculum, rather than a new one, our Assistant Editor Wendy Nyakurerwa interviewed him on the many issues of concern raised by the public in recent months. Dr Dokora clarified several issues including the use of languages, Religious Studies and the cap on Ordinary Level subjects.
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Q: What is the motivation behind the reforms in the education sector?
A: We are broadening the curriculum to avoid zero percent pass rates.
We were forcing every child to be academic of which vana vese havasi academic veduwe, ngatizvinzwisise. Children have different interests; some like dancing, some like arts. Look at (Dominic) Benhura: he was never taught sculpting in our schools but his talent has taken him the world over. Imagine if our schools were teaching sculpting?
But these are just learning areas – a grouping of adjacent disciplines. So the schools should have the capacity to teach sculpting, dancing, music and so on. This generation that we are now teaching will become an empowered one.
We are not making these changes wholesale. We have specified that out of the nine grades at primary school, the majority of the grades continue on the old curriculum, except the three added.
We are only working with ECD A, Grade 1 and 3. In the lower level, ECD B is not affected; Grade 2 is not affected, so is Grades 4 to 7. Secondary, it’s just three levels again Forms 1, 3 and 5. The others continue as before.
If you walk to any school and ask them of the new curricula, chances are high that you will be talking to a person who doesn’t know what that is because they are not part of the grades or forms that are now on the new curriculum.
The majority are not affected, the old ones are continuing with the old curriculum.
Q: There is need for clarity on the usage of languages in schools. Do we have the capacity to teach the children in all their mother tongues? In what language(s) do they write exams?
A: Since 1980, we have a policy that states that children in the infant stage should be taught in the local language. It has always been there but we don’t know why people continue to push their agendas and pretend as if something catastrophic has happened. It only applies to infants.
(Holding the Ministry of Education Infants’ Syllabus for Religious and Moral Education) This is a 1987 copy which shows that Shona and Ndebele were recommended for use at the infant stage.
(The document reads: “Although these resources supporting this syllabus are in English, it is intended that the lessons are taught in the language best understood by the class. This means the subject will be taught in either Shona or Ndebele in the vast majority of our schools. This does not mean that some simple songs and other activities could not be attempted in English by all children.”)
Now, the new Constitution legalised 16 languages. So it’s no longer about Shona and Ndebele only, but about all local languages. We should be proud to develop our own indigenous languages and market them.
Shona and Shangani are already spoken in other countries like Mozambique and South Africa, why not market them?
Exams do not even apply at this stage so translation does not come into play.
All I have done with my expert teams is that we are taking our pupils at ECD level at four years where they will be talking about family, friends, rivers, cars and computers, among other things so that they can socialise.
When they go to the junior school which starts at Grade 3, that’s where we incorporate the old content that we already have and this has been restructured to conform to the maturational age of the children.
Q: In terms of religious education, can you clarify on the reforms?
A: Again these were provided for in the 1987 policy — it is not a new provision.
There are not going to be any sermons in the schools; those are places of learning. We are not converting our children to be Hindus, no.
They live in the same world with people of different religious beliefs and therefore they need to understand each other.
The families can then take their children to where they think there’s real baptism or whatever they want, it’s not schools’ task to choose for them.
Q: There is an outcry concerning the maximum number of subjects for O-Level. What is the ministry’s position on that? Why set a maximum instead of a minimum?
A: Ten subjects is not the maximum, it’s the optimum for the students. There are some who are doing 17 or even 20 O-Level subjects. We cannot limit those, but ten subjects is the optimum.
What people should appreciate is that I have proved in many ways that we can streamline activities in the ministry and produce good results. There is proof at Grade 7, O level and A-Level.
Our worry is we have kids coming out with shining grades but have nothing useful in terms of skills.
Q: Can we expect such a threshold for A level?
A: Nobody should do less than three subjects at A-Level but we allow them to do more.
What we have placed on the pathways is the universality of ICTs. This is an area of study; we have got software engineering as an addition to the number of subjects that they are doing.
ICT is not a skill, it’s simply an ability; whether you are doing agriculture, etc. No kids should be prevented from learning those areas. ICT is a universal call, so is physical education and sport.
Those in the STEM disciplines can be studying Physical Education and may focus particularly in Sport Science. They might want to become doctors.
Q: Most of the reforms sound a lot like they coming are from the Ministry of Psychomotor . . .
A: It’s not just one ministry developing this programme. We had an inter-ministerial group and it included the Ministries of Psychomotor; Higher and Tertiary Education; Youth; and — at various points — that of Woman’s Affairs.
Q: But then there is concern that we now have too many reforms that are coming too fast in the education sector . . .
A: There are three levels affected at primary level, is that too many? What does the Constitution say? We need to take it one by one so that you tell me which ones to avoid?
Q: When we consider that we are operating on a limited budget, the concern is that we are spreading our resources too thinly on too many initiatives . . .
A: Parents contribute US$1,2 billion every year. That is the money that goes directly into the hands of SDCs. Teachers are paid the tune of US$900 million, that brings the money in the education sector to US$2,1 billion.
I then top up with what I get from education partners. With these kinds of figures we can do anything so nothing should stop us from implementing our programs.
This is why we are sending auditors because every dollar should be accounted for. Even if you collect US$200 at your school, we should know how that money has been used.
Parents pay money for their children to have good education, books, feed, among many other things they might want to use at school. All the programs we are introducing are good for our country, our people.
Q: Reports say the audits unearthed underhand dealings. What has the ministry done in that area?
A: We have dismissed a number of school heads. I don’t have the statistics here but some senior teachers who were acting heads at satellite schools have been dismissed.
