Science catastrophe looming in rural schools

All learners are now supposed to sit for a Combined Science Practical examination, thus according to the dictates of the new curriculum. The move is plausible as practical science investigation gives learners hands on experience of the content they would have theoretically learnt in class. Life skills are also mastered which are vital in the drive to use Science education to stimulate economic development. However if the initiative is not supported by requisite infrastructure, skilled manpower and related material resources, practical science examinations can brew a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ Department of Research embarked on a field research to try and ascertain the state of preparedness of rural schools to handle science practical examinations. The outcome of the research points to gloomy future.

Our research focused on, teacher preparedness to prepare and supervise the science practical examinations, learner preparedness, availability of materials and reagents and supporting infrastructure.

Teacher Preparedness

ARTUZ noted that the government of Zimbabwe was running a teacher capacity building exercise at different levels. There was an exercise conducted in partnership with UNICEF, this exercise was catering for Science teachers to advance their knowledge through advancing education. Teachers were enrolled for Post Graduate Diploma in Education programs, Subject specific undergraduate programs and Masters.

The other notable initiative was peer to peer training wherein teachers were meeting at cluster level to share knowledge. The last initiative involved hiring facilitators to train teachers on new sections of the new curriculum. ARTUZ conducted interviews with individual teachers to ascertain the state of preparedness of teachers to deliver after undergoing these training regimes.

The trainings, however do  not cater for the preparation and supervision of practical exams as they remained theoretical with no opportunity of enhancing the skills of the teachers. Most teachers noted the unavailability of supporting resources for hands on training as the biggest setback. The majority of teachers is panicking on the prospect of preparing these practical exams and are still looking forward to genuine hands on training which they claim was not part of their teacher training. Those who claim to have been adequately trained in college are now confessing being rusty since they never had an opportunity to use the skills. Most schools do not have science teachers and are employing stop gap measures to cater for the learners.

Learner preparedness

ARTUZ noted shocking teacher pupil ratios in rural schools. One science class can accommodate up to 80 learners. As a result of this teachers have resorted to use of lecture method and classroom demonstrations. The bulk of learners lacked appreciation of the basic laboratory glassware equipment and reagents. Common glassware like beakers and measuring cylinders cannot be identified by these learners who are expected to use the same in the November examinations. Learners’ registration for the compulsory combined science with ZIMSEC was reported to be low at some centers as learners chickened out from the mammoth task.

Infrastructure and supporting materials

Most rural schools still possess remnants of the ZimSCience initiative of the 1980s and the recent UNICEF science kits. What remains is however insufficient to cover both the large groups of learners and diverse topics covered under the combined science curriculum. Some schools don’t even have a building called science laboratory and those who have a room it is just an empty shell. Electricity and water are rare commodities in rural schools. One wonders where these practical exams will be conducted.

Conclusion and Recommendations

ARTUZ concludes that rural schools are not ready for science practical examinations and hereby recommend that:

  1. ZIMSEC suspends combined science practical exams for November 2018 and revert back to the alternative to practical paper.
  2. Government sets up an education equalization fund to be used to construct infrastructure in rural schools.
  3. Combined Science resource persons to be employed to conduct teacher training at their different institutions using local resources.
  4. Employ more science graduate teachers

Source: Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ)

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