The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) wants the government to approve a recommendation asking primary school pupils to pay for their Grade Seven examinations as a way of bridging financial problems facing ZIMSEC, a move that may not be well-received by parents, especially as the constitution says primary education in the country should be free.
Appearing before the parliamentary education and culture portfolio committee, ZIMSEC director Esau Nhandara said his organization has been finding it difficult to run Grade Seven examinations with limited resources.
ZIMSEC is proposing a nominal examination fee of $1.50 per subject.
ZIMSEC, which also runs ordinary and advanced level examinations in the country, said it is experiencing a lot of problems in running examinations due to inadequate funding.
Nhandara said procurement, printing, delivery and provision of security for examination materials is too high in the country, raising the need for them to introduce a fee for those taking Grade Seven examinations.
He told the committee ZIMSEC also wants to boost its fleet to ensure examination papers no longer get lost along the way as the council has previously relied on public transport to get papers to schools.
Nhandara said the parastatal is working hard to improve the way it runs examinations, adding starting this year Advanced Level students will register electronically at their respective centres with the same system gradually introduced to ordinary and Grade Seven levels by 2015.
E-marking will also be introduced to improve the examination process in the country.
Acting permanent secretary in the education ministry, Crispen Bowora, said ZIMSEC examinations are highly regarded internationally.
Asked why some Zimbabwean students, particularly those in private schools were opting for Cambridge examinations, Bowora said, this mostly occurred when ZIMSEC lost credibility during the economic meltdown of 2007 to 2008.
Bowora said under Zimbabwean law, pupils in all public and private schools must write local examinations but are free to write international ones as well.
Bowora said entries to ZIMSEC examinations rose by 9.3 percent last year.
Asked whether ZIMSEC and the education ministry had considered deploying soldiers to supervise examinations when teachers were on strike, Bowora said the subject has never been discussed.
ZIMSEC officials said while several factors such as the removal of the Junior Certificate Examinations and industrial action by teachers have affected the performance of Ordinary Level students, the examinations and results have measured up to international standards.
John Maramba, ZIMSEC assistant director for Test Development, said despite a public outcry, last year’s L Level results were not that bad.
Zimbabwe last year recorded an 82 percent failure rate in Ordinary Level examinations leading to a public outcry from parents and other stakeholders.
For perspective VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo spoke with educationist Victor Chigumbu of the Haven of Peace International School and Masvingo Central lawmaker Jefreyson Chitando, also a member of parliament’s education committee.
Chitando said parents should not be forced to pick up the pieces where the government and ZIMSEC have failed.
Mr. Chigumbo argued that parents should assist the government where it is unable to find the money to support the exams.