ZIMSEC A Level high pass rate: A curse or a blessing ?

Chris Mahove

The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) last week released the 2021 A Level results which reflected a 3,68 percent increase in the pass rate from 80,98 percent in 2020 to 84,67 percent.

The pass rates for the past two years have been higher than the previous years despite the period having experienced class disruptions owing to Covid-19-induced lockdowns and long strikes by teachers who were demanding USD salaries.

In 2017, the A Level pass rate stood at 82, 6 percent, while in 2016 the pass rate was 84,2 percent.

According to a statistical analysis by ZIMSEC, Ordinary Level results pass rates have also been improving over the past years.

The examining body revealed that the pass rate had improved from 22,3 percent in 2014, 27,86 percent in 2015, 29,96,in 2016, dropped to 28,70 percent in 2017, before jumping to 32,83 percent in 2018 and 33,86 percent in 2019.

Several theories have been thrown around to explain the positive results given the state of the country’s education sector over the past few years, where the government and teachers have been fighting over working conditions and salaries.

Teachers, who have been agitating for US dollar salaries pegged at US$542 they were earning in 2018, have been involved in strike action for the better part of the school calendar, yet the country recorded increases in pass rates.

The question that many observers have posed is: is the country’s education system improving or have our standards dropped?

What could be the reason behind the high pass rates; is it because parents have found alternative means to educate their children outside of government schools or is it because ZIMSEC has lowered its standards to balance the equation?

Zimbabwe’s education system has in the past been rated among the best in the region, if not in the whole of Africa, but questions have been raised as to whether this is still the case.

Progressive Teachers Union President, Takavafira Zhou said the pass rates recorded in the latest ZIMSEC results could have been as a result of lowered standards by the examination body.

 “It is possible that ZIMSEC has lowered the marking standards in order to cover up for their mistakes and give an impression of progress, when in reality there is no progress,” he said.

He said the introduction of the Continuous Assessment Learning Activity (Cala) in the school curriculum was contributing to a decline in standards as it took most of the learners learning time when it only contributed less than a third of the syllabus.

“The introduction of Cala has occupied 90 percent of the learning time of students, when it only constitutes 30 percent of the syllabus, thereby leaving only 10 percent learning and teaching time to cover about 70 percent of the syllabus,” he said.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe President, Obert Masaraure concurred, saying the once trusted and robust education system had been tainted by incompetent leaders at ZIMSEC, adding it was now difficult to trust the outcome of results of a flawed examination process.

A teacher who spoke to Review & Mail on condition of anonymity, however, attributed the high pass rate to extra lessons being conducted by teachers outside school time, where they charge parents between US$15 and US$20 per week.

“Teachers have realised they can’t make ends meet and now supplement their income with extra lessons; and this is where most of the serious teaching is done. Not much is being taught in schools these days,” he said.

The extra lessons, however, are bleeding parents who would have also paid school fees to government schools.

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