Some pupils of Lusaka Primary School Arthur Wina

54 years after gaining Political Independence from the colonial powers, the Zambian education sector is moving from bad to worse. This situation unfortunately, is consistent with most arms of the public sector in Zambia. A good number of people genuinely concerned with Zambia’s social, health and economic landscape would agree with me that a lot of important sectors that should be part and parcel of the mechanism to Zambia’s development are malfunctioning and need a serious overhaul.

The recent degrading of all Zambian University qualifications to that of College level by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge should give us a clear signal about the deteriorating education standards in the country. Thus, I want to comment on the happenings in the Zambian education sector. A sector of which I have been part of, both as a pupil /student and as a teacher, in both the primary and the secondary school sectors.

I do not know how, but maybe I might I have an idea about why we have reached these pathetic levels in the education sector in Zambia. This situation has affected the entire education machinery in the country starting from the lowest level which is primary schools, all the way to the highest level that is university. Needless to mention here that the Zambian education system is based on emphasising the passing of an examination rather than on pupils and students internalising the values of education so that in turn, those values could be used to improve the standards in the different sectors of our own society. The system is built on a rather inane and archaic tradition of brainwashing pupils and students to be very examination oriented. Where it is a foregone conclusion that only those that come out with the best results in the examinations are the only ones who will end up with having a good and productive life. Thus pupils and students are always making strategies of not focussing on the educational contents and value for developmental use, but for passing the examination that is before them, which in other words could be called a cramming system of education.

Teachers too, on the other hand are equally to blame because mostly, they teach with an objective of making their pupils and students pass examinations rather than internalising the contents. The so called extra lessons outside formal school hours have made things even worse, as pupils and students are being oriented to focus on how to pass an examination rather than inculcating those educational values that build conscience in the general citizenry.

The dominant value in the Zambian educational sector has highly shifted from that which should produce graduates with a conscience, requisite knowledge, skills and positive attitudes, to that which has so much more focus on getting over the examination hurdle, and having a good life thereafter, thus forsaking the inculcation of societal values. The focus of most graduates in our society is to get good results in an examination and find a job, in a prestigious organisation like the Bank of Zambia, the Zambia Revenue Authority or in some influential government ministry, without any motive or motivation for contributing to the uplifting of the standards of these institutions but to amass personal wealth and live a good life. Because of this kind of thinking, all pupils and students will stop at nothing but passing an examination at all costs, thus the dependency on examination leakages and favours from teachers and lectures has become a new normal. What is missing from the education system today, is a shared vocabulary (principles that guide behaviour), based on shared positive human values, which can provide a sense of direction and vision about how to create a stable moral society free of corruption, free of examination leakages.

To manage this, I suggest what Mr Simata Simata would call an effective “Crazy Idea”. Zambia, through the Ministry of Education should consider scrapping the grade 7 and grade 9 compulsory examinations as they just put unnecessary pressure on pupils, teachers and the Examination Council in preparing and implementing them. These two categories of examinations in Zambia have completely lost meaning and have just remained but a nursery to learn how to organise an examination leakage at a tender age.

Zambia as a country, has no capacity to give any alternatives to those that fail to make it to grade 8 and 10 respectively, so why having the examinations? After all, every citizen needs basic education before being thrown into society. These 2 categories of examinations were originally designed to sieve pupils so as to be in conformity with the few available spaces in the few secondary schools that were available at the time. But with the current scenario in Zambia today, the Ministry of education should allow everyone to proceed to grade 12 without sitting for a “must pass” compulsory examination. That will make everyone go further in school even if one does not manage to reach the famous (or infamous) cut off point. Therefore, the first examination that should render one not to go further with basic education should be at grade 12 level, and 12 years of formal schooling should officially be declared as Zambia’s Basic Education for every citizen. Those who reach a certain cut off point during the Ordinary(O) Level examinations or the local Zambian General Certificate of Education (GCE) in Grade 12 should then proceed to Grade 13 (or form 6) to do Advanced (A) Levels before getting into colleges and universities.

