Is something happening we should know about? Our readers give us some of our best story ideas.

WhatsApp: +263 7 18636459
Twitter: @TheCB_News
Facebook: The Citizen Bulletin

Centralised Education System: A Recipe for Poor Grades in Matabeleland

Some districts in Matabeleland province do not have cellular networks, radio and television signals to cater for online learning. Image by Nicholson

BY MBONISI GUMBO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 19, 2021

Poor pass rates in public examinations has long been an issue facing the region of Matabeleland, but COVID-19 could have worsened the existing challenges, now the region finds itself facing a problem it has always contended with. Could decentralization be the solution? Mbonisi Gumbo has a point to make.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Educationists, parents and activists have for decades agonised over Matabeleland's continued poor academic performance in primary and secondary education examinations. At the time of writing this article, the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) had just released 2020 grade seven results. A national pass rate of 37,11 percent was announced, a 9,79 percent drop from 46,9 percent achieved in 2019. In 2018, the pass rate was set at 52,08 percent.

A quick view of the pass rate of indigenious languages examined in Matabeleland shows that in 2019 Ndebele had above 80 percent, Kalanga and Venda had above 70 percent while Tonga and Nambya had over 60 percent. Sesotho, which was assessed for the first time, recorded a pass rate of 68,48 percent. The class of 2020 had a  Ndebele , Nambya, Venda, Kalanga pass rate of above 65 percent, while Sesotho scored 54,62 percent which was a fair result.

The drop is alarming and calls for urgent and honest introspection by all stakeholders. Such a predicament coupled with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to questions around the education system as it relates to the region of Matabeleland. One of the key questions is whether or not educational devolution is a possible solution to the crisis.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Education has been lambasted for taking understaffing challenges and other school related problems for granted. These issues have constantly revolved around issues to do with the communication deficit best known as the language barrier. Continued distribution of  inadequate resources for academic activities despite the fact that it is entirely under the central government's jurisdiction and obligation to provide, promote and protect the equity and equal resource allocation framework in all regions.

Granted, the 2020 academic year was not an ordinary one as the school calendar was severely disrupted due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and the continued lockdown. The glaring failure to provide an inclusive, sufficiently resourced and standardized national curriculum that caters for both rural and urban learners by the central government is a recipe for failure. It remains true that the central government is not keen to invest enough in the education sector particularly in rural areas, where we still have villages without cellular networks, or radio and television signals in some districts both in Matabeleland North and South.

In that regard it has proven to be difficult for learners, teachers and parents from these districts to cope with the new teaching and learning system that has solely depended on WhatsApp tutorials married with radio and television programs among other online initiatives. With these in place it was and still remains difficult, inadequate and totally exclusive of those that have no devices to connect and later on access any academic related content. This automatically weakens these rural students' competitiveness in comparison with their urban counterparts and surely this is a big spoon of salt added on the recipe for poor grades.

We therefore ask: Would the outcome have been different in Matabeleland if there was educational devolution? It is our view that the deliberate transfer of power and resources from central government to under resourced peripheral institutions would have improved educational quality and dreadful pass rates experienced in Matabeleland for decades.

A plethora of recommendations have been made by different stakeholders including government sanctioned commissions, parliamentary portfolios on education politicians among others, to the effect that resources needed to implement what is now deemed as a new wave of quality and progressive education must come through a clear system of devolution of power so that all allocated resources reach the intended beneficiaries.

ALSO READ: Byo City Expansion Project: Boon or Bane for Youths?

We have tried to look into the aspect of power dynamics in making sure that resources invested into the education system are well monitored through strong accountability and transparency mechanism and we recommend that the districts and provincial administrations be empowered to make own decisions based on their particular needs as opposed to centralisation and a one size fits all approach. For this to be achieved it is recommended that schools in conjunction with their districts craft their plans in response to local needs and realities. Curriculum overhaul must also be continuously developed in ways that match local realities.

Currently, administrative powers still lie with the central government via the parent ministry while districts and provincial offices exist to coordinate and relay information between the headquarters and schools. In a scenario where a vacancy has risen, the school head writes to the district office, who in turn forwards the request to the province whose mandate is to notify the Ministry. It is upon the parent ministry’s discretion to make a decision on whether to recruit or not. Conversely, when the ministry decides to employ, the region of Matabeleland receives teachers with little or no grasp of local languages.

When stakeholders raise such pertinent issues with authorities who have power to effect change, they are generally ignored or accused of fanning tribalism. Apart from the severe shortage of teachers, the region continues to succumb to administrative and financial monopoly which has resulted in halted and poor infrastructural development. For example, the region still has mud hut classrooms that double up as accommodation for teachers. Surely such conditions are a recipe for a catastrophic academic record for any region.

In conclusion, we contend that devolution, if fully implemented, would bestow equality and equity to the Matabeleland's academic sector by empowering local authorities to face challenges that impede quality education head-on, without having to forward them to the central government and then wait for ages to get feedback.

Mbonisi Gumbo is a Bulawayo based human rights activist. He is contacted via email on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Keith Sibanda, a peace and development practitioner based in the same city contributed to this article.