By STEPHEN KAPAMBWE –
“I am proud to announce to the nation that for the first time after a very long time, my ministry completed processing the 2013 Grade Seven composite examination results within the month of November.
“Selection of the 2014 Grade Eight intake has also been completed and parents will receive the acceptance letters for their children within this week, making it possible for them to open on the first day of the school term which falls on January,13th 2013.”
This was the opening statement of Education Minister John Phiri when he announced the 2013 Grade Seven results recently.
The statement might seem trivial to some, especially of the younger generation. But to many, it is loaded with realities that for a long time plagued the education system not too long ago.
Is it not true that sometimes candidates who sat for the Grade Seven examination not too long ago had to wait for more than three months to get their results?
A case in point is the year 1991 when the author of this article along with several other pupils was selected to go to Grade Eight after passing the Grade Seven examination.
But owing to frequent work stoppages resorted to by teachers who were seeking better pay, including those who marked the examination answer sheets, it had taken nearly six months for the results to be released.
Meanwhile both pressure and anxiety were mounting on both parents and the pupils who were eager to know the out-come of the exams that they had sat for previously.Subsequently, the 1991 in-take of Grade Eights persistently suffered the misfortune of having insufficient time to adequately cover the school syllabi in Grade Eight and Nine in nearly all the subjects.
Simply put the pupils had lost out so much on time due to the undue delay in the release of results.
When that intake sat for the Grade Nine examinations two years later, most of the candidates fell by the way-side because of, among other things, having had insufficiently covered the syllabi.
But those are mere memories now that Dr Phiri and his team have done what Napoleon failed to do in bringing back sanity to the education calendar.
However, Dr Phiri announced that, 352,266 candidates entered the Grade Seven examination in 2013. 181 047 were boys and 171 219 were girls.
This represented a 4.31 percentage increase over the 337,706 mark that entered the Grade Seven examination in 2012.
Of the 352,266 candidates who entered the examination, 312 443 actually sat for the examination, representing a 2.24 percentage increase from the 305,429 candidates who took the examination in 2012.
279,186 candidates were selected to Grade Eight, out of which 142,613 were boys and 136,573 were girls.
This represents a progression rate of 89.36 per cent (88.43 per cent for boys and 90.35 per cent for girls).
39,823 candidates or 11.30 per cent, were absent from the examination. Luapula Province recorded the highest progression rate at 100 per cent, followed by Western Province at 99.31 per cent.
North Western, Muchinga and Lusaka provinces all had progression rates below 90 per cent.
All the girls that sat for the examination in Western and Eastern provinces were selected to Grade Eight while Luapula was the only province that recorded a 100 progression rate.
According to Dr Phiri, the ministry observed a slight improvement in the quality of passing in 2013 when compared to results obtained in 2012.
This was attributed to the implementation of interventions agreed on during the National Performance Review of May 2013.
The ministry has since resolved to do two things, firstly, to hold performance review meetings annually and secondly, that the idea be extended to provinces and districts.
Additionally, Dr Phiri said the Directorate of Standards and Curriculum had been asked to ensure that the learner performance strategic plans generated by the provinces are implemented at all levels of the education system.
However, inspite of the improvements that the 2013 Grade Seven results reflected, the Government is still concerned that the education curriculum was not providing learners with desirable life skills and was ultimately failing to prepare them for real life in society.
In this regard, Dr Phiri announced the completion of the review of the education curriculum from early childhood level up to Grade 12.
He said the revised curriculum, which puts emphasis on hands on experience, is set to be implemented from January 2014.
“The curriculum will offer learners options of pursuing either the academic of vocational career paths depending on their abilities, needs and aspirations.
The new curriculum will be launched before schools open on a date to be announced and then it will be rolled in a phased approach starting with the early childhood education level and
grades one, five, eight and ten,” Dr Phiri said.
The first examinations under the new curriculum would be in 2015 at Grade Nine level.
Dr Phiri was hopeful that the new curriculum would greatly improve the education system in the country as it has been designed to make learning more interesting, meaningful and satisfying.
Dr Phiri further announced that in the new curriculum, pupils at lower levels in the education system (from early childhood level up to Grade Four) would receive instruction in a familiar local language to help improve the ever-falling literacy and numeracy standards.
This measure is later on expected to impact positively on leaner performance in all subjects.
This move has been necessitated by an analysis of the 2013 Grade seven results which revealed that urban provinces like Lusaka and the
Copperbelt had higher mean scores in all subjects except Zambian languages while the rural provinces had higher means scores in Zambian languages only.
“These observations suggest that the more urbanised the area is the better the performance in other subjects and the poorer the performance in Zambian languages, while the less urbanised the area is the better the performance in Zambian languages and the poorer the performance in other subjects,” noted Dr Phiri.
The issue of how old a child should be when entering Grade One also came into play.
It is common knowledge that some schools nowadays enroll children in Grade One at the age of four.
It has also become acceptable for some parents of so called “brilliant children” to have them skip grades and attempt the Grade Seven examination earlier than they are expected to.
This, according to Dr Phiri, has been confirmed by the 10 – 18 years age range of candidates sitting for the Grade Seven composite examination.
“I wish to reiterate the fact that the age of entry into Grade One remains seven years. The ministry is aware of that accepted norm by schools that are enrolling under-age children and/or allowing children to skip some of the grades to sit for the Grade Seven examination earlier than they are supposed to.
“This has serious negative repercussions on the future performance of the learners,” warned Dr Phiri.
“I hereby direct all Provincial Education Officers to ensure that head teachers desist from enrolling under-age children for examinations failure to which their respective schools risk losing examination centre status,” he said.
It was further observed that 5,678 schools (examination centres) presented candidates for the Grade Seven examination.
Of these, 90 were grant aided institutions, 101 were community schools, 417 were private schools and 5070 were Government institutions.
Results by analysis – by running agency – showed that private schools had the highest mean performance at 713, followed by grant-aided schools at 619. Community schools ranked third at 603 while Government schools brought up the rear at a mean performance of 603.
“I wish to commend the leaders of private, grant-aided and community schools for producing better results, which means that there are lessons that the GRZ schools can learn from the other school types in order to improve the performance of learners,” Dr Phiri said.
Obviously, the profit motive and need for accountability have driven the non-Government institutions to attain this feat.
Their owners ensure that parents of their school pupils get value for money by equipping the schools with every conceivable facility like computers, working laboratories, attractive play grounds to make learning
practical, enjoyable and result oriented.
This is rarely so for most Government schools where computer lessons are rare, laboratories are non-existent and play -grounds have been over-grown by thickets owing to low funding perpetuated by many competing interests that Government has to fund.
Dr Phiri also took the opportunity to announce that his ministry had in the 2014 budget planned for the transformation of 220 primary schools to junior secondary schools.
This is in line with the policy of the Government to provide adequate infrastructure for all learners to have an opportunity to complete school without any hindrances.