We built resilience in education system

17 Sep, 2023 - 00:09 0 Views
We built resilience  in education system Ms Thabela

The Sunday Mail

Ms Tumisang Thabela (TT) recently retired from the position of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education after 43 years in the public service. She was seconded to the Education ministry during a time the Government was refashioning the education system, in line with the needs of Zimbabwe’s fast-growing and skills-hungry economy. The Sunday Mail’s TANYARADZWA RUSIKE (TR) spoke to the former top bureaucrat, who reflected on her tenure in the Ministry of Education.


TR: You recently retired from your position as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education after decades of committed service in the public service. Please, outline what you rank as your major achievements during your tenure in the ministry.

TT: The vocationalisation of the curriculum — the drive to move from a content knowledge-based curriculum — was one of our major implementation focuses, as we scaled up the implementation of the competence-based curriculum.

The uptake of the skills pathway was heightened to respond to the nation’s Vision 2030 of creating an appropriately skilled human capital that would contribute to the production of goods and services.

After the disruptions of Covid-19, we successfully introduced post-O Level classes that would offer courses leading to accreditation in skills areas.

We started with a focus on 10 pilot schools, each with a focus on a particular area of design and technology, and then our provinces and districts replicated that. We are, thus, actively piloting the industrialisation pathway.

We have also introduced trade/skills courses from as early as Form One, and we have some of our learners already being tested “in situ” in several trades and skills.

This strategy will enable the inclusion of indigent learners, who otherwise cannot get vocational/skills accreditation because of the expenses around leaving their rural homes for urban spaces, where they will need fees, accommodation, food and money for related expenses.

The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development has partnered with us for accreditation through HEXCO (Higher Education Examinations Council).

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development is also helping with driving assessment in schools, where this skill is now part of the schools’ programming.

We also implemented the commercialisation of education.

To improve schools’ revenues, while offering learners applied learning spaces outside the four walls of the classroom, schools have heeded the Government’s call to utilise the land they sit on and come up with viable commercial/production units.

These units not only give learners applied experiential learning spaces, but also improve schools’ revenue streams, gradually reducing the cost of education services.

We also worked on pushing for the uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning areas through strategies like the conversion of ordinary classrooms into science laboratories.

The call to industrialise the education space meant that we foregrounded the teaching of STEM disciplines from as early as ECD (early childhood development).

We also worked with institutions like NUST (National University of Science and Technology) to come up with mobile laboratory equipment for some schools in one of our districts.

Such strategies are changing the curriculum implementation in provinces that were hitherto limited to arts, humanities and commercial elements of the curriculum.

There was also mainstreaming of care and support/safeguarding elements into education services, especially in light of increased vulnerabilities among our learners and emerging challenges brought about by drugs and substance abuse and bullying incidents in our schools and communities.

The periodic outreaches to our communities, where we moved with our partners and held service fairs (showcasing all interventions and services available in the sector to enable all learners to enter or re-enter the education space and complete the education cycles), have now become a key aspect of service provision.

TR: Which areas did you find problematic during your tenure and how did you address them?

TT: Depressed foundational literacies and numeracies (as reflected by our Zimbabwe Early Learning Assessment).

We adopted more strategies around reading and numeracy and the aim is still to use these strategies to improve these foundational skills and subsequently performance at higher levels.

The aim is to reach a child with some invisible learning difficulty and help them overcome it and make progress; making a difference for one child at a time.

There was also the Covid-19-induced closure of schools and the accompanying threat of learning loss or learning poverty.

We adopted a strategy meant to build resilience in the system and so actively pushed open- and distance-learning strategies such as radio, television and modular instruction options. We were on the verge of resuscitating our broadcasting studios (both audio and visual), as well as upgrading the Government Primary Correspondence School into a fully fledged national open- and distance-learning centre.

TR: The Continuous Assessment Learning Activities programme has often come under harsh criticism. Why do you think this initiative is crucial for the development of our education system?

TT: The continuous assessment initiative is a key element of the assessment of skills (skills develop over time and you cannot use a theoretical test tool to comprehensively measure competencies and skills).

Continuous assessment has been a part of this country’s examination system (in what used to be called practical subjects, now design and technology areas).

We have experienced teething problems as we began using the Continuous Assessment Learning Activities, largely because any change brings with it elements of uncertainty, but acceptance of the assessment model has increased.

We still needed to do more training and tweaking of the actual modalities, to spread the items over at least five terms and not, like we discovered in some areas, crowd it to the penultimate or even last term of the external examination year.

TR: You served in the public service for a long time. Tell us the lessons you learned during that time.

TT: All members of one’s team (from the lowest band to the highest) are critical to the success of the organisation.

All members of the team appreciate acknowledgement, no matter how small.

Every contribution is critical to the organisation if only one is prepared to listen: often, the greatest wisdom comes from unexpected sources. Being a team leader and team player, rather than a boss, can yield greater productivity from the team.

Criticism from the team should be taken graciously. Your harshest critics can actually sharpen your vision.  The leadership role is not an easy one, it needs patience, firmness and consistency, but it can be quite interesting if you establish good rapport with your team and, together, set your sights on conquering the challenges before you.

TR: How will you spend your time in retirement?

TT: Currently, it’s a beautiful blank cheque and the first objective is to just enjoy the absence of pressure and deadlines, then start writing the next chapter of my life: wherever my God will take me.

X: @tdrusike


Share This: