with EVANS MATHANDA
Some changes have been made in Zimbabwe’s education sector, with policy refinements over time in a bid to address a need or to close gaps.
However, the policy-making and implementation process is one that underlines the impact of any newly-adopted framework.
Monitoring and evaluation steps are recommended from problem identification up to the implementation stage as a strategy to assess the relevance and sustainability of a policy.
Some people have criticised the government’s move to introduce the Continuous Assessment Learning Activities (CALAs), as a learning tool in the education curriculum, saying this will affect the quality of primary and secondary education in Zimbabwe.
CALAs is a student assessment regime that was implemented during the second term in preparation for the November 2021 Zimbabwe School Examination Council (Zimsec) examinations.
The first phase of the regime ran from July to September 2021.
According to the policy framework, the new grading system will see Grade 7 final results determined by 30% of continuous assessment and 70% by the way of a national examination.
At Form 4, the framework states that learners’ grades are based 40% on theoretical examination, 30% practical examination and 30% continuous assessment.
It sounds good, but teachers and pupils are key stakeholders to any educational policy and introducing a new policy without consulting them can compromise the effectiveness of such a policy.
What was the rationality of introducing CALAs without assessing how teachers and pupils would respond to it?
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president, Takavafira Zhou criticised the manner in which the programme is being implemented, saying that CALAs must never be imposed on teachers, but it should be introduced when teachers and pupils are ready.
The government should have done proper monitoring and evaluation through research and development before rushing to introduce the CALAs.
A formative evaluation process is necessary when crafting national policies.
It was important to collect data from all provinces, gathering information as a strategy to analyse what key stakeholders say about the proposed policy.
Then policy adoption and data analysis by parliamentarians could have helped to improve the educational policy.
CALAs is not bad, but the timing.
The Primary and Secondary Education ministry skipped important stages and rushed to introduce a demanding policy at a time when teachers and pupils are incapacitated.
Apart from that, there was not enough time to carry out all those CALAs projects.
Maybe moving them to start next year could have been a better idea.
Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research (IER) in Bangladesh once said that continuous learning assessment without remedial assistance will be futile.
The government should be reminded that it is difficult to achieve the intended goals from continuous assessment, unless they introduce remedial assistance.
Monitoring and evaluation processes could help the government to notice errors in policy implementation.
In June this year, messages that circulated on social media suggested that Zimsec had suspended the CALAs this year due to Covid-19-induced lockdowns.
However, Zimsec dismissed those reports.
In other words, this could have been the cheapest and easiest data collection method to assess and evaluate the relevance of CALAs projects.
Maybe the biggest challenge is that not enough research has been done to know whether or not this policy should be implemented.
Mid-term evaluation can be effective to assess what should have been done to improve it.
Despite that teachers and other key stakeholders in the education sector have been lobbying for suspension of the programme this year, the government vowed to continue with the CALAs in schools.
Considering that this idea was “imposed”, the government should have done an ad-hoc evaluation before the deadline for the first CALAs component submission which was on September 24, before pupils sit for Zimsec final exams.
In complimenting the teacher’s efforts, it was important for the government to monitor and assess pupils’ progress on CALAs projects in view of the set out deadlines for submissions.
Learners and teachers in the rural set up might have a different perception about the programme especially in terms of capacity to monitor and evaluate CALAs projects.
There is a lot of online research needed from both teachers and pupils during the process.
The good design nowadays is fetched from the internet but data is expensive in Zimbabwe, some teachers cannot afford monthly data bundles.
Then what about pupils in remote areas who are running around to meet CALAs deadlines?
Whenever there is a crisis some discover opportunities to make a killing.
It is a sad situation that some ordinary members of the community have been demanding cash from desperate pupils to offer assistance on CALAs research projects.
Probably the economic crisis in Zimbabwe has forced people to demand payments for the services, which used to be offered for free.
Just to help your fellow brother or sister without any form of payment is now more of a myth than reality.
Due to the intricate nature of CALAs projects and limited time to complete the syllabi as well as the projects, I have seen some Zimsec 2021 candidates seeking assistance from ordinary community members, forcing parents to fork at least US$20 to pay for the services.
Parents have no option but to pay, it is what it is.
I usually pay attention to how pupils approach community members seeking for contributions during their CALAs research.
Many pupils are doing the research just to submit, not necessarily to grasp the concept.
Then I wonder how this is helpful and what are the predictions of the 2021 Zimsec results, under such circumstances?
I personally think that an institutional policy making process was not an appropriate model during implementation of the CALAs as a learning tool.
A top-bottom approach policy making process hardly meets the demands of the people neither to serve its objectives.
Impact or summative monitoring and valuation are of paramount importance soon after Zimsec releases the November 2021 examination for all levels.
The main objective is to improve the results and quality of education compared to previous years.
- Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his personal capacity.
- For feedback email: email@example.com or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19