This way, Zambia will again start getting quality students in colleges and universities locally and abroad who apart from being academically sound, will highly appreciate value and self-reflection, which are the building blocks for every great nation. We do not need to wait for donors to come and dictate what is best for Zambia when we can do it ourselves. There are very few countries in the world, if any, that are sending their 12 and 14 year old citizens into society, because there are no school places for them and that they failed to pass their compulsory examinations. In the current Zambian scenario, these examinations does nothing constructive, apart from creating opportunities and excuses for young children to stop school. Moreover, no employer will demand for a grade 7 or grade 9 certificate in todays Zambia, but a grade 12 and higher.

If the Ministry of Education scraps the Grade 7 and 9 examinations and they stop making them mandatory for one to proceed to grade 8 and 10, then these examinations can be organised at provincial or district levels since they will just remain a part of monitoring the progress of pupils. If this becomes a reality, then it will give the Examinations Council of Zambia ample time to focus on O level and A level examinations only, giving them efficiency and credibility, as the grade 7 and 9 examinations are decentralised.

This move will equally save resources that could be used to build more schools because the preparation, implementation and marking of these examinations gobbles a colossal amount of money every year. We need to start thinking outside the box and make use of the available school space in our government schools. For example, having different sessions like it is in some primary schools, where some teachers and pupils could even be taking evening classes, that is starting work\school from as late as 15:00 to 19:00 is one option. It is just a question of coming up with a workable plan by utilising what we already have in our hands.

However, for these government schools to improve in standards, influential people in society like political leaders should consider taking their children to these schools. Like it was in the era of UNIP where even the President’s children went to government schools. The current situation is so bad that even the teachers themselves that are teaching in the government schools avoid taking their children there because the standards are pathetic. But, how can the standards improve when all the decision and policy makers have no children in these schools? They absolutely have no interest there. Thus, there should be a deliberate policy decision, that will make all top officials in the government and quasi government wings take their children to government schools. All political office bearers should equally take their children and dependants to government schools, colleges and universities.

One of the reasons the authorities have failed to control the mushrooming of uncontrolled schools, colleges and universities is because some top government officials and political office bearers have direct or indirect interest in some of these counterfeit institutions. There is no effective system whatsoever to monitor and control these new “learning” spaces. I know that there are institutions that have been tasked with the responsibility of standardising these spaces, but unfortunately some of the individuals in these institutions have been compromised, by either being offered executive board positions that naturally come with allowances, or have accepted to be on the payroll of the institution they are supposed to control. Again, there must be a deliberate policy decision on the part of the government to deter any top government official or political office bearer from being a stakeholder in any private learning institution. This move will make learning institutions to be minimal but more efficient, credible and value based. Such institutions will in turn act as platforms on which pupil/students and members of staff alike develop and deepen their understanding of issues concerned with ethics, morality and genuine development, which Zambia earnestly needs.

By Kabanda Mwansa
The author is a Zambian social commentator and PhD research fellow at the Center for Child and Youth Competence Development at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences.

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44 COMMENTS

  1. By Kabanda Mwansa is a joke Ignore him.

    Instead of correcting the problem with leakages, he is finding n easier way our of scrapping it.

    When you have a problem in life you confront it, not shy away.

    Personally I think electronic exams, be it it will take longer is the way forward, not scrapping anything

    I hold a PhD

    Thanks

    BB2014,2016

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    • Mushota you are right, Exams are important to keep learner on the edge.

      This country if full of strange ideas from good for nothing people

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    • Its like saying, scrap having sex its the breeding ground for Aids. You Sir are out of your mind,

      No, If you punish punitively the perpetrators by banning them entirely, it becomes a difficult and scary temptation for either Teachers or pupil to have leakage,

      These leakages are because of the distrust of people transporting papers and or allowing people access to papers who have no right to.

      Instill and find ways of how this happens in your neighboring countries

      Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.

      Thanks

      BB2014,2016

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    • This Guy has a valid point.
      The unintended consequences of failing grade 7 and 9 are eaily child marriages and a breeding ground for juvenile delinquencies. It not only adds to a nation of illiterates but also underscores root of youth delusion.

