The Sunday Mail
IN the 20 odd years that I have been in the Zimbabwean education system, with ten years spent in English remediation, I have identified a number of factors that cause students to fail their Ordinary Level English examinations.
The most important of these being the complete ignorance by most, of the importance of the subject. This article deals with the importance of English and the reasons why students fail. It also recommends solutions for parents of pupils who wrote in 2018 but did not do well in the subject.
Why is it imperative to pass English?
You cannot proceed to Advanced Level without an English pass mark.
You cannot go to tertiary level without the same.
English is an official language in Zimbabwe.
English is the medium of instruction in Zimbabwe and this is why there is a compulsory English course at every level, from Grade Seven to university.
I vividly recall attending English language and communication skills classes as an Advanced Level student at a catholic girl’s high school, at Hillside Teacher’s College and at Africa University.
An ‘F’ in any one of these courses meant the end of the road.
What causes students to fail?
Some schools opt to engage first language speakers who lack the proper teaching qualifications.
Fundamental aspects of teaching pedagogy in reading and writing are ignored at elementary level, leading to problems later on.
Some students do not master the fundamentals of grammar at primary level.
Primary school children are being taught using the functional approach in primary school, which creates problems when the pupils make the switch from English as a second language taught at grade seven to English as a first language, which has its own methodology.
The Cambridge English exam is for first language speakers, making it difficult for most students as very few of them have it as their mother tongue.
A few schools still have the compulsory library period to encourage a reading culture, leading to poor reading and writing skills.
With the computer age, most pupils opt to be on social networks, for example WhatsApp and Facebook or on music channels, rather than read.
Some Cambridge students in Zimbabwe have the wrong mindset that only students from a certain class can fail English, and not them. This kind of mindset leads to a laissez- faire attitude, until they get a rude awakening.
Most pupils prefer movies over novels, but stories in motion picture do not assist them with how to write using different styles or extend their vocabulary base.
Students have the common notion that English is common sense therefore it does not deserve a place on their study timetable.
Students who struggle with English develop a negative attitude, meaning that they simply don’t try at all.
Students have challenges with grammar, vocabulary, spelling and sentence construction.
Students no longer have social situations in which they can practice writing skills, for example letter writing has been replaced by email whilst letters to the radio have been replaced by messages on WhatsApp or Twitter, etc.
Some parents no longer buy books for their children, opting to buy gadgets such as phones.
Students no longer understand the importance of a dictionary and may not even own one.
Some foreign students have English as their third or fourth language.
Parents do not act swiftly to introduce remediation when they see that their child is struggling.
Recommendations for students rewriting in 2019
Be of good cheer, failure is not fatal.
Know that there is always a second chance.
Discuss the way forward with your parents.
Register to rewrite at a reputable college
Find a college by recommendation based on pass rate.
Do not study by yourself, attend classes till you rewrite.
It is more advisable to take one on one sessions with a private tutor.
If your mark is a ‘‘D’’, attempt again in June.
If you have a ‘‘U’’, it is better to write in November so that you have the whole year to prepare.
Take your report from Form Four to your tutor, together with your old exercise books and exam scripts from Form Four so they can assess you.
Revise via past exam papers, which can be downloaded from www.extremepapers.com
Work on grammar using the Step Ahead Series.
In my quest to assist students who are rewriting exams to ensure that they pass the second time around, I discovered the “Cambridge Tornado One on One Program”, which received rave reviews from the parents of students who I interviewed.
A certain young man was able to move from a ‘‘U’’ to a ‘‘C’’ in just one month of remediation, whilst others improved in varying degrees. My last words to the parents is that do not be too hard on your beloved children. lnstead, give them a second chance to rise from the ashes like the phoenix. They will shine the second time around. The Language Coach specialises in the tuition of Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge Checkpoint.
Theodora Chirapa can be contacted on e-mail [email protected]