HARARE – Buying school supplies for the new curriculum has become costly as well as confusing.
Many parents wonder if some of the supplies — including expensive coloured and plain bond paper, traditional percussion instruments such as pianos and mbiras, Pritt, sticky-stuff, more exercise books, mini laptops, display files, more boxes of crayons and several other items — are really necessary.
The new curriculum is demanding that parents spend hundreds on supplies, even requiring bulk purchases of materials that benefit the entire class, in a move that is fomenting anger among parents who say the lists are real budget busters.
While many of the items may be inexpensive, dozens of inexpensive things do tend to add up.
Across the nation, parents are lamenting items appearing on the new curriculum supply lists that they feel schools themselves should fund.
“With the current economic conditions, we have been struggling to provide for our children’s needs and with the new curriculum coming in with new stationery demands including bond papers, sports kits and other necessities, our situation has become worse especially with the burden of the ever-increasing school fees,” Eriah Muriga, a parent from Mashonaland East Province, told the Daily News on Sunday.
“After paying fees, then bam, you have all these new demands. It’s now very difficult for us as parents given the economic hardships we face.”
Spending on back-to-school supplies has increased dramatically.
When government decided to implement the new education curriculum, Zimbabweans thought it was a smooth sailing affair.
It was envisaged that the new curriculum would bring to an immediate end the myriad of challenges that learners encountered, including missing or inadequate teaching materials, lack of competent teachers and appropriate curricula.
It was argued there was no point in providing an opportunity for a child to enrol in school if the quality of education is so poor that the child will not become literate or numerate, or will fail to acquire critical life skills.
Yet, barely one school term after the new curriculum was implemented; there are already howls of disapproval from stakeholders including teachers, parents and the learners themselves.
Critics said the proposed new framework is a retrograde step, risking narrowing opportunity for many pupils, rather than enhancing and supporting it.
Teachers complain, for example, that the new curriculum is complex and involves a myriad of new demands, new technologies for all schools, while the majority of institutions in the rural areas lack the requisite infrastructure and most teachers were not computer literate.
President of Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) Takavafira Zhou told the Daily News on Sunday that there was confusion and uncertainty when schools opened for the first term.
“Fundamentally, teachers had expected a gradual implementation of the new curriculum, punctuated by widespread engagement and consultation,” Zhou said.
“Many schools remain understaffed as teachers have not been recruited, let alone deployed to numerous understaffed schools.”
Zhou said the situation was compounded by the new electronic application system for Form One places, “and it created more problems than it intended to resolve, more so given the technological challenges faced by parents”.
He argued that the implementation of new curriculum was rushed and that it left teachers wondering where to start, as the syllabi and teaching resources are not yet in some schools, especially in rural areas.
“The heads of schools were as shocked as teachers, and waiting for further information from the line ministry, which may take days to filter down to schools.
“And even when it does, it will not provide a panacea to the challenges faced in schools,” he said.
Stakeholders also said the 12 terms of continuous assessment in the new curricula would make it impossible to implement the new syllabus anywhere beyond Grades One to Four for primary schools and Form One at secondary level.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union (Artuz) said almost all rural schools were not ready to implement the new school curriculum.
According to the union, 2017’s learning season failed to kick-start smoothly as both teachers and school authorities grappled with challenges of implementing the new curriculum.
A snap survey conducted by Artuz revealed that 98 percent of sampled schools in rural areas were not ready to implement the new curriculum.
“Learners interviewed revealed that they were unconscious of the expectations of the new curriculum,” Artuz president, Obert Masaraure, said.
“In secondary schools, Form Three pupils are affected the most. The entry behaviour of learners in Form Three does not empower them to tackle new learning areas such as computers and pure science subjects,” he said.
“Teachers in the sampled schools revealed that they had not schemed because they do not have syllabi for the new curriculum.”
A teacher at one rural school in the Midlands was quoted saying a workshop on the new format on scheming is on the line up for Form Three and One teachers.
“There is a lack of preparedness for the teachers to implement new learning programme. Schools are also understaffed as new subjects have been introduced but a number of teachers remained unchanged. Integrated science teachers are now being forced to teach physics, biology and chemistry,” Masaraure said.
A visit by Artuz to schools in Gokwe showed apparent lack of infrastructure to implement new blueprint.
“No electricity for compulsory computer programs, no laboratories and no text books for the content to be taught. The story is the same in bulk of rural schools,” Masararure said.
“In all this chaos government response was to deploy overzealous inspectors countrywide. The inspectors could not do much as they realised that they was nothing to inspect.
“The schools were not ready to teach.”
“After all has been said the new curriculum not only causes confusion but is bound to fail to significantly change exit behaviour of learners.”
Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora introduced the new school curriculum as part of efforts to strengthen a needs-driven education system.
Dokora argues that the previous one lacked balance, with the core subjects largely academic such as Geography, English, Indigenous Literature, Mathematics, Science and History.
He claimed the sector needed strengthening through an education system which would have strong scientific, vocational and technical bias and would also stress a strong value system.
The minister said education was an empowering component which needed to be exploited to the maximum as captured in the new development blueprint, ZimAsset, which sought to empower communities and individuals while growing the national economy.
The minister also announced the introduction of non-formal or second chance education which will be used to complement the formal education system in imparting academic and social skills.
The non-formal education component will implement some of the recommendations of the 1999 Nziramasanga Commission of Inquiry into education and training by increasing access to both basic and secondary education.
“There is an increased number of children who are leaving the school system without productive skills. This has precipitated the need to revitalise non formal education to assist these out of school youths,” said the minister.
The review in the curriculum comes against the backdrop of poor performances by schools in public examinations from Grade Seven to ‘‘A’’ Levels.
Zimbabwe’s education system was once among the best and at one time had the highest literacy rate on the continent before dropping behind Tunisia.
The curriculum review process and the second chance education are all components that are being funded under the Education Development Fund being administered by Unicef and is looking at developing a transitional mechanism for development partners to jointly support the reinvigoration of the education sector in Zimbabwe, with Primary and Secondary Education ministry assuming the leadership role.
When Dokora announced the decision to implement the new curriculum with immediate effect, he insisted that the process was going to witness consultations with parents and other interested parties at school, district, provincial and national levels.
But teachers said schools and teachers were not given the professional freedom to develop the detailed content and pedagogy, collaboratively with other professionals, the local community, employers, pupils and families.
Instead of raising standards, there is a risk of inhibiting progress for large numbers of children, and labelling others as failures.
The sheer volume of content of the core subjects in the new proposals at primary, coupled with the year-on-year specifications, risks unrealistic and inappropriate expectations of children at too early an age, teachers warned.
While teachers shared the government’s commitment to raising achievement and closing gaps, they had real concerns about the “negative move” the proposals could have on pupils’ learning.
It is obvious that many others in the field of education share those concerns.