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    • Ba Mushota ati am in the UK …… How is the education system in Scotland? Do pupils write exams in grade 7 and grade 9 ? In this time and age who will look at a grade 7 and 9 certificate, passing them or holding a PHD does not warrant performance at work because like Kabanda has said pupils now concentrate on passing but when it comes to applying what they learnt they fail to. Zimbabweans are said to be the most learned people in Africa, how is there education system…..exactly like what Kabanda has described. He has a valid point wheather we like it or not.

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    • Anyway, forgive, he is a PhD student and just wants to gain points for his graduation. What is happening in Zambia is also happening in other countries where parents and students have realized that education is a key to at least a job and its benefits. However, a measure to curb this culture must be put in place. This is not an easy task, nevertheless because of some people who are selfish, among them parents, teachers and those handling the examinations. The leakages did by the teachers and schools who run so-called intensive revisions classes. In some schools, schools attendance is reduced fromterm2 onwards as some of the students prefer these so-called tuition classes where they are promised leaked papers! However, how do these papers are leaked and yet in the custody of the…

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  2. Lets do comparative research to help find out how some African countries have managed their education sectors to do away with exam leakages so that we can embrace them because as it stands we have completely failed to run our education sector for long now looking at repetition of exam malpractices every year.

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    • Most African countries don’t do exams in grade 7 and 9, their system is like what Kabanda has described above, it is just us in Zambia who are doing that and the people benefiting the most are the politicians and their friends not forgetting the rich Pentecostal pastors who run most of the private schools.

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  3. It works in other countries, and in zambia everything is politicized ,A lot of valid points have been brought forth by the writer and all that this mushota who has a pretty hugh di*k (PHD) can do is water down everything.Really what purpose do grade 7 and 9 exams serve despite offloading immature people onto society only to become carders and giving them a sence that they are misfits.

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  4. Excellent contribution!
    This is a clear and concise well thought out write up . We need more people with this calibre of thought process to govern our country out of this confusion we are in .
    Mr mwansa can you please email me ?

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  5. Long article but one that is packed with great ideas.. ideas in the sense that professionals in the field of education need to embrace and conduct relevant research on to come up with best case scenario. Unfortunately, these wonderful ideas might not find the light of day as the appointing authorities undermine education by employing party cadres to manage institutions that need tried and tested professionals to manage. Take for instance, UK education is continuously debated by professionals and representative MP’s to provide better education for all as at present, UK lags behind a few European countries in this sector. Point being is that professionals with relevant education lead the way as opposed to politicians who sing songs depending on which fence they are stood on.. Our higher…

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  6. Could this Kabanda really be studying for a PHD? Does he know how much this would reduce our already low standard of education. Zimbabwe next door with arguably the best standard of education in the region has grade 7, that they use to screen students for secondary school then they have form 4 that they used to again sieve those that make it to A level. at A level they then get varsity material. some may not like to hear it but they students are praised the world over for their high levels of mathematical literacy and high standard all round. Kabanda Mwansa return home and do your grade 7.

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    • You raise some credible opposing views that make a lot of sense.. our standard is already low as a result of hefty embezzlement of funds meant for investment in the sector.. recent videos showing children learning under a tree form part of the disadvantages that link to our education system..
      Change must start from the people entrusted to spear head the revival of our education system..

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    • No Zimbabwe don’t do grade 7 and 9 exams , their education system is like that of the UK . It actually affords the opportunity of every child having a basic education. What Kabanda has described above is the system being adopted by most countries and in Zambia we are lacking behind. Zimbabwe has never had grade 7 and 9 exams since independence and they are said to be the most educated people in Africa.

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  7. Nkandu Luo is one of the reasons the universities have been degraded! She is useless and her boss Lungu is quiet about it!
    God save us from these useless leaders!

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    • Nkandu Luo is trying to correct the situation we are in because it has been neglected for many many years, say since independence.

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  8. “…district levels since they will just remain a part of monitoring the progress of pupil”. This is a good idea to look at. However, students who are not making progress need to be helped so that they are not left behind. This can be done by having remedial measures, which will not be easy in Zambia. Having been a teacher in Zambia before, I agree with the author when he states that Zambian educational system is exam oriented.

