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Grade 7 Exam Results: An Uproar, Then a Rude Awakening for Matabeleland

Matabeleland's Public Education: What needs to be done?

BY DIVINE DUBE, Editorial Director | @Village_Scribe | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 19, 2021

The recently released grade seven examination results surfaced a long-existing challenge: Matabeleland’s broken public education system. Perhaps for the first time, this is a rude awakening for the region but will the bold go beyond popular discourse and address the problem head-on?

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — When the Zimbabwe School Examination Council (ZIMSEC) announced early Feb. 2021 that grade seven examination results for the 2020 academic year were out, there was an uproar in Matabeleland. Then a rude awakening.

By the time many concerned activists and parents discovered that the uproar was based on misinformation, the debate on why several schools in Matabeleland had recorded a zero percent pass rate had reached a crescendo; the horses had bolted.

For the umpteenth time, the region faces a reality that has contended for several decades: a broken public education system and low examination grades. Although the issue also affects other parts of the country, in Matabeleland, the problem has always triggered heated debate online and offline, triggering questions around alleged state-sponsored marginalization. Yet, still, it has hardly cajoled anyone into rising from popular discourse to informed action.

Although ZIMSEC is yet to issue grade seven examination results statistics aggregated per province, we believe that the conversation about public education in Matabeleland, which has seen most schools from the region perennially underperforming, is timely and locally relevant.

For this reason, in keeping with our mission at The Citizen Bulletin, we spent the past few weeks listening. We heard from activists who believe that low pass rates in the region result from the continued systematic state marginalization that began during the Gukurahundi genocide which claimed thousands of people from Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces.

We heard from parents who believe that pupils shouldn’t have been allowed to sit for exams after spending the better part of the year at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown. We also listened to pessimists who believe that challenges bedevilling education in Matabeleland are just a microcosm of the rot afflicting the other parts of the country.

Informed by insights from our community listening efforts, on Thursday, Feb. 18, we held an Open Newsroom session. We hosted experts who debated challenges contributing to low examination grades for primary and secondary schools in Matabeleland. They proffered what they believed are solutions that could help save the region’s public education. Community members also weighed in, making suggestions on how to reimagine the schooling system.  

From these conversations, it is clear that schools can only do so much to solve challenges bedevilling public education in Matabeleland. More needs to be done by the national government; from decentralizing its functions as suggested by our columnist in this newsletter edition, to rehabilitating infrastructure in rural schools and improving employment conditions for teachers working for public schools.

ALSO READ: Learning to Listen, Building Communities

At The Citizen Bulletin, we believe that we also have a critical role to play in improving public education in our region. From providing rigorous hyperlocal reporting on education to giving our communities a platform to share and use our reporting to become agents of good governance and social progress, we have served our communities to the best of our ability.

From March 2020, when the coronavirus-induced lockdown began, we produced hard-hitting coverage about how the pandemic had upended public education in Matabeleland. Our rigorous reporting surfaced inequality in Matabeleland’s public education system and triggered informed debate on what communities ought to do to find lasting solutions to challenges that impede local and regional development.

We plan to bring you even more critical, service-oriented journalism as the health pandemic lasts to pursue our mission. We know you fully understand the importance of the information we’re providing: hyperlocal, human-centred stories that no other newsroom produces. But for us to deliver this critical information to you, we need your help.

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