Literacy good but exam results poor

Viewed as one of the most literate nations in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe’s literacy rate stands at 90.9 percent, way ahead of its regional neighbours, Zambia, South Africa or even Mozambique.

The country also has one of the highest unemployment rates, especially among youths. Last year, parliamentarians reported that the high unemployment rate was a potential source of civil disorder if not urgently contained.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment reported that the number of unemployed youths (aged between 18 and 35) was four times more than that of adults.

Estimated at 80 percent, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate has been attributed to a number of challenges some of which include the country’s liquidity crunch, which has seen the closure of industries and many companies.

Zimbabwe Teachers Association Secretary General Richard Gunda attributed it to the pathetic pass rate at both O’ and A’ level.

“The majority of students fail their end of year exams – rendering them unemployable,” he said.

Poor results

In 2013, only 20,72 percent of the 285,260 candidates that sat for Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZimSec) O level exams passed. Only 36,031 candidates passed five subjects or more with a Grade C or better. This was a slight improvement on the 18,4 percent recorded in 2012.

The preceding years were not any better because for nearly three decades now, Zimbabwe’s O level pass rate has failed to break the 22 percent mark.

Queried Gunda: “Most companies in Zimbabwe require at least five O’ level passes as a benchmark for employment. Where do you expect to get employment for someone without the basic standard education that is required?”

Said Gunda: “Even if the jobs are available, there are no takers. This could explain why some of the big companies seek the services of outsiders.”

He said because the skills acquired through education are important as useful abilities of all people to prepare them for the world of work, education and training were generally distinguished by the competencies taught.

“General education does not prepare individuals for particular occupations,” he said.

Curriculum review

Social scientist Pamela Mwinyi from Hatfield in Harare said it was important for government to invest in skills development for the high number of pupils who fail to pass the academic O and A level.

“There are more students failing, which means there is something wrong with the education system. It could be an indicator of the need for a curriculum review or it could be that the standards that we are setting for ourselves are too high and out of reach for the majority,” she said.

Mwinyi called for a review of the whole education system and the examination process.

“Remember, some of these children were affected by the harsh economic environment of 2008, where the education system practically crumbled. I doubt the ministry takes all these factors into account when preparing exams,” she said.

A study conducted by the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute stated that in 2009 there was a major decline in the number of students that registered for O level due to economic hardships.

“For the 2009 examinations, 87,201 students registered for O level representing 61 percent of those that registered in 2008 and 49 percent of the number of 2007 candidates.”

Findings by the study established that the decline was due to the inability by most parents to pay the exam fees.

“Even though the situation improved in 2010, limited resources continue to undermine recovery in the sector,” reads the report.

Senator David Coltart, the former education minister, said it was important for any country to record high literacy rate because development starts with the basics of learning how to read and write.

“We should never diminish the value that comes with being educated,” said Coltart. “Students should be taught other practical skills to ensure that when they finish school, they are able to be self-employed and create their own employment opportunities,” he said.

The Danish ambassador to Zimbabwe is on record saying that his country targeted young people in empowerment initiatives because they were the age group most affected by unemployment.

Said the Royal Danish Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Erik Rasmussen: “Young people between the ages of 18- 24 are the most affected because they are just coming from school and college. They lack the skills and expertise to penetrate the job market hence the need to empower them so that they can create their own employment opportunities.”

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