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    • Excellent point Lipkwa especially when you say those lagging behind must be helped. These are debates that we should be having on these forums and not tribal remarks. I am enjoying this

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  9. The article has some valid points. But perhaps what we need is to reform the assessment processes within our education system. We need to shift from having exams as a means of test score, to sieve those who fail or pass. Instead we need to put in place an examination system that views assessment as a means to enhance learning.

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  10. Kabanda Mwansa, are you listening to yourself? Scrapping Grade 7 and 9 exams! The pupils will just playing and playing till they reach Grade 12 and start looking for leakage after being playful for 11 years! I do not support this idea. Exams are very important as they train the brain to think harder and they test children’s intelligence

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    • You have to read through the article again because that is exactly what it is advocating!!

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  11. What criteria was used to downgrade our universities by Oxford and Cambridge Universities respectively?It is strange that a mere university can downgrade it’s fellow university.It doesn’t make sense.
    Furthermore,the author is out of point to suggest that grade 7 and 9 examinations should be phased out.
    They are like yardsticks in our education system.A child’s development academically can be assessed through these grades.They act like academic really-race to a final stage.How is the government going to know academic progress of it’s scholars if these exams are done away with?The author should suggest mechanisms of eradicating examination malpractices.

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  12. Reading from most comments,i can tell the lack of exposure and the very exam oriented system. All End of exam test would be added at the end of year and provincial test be based on credit earned in class performance,on 50/50 basis. Final provincial test will carry 50% marks only and 50 % class test.

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  13. Good points raised but they lack merits in our education system.We need exams so that children can continue learning.Without exams children become reluctant.Maybe what we can do is to have those who can’t pass proceed to grade 12 but cant write grade 12 exams until they pass grade seven & grade 9 respectively.For me what has killed Zambian education is politics and corruption.Most pipo who are not educated can afford to have everything as long as they are cadres.it doesn’t pay to be educated in Zambia anymore.Why should i go to school and learn how to make money if i can get a cut and make billions?Education becomes useless if corruption is a the center of governance.If the systems only reward pipo who work hard then education would be a key but as long as anyone can be employed by…

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  14. Conti—

    government nothing gonna work.it good that our constitution now wants all aspiring candidates to have grade 12 certificate.Let stop employing anyone without G 12 qualifications.Why should i become innovate and creative if there is free money thru corruption?We need systems to make it difficult to steal then you’ll see the importance of education. Pipo would research and will start applying knowledge they got from school or universities.

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  15. This article is interesting and the bloggers contributions interesting too! it is important that the education fraternity should take keen interest to pick it from hear and debate this article at lengthy , by even engaging all stakeholders until it is exhausted to agreeable standard levels. Mind you the the world keeps on changing let us not remain behind Zambia now is not the way it was in 70 or 80’s. We need to change our strategy it might not be exactly the way they do it in the neighbouring country but something that is workable to make sure we do not offload children on the street at a tender age.Politics and tribal sentiments out of this topic

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  16. Conti—

    government nothing gonna work.it good that our constitution now wants all aspiring candidates to have grade 12 certificate.Let stop employing anyone without G 12 qualifications.Why should i become innovative and creative if there is free money thru corruption?We need systems to make it difficult to steal then you’ll see the importance of education. Pipo would research and will start applying knowledge they got from school or universities.

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  17. Kudos to the writer for bringing up very valid points.
    Why not create a system where learners are accessed by an examination at grade 8 and 9 at a local level to see their strengths be it arts, humanities ,maths and sciences and then from grade 10 to 12 let them take subjects that they would have a natural ability in preperation for o- level exams.

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  18. Having lived and worked in Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Australia and all these countries do not have drake 7 and 9 examinations. Their grade 12 final GRADE is mainly made up of EXAMINATION and NON EXAMINATION based credits, which accumulated OVER 2-3 YEARS. The final grade 12 EXAM only accounts for 40% of the credits
    So Mushota, if you think this system of education is inferior explain how products of this system end up coming to teach in your colleges as expatriates

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  19. This is a good discussion
    We have to critically analyse issues raised by Mwansa and others that let grade 7 and 9 exams be continuous assessment for pupils to accumulate points for grade 12 final exam unlike
    release them on the street doing nothing .