The last report I got was that nine heads had been dismissed last year, others are still at various stages of being taken through the hearings. We don’t just dismiss them summarily. They get proper hearings, they defend themselves and then the ministry as a disciplinary authority, makes a determination and then recommends to the employer a separation or some kind of sanction.
But it’s not just my school heads who get involved in these things, even the SDCs. If SDCs are caught on the wrong side of the law, it’s criminal law that takes precedence there.
They do things that are unprocedural, siphoning money from the schools, trying to purchase buses through underhand dealings and so on.
A lot of things happened there; buses would cost twice what they should cost because of certain things that were happening off line. Nobody is clean as far as these finances are concerned and that’s why I say audits are a permanent feature. Every school should expect to be audited.
Q: Are the Nziramasanga Commission recommendations still relevant in 2017?
A: There are things that Nziramasanga recommended which when we look at today’s set up are no longer relevant.
For example one of the recommendations suggested that we should buy second-hand computers for some schools. Today we say no to that because tablets have become cheaper.
We have a school near Gateway School; they do not have books in the conventional sense, they are all loaded on tablets. Around 2010, Falcon in Bulawayo started asking their students, as part of their admission requirements, to bring laptops to school.
A curriculum framework enables all this to happen so that schools don’t say it’s only for private schools. They now know that going this direction is acceptable, they will take different rates of arriving at that eventuality but they have to maintain levels.
I gave an example this morning of some schools who lock up computers that were donated by His Excellency President Mugabe for “safe-keeping”. We can’t continue with a system that does that, it’s counterproductive.
For 18 years, the Head of State has been pushing computers in school systems. In 2013, we checked and we found about 9 000 laptops and desktops that were usable in the schools. You can’t ignore that. And yet in the same year, a mere 1 600 sat for the computer examination. So what does it mean?
It tells you a story and the story was very clear to me, we have computers that are not being used in schools.
Q: What about capacitating teachers?
A: One of the resources — the teachers themselves — need staff development. So until you make it part of a framework, they will not try to learn.
They will simply say, well it’s a resource we have (the computers).
So do I have to wait until all the teachers have become literate in ICT? So when you say there are too many changes, we are enabling, creating an enabling environment.
Ive nhange-mutange yekuita zvakanaka for our children. Nekuti tikangogara, kungoti ngatingo gara tiri zvatanga takaita, we will be producing more kids who will be on the streets and they will quarrel with us.
Q: Apart from the Nziramasanga Commission, where are we getting all these ideas? Where have they been successful?
A: There is only one very key source. The ubiquitousness of ICT, is that a secret? It’s a frontier that our people must colonise as well and be innovators, not just recipients of packaged software and so on.
They must be developers.
That’s why you find at Form 5 we have Software Engineering. By the time these kid who do Software Engineering for two years get into university, I can tell you by that time some of them already know how to set-up their little smartphones, their little tablets and so on.
So it must be exciting to be a learner in our age. That’s what we are saying.
At Independence we expanded our system. We collapsed the F1 and F2 into one, but when we look at that one which remained, its predominantly the academic stream virtually closing out opportunities for those that could not remember the tallest mountain in Africa, the longest river in Africa, the Pythagoras theorem; and you have to remember that at the end of the fourth year.
So we did that and didn’t inform our system that we needed to peg our own curriculum reform cycle which is a refreshing edition to the current framework. To say, every seven years we should be able to re-look at our system. Those things that are okay, we consolidate, those things that need some tweaking, we should be able to tweak them but at least the system is not a slumbering system, no.
And when you hear me say we have 30 percent pass rate at O-Level, you must say to yourself, what is going to happen to the 70 percent?
I am happy the pass rate is going up, because we have never been where we are now because we have said teachers must do their job, parents support your children, school heads work on your marks and the inspectorate, do your task and that has seen this upward trend of the examination results.
From eight percent, from six percent and so on.
But I am still an unhappy minister to preside over those that are failing to get the five credits, but of course I applaud those that are in the 30 percent who are doing well.
The A-Level pass rate is a much more comfortable figure.
But not everyone goes for A-Level; it’s a select few and those few are continuing to perform well. And girls are continuing to outshine boys. We want to have balance.
Q: Is the examinations body following suit?
A: So are we talking of a system that has collapsed? No. We are talking about a resilient system and I have cleaned up Zimsec. Did you hear of any breach of an examination security?
And we are continuing that trajectory to get ZIMSEC to begin the journey of ISO certification. That is where we are going.
We are beginning the purchase of their equipment so that they can stop their new equipment at Norton which means from generating examination items, printing them, distributing them; it will be Zimsec and the ministry completely in control. I am going for a zero breach of security so that the examination system continues to be credible and internationally sound.
Q: Why is the National Pledge in English, especially at a time we are promoting our languages?
A: The National Pledge should be translated, that’s an easy question to answer. We have actually done the paperwork to advertise for the translations as we want the translations into 15 languages.
When I was in Chegutu, some young people came to me and said that the process is too slow. We should have the pledge in our languages so that we can have an appreciation of our own things.
Q: What’s the ministry’s position concerning Scripture Union?
A: Nothing ever came from the ministry on that issue; it was a media creation that we cannot comment on.
Q: Should the nation expect any more reforms to the curriculum?
A: We are only implementing Phase 2 of the curriculum, nothing new is coming. I summarise by reference to His Excellency’s citation. He refers to reforms in education, and he refers to accountabilities in the sector. Now when you put those two words together it means we must work together in our different forms of participation — the parents, teachers, learners and businesspeople.

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  • Observer

    True, I think the revised curriculum is a good move. We cannot continue with a slumbering, colonial system. Let us embrace change for the better of our country. Zimbabwe can never become competitive when we remain theoretical and resist progressive change.