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    • The debate is certainly worthwhile. I am personally of the view that the entire basic education system in Zambia needs reforms. The concept was started at a time when there were not enough schools to cater for so many pupils so there had to be a filtering system of flushing out the excess numbers.

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  20. I CANNOT IMAGINE ALL THESE GRADE 7 AND GRADE 9 FAILURES (FOR LACK OF A BETTER TERM) PROCEEDING TO GRADE 12 ALL IN THE NAME OF PROVIDING SECONDARY EDUCATION FOR ALL. THAT WILL BE A TOTAL DISASTER. IT WILL BE TOO LATE TO REFORM SUCH AT GRADE 12. IN FACT LEAKAGES WILL BE WORST. FAILURES BY ONE LEAKAGE WILL PROCEED TO UNIVERSITY. BUT IN GRADE 7 AND 9 YOU HAVE CHANCE TO REPEAT, LEARN FROM ERRORS AND CHART A NEW PHASE. NEVERTHELESS THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT NEED TO CHANGE IN OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM.

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  21. Scraping grade seven and nine examinations will not yield the results, unless, you improve salaries for teaching staff and Headteachers, currently UK Headteacher earn more than the Prime Minister(Head of State), however when education staff are paid peanuts they resort to selling examination papers. “Many head teachers could be earning more than the Prime Minister, teaching unions have warned, after a primary school head’s £276,000 pay package was disclosed”. Lets invest more in education as nation then we will not experience examination malpractice.

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  22. You don’t scrap sex because there is HIV – Mushota’s leaked wise words!The root cause of leakage and corruption in Zambia is loss of VALUES of honesty, integrity and hard work! A people without values are like a tree without roots!
    Scraping grade 7 and grade 9 exams is a recipe for disaster – We’ll become a nation of IFIKOPO and Grade 12 Leakage will get even worse! Let’s copy the great Chinese example of Discipline and Meritocracy! Exams in China are like Military operations! Those who cheat or engage in corrupt acts receive severe punishment, even death by execution. When the risk of punishment is slim, Corruption will thrive! We need to start executing people in Zambia to stop this cancer! Treating Corruption with kid gloves won’t take us anywhere!

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  23. Instead of scrapping these exams altogether we should instead do away with ECZ exams and go back to Cambridge set exams like we had before since those papers come sealed from the UK and are not set or printed here. We never used to have leakages those days and even today the international schools that have these exams instead of ECZ exams have never reported leakages.

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    • Totally agree! In addition, we can’t trust the printing of ballot papers in this country because of leakage. It will be a recipe for disaster! Zambians should watch out on this!

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  24. Editor in-chief don’t just give everyone space to write even backward ideas in the name of freedom of expression!!! This guy does not fully understand the value of an examination.

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  25. …. Why do so many Africans hate standards and appraisals? Exams are necessary. Feel free to revise the syllabus but exams stay. My gosh.

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  26. The nation should be debating such issues and researchers ,policy makers should and the public should be fully involved.

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  27. Kindly help me to understand this down grading of our three government Universities to College status. Is oxford and Cambridge Universities official graders of all Universities in the world. If so under which internationally agreed protocol granted or authority granted to these two Universities to assume this role. How binding are these gradings from these Universities? If indeed this is a universally accepted way of determining education standards in the world then lets abide by these gradings and change all our degree qualifications to diplomas and vise versa. Then lets call all our Universities starting with Unza and call it the Zambia College or something like that. Does this imply that even our medical students from Ridgeway Campus can not make at international level. What are our…

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  28. What are the Zambian intelligentsia saying about this type of grading. Are they saying our lecturers are not qualified. Dr. Sichalwe Kasanda please help me on this one. Are they saying for example that doctors graduating from Redgeway Campus can not make it at international level. If this was based on one or two Zambian students failing at these Universities determined this type of grading then I don not agree. Because we have had many Zambia students equally who have passed very well in the U.K. Do we as Zambians agree with this type of grading. What methodology was involved to arrive at this. Does it mean anything coming from the U.K is gospel truth. Please help me on this one. Lets be carefull with this type of grading. Next time they will tell us your copper is grade “d” and we are…

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