EDITORIAL COMMENT: Mandatory Maths, English requirement exclusionary


Is it fair for someone who wants to train as a teacher of Shona, Ndebele, Tonga or Kalanga to fail to enrol at a college to attain their dream simply because they do not have a pass in Mathematics or English Language at Ordinary Level?  

Or for someone who wants to be a librarian and has 10 points at Advanced Level to fail to train as one because they failed Mathematics at “O” Level?

We had got used to this — someone with good “O” Levels, even “A” Levels failing to pursue their desired career paths because they did not pass Form Four Mathematics or English Language — but the requirements were simply unfair and needlessly monolithic.

There is no doubt that there are hundreds of thousands of “O” and “A” Level graduates who are stranded all over the country without a tertiary education or any hope of ever attaining it because they did not pass the two languages.  It is sad that in addition to these, there are thousands of people who had been studying at polytechnics but were forced to discontinue their studies after the Mathematics requirement was made compulsory in 2006 even for those already enrolled at institutions of higher learning.

This, in our opinion, represents an artificial problem that has condemned many of our people to a life of hopelessness, emotional suffering and poverty.

The Government has now proposed relaxing the entry requirements and given institutions of higher and tertiary learning the green light to fix the qualifications as appropriate, not the old obsession with Mathematics and or English Language.

Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Professor Amon Murwira told the latest edition of our sister paper, Sunday News:

“It remains the institution’s responsibility to revise entry requirements. As a ministry we leave such decisions to the colleges. Our role is to give direction and not directives on academic matters. We leave academic boards to exercise their independence and rights.

“I might have been misconstrued when I talked about entry qualifications. I never said scrap Maths. Some tertiary institutions complained that some of the entry requirements were not relevant or matching some of the courses, and enrolment numbers were plummeting. I said if you feel a particular programme like Hotel and Catering or a purely Arts programme does not require Maths, why not revise that.

“Our policy is a policy of inclusive education, recognising that people have different talents. As a country we should have people of different specialisations. We can’t all be engineers. We need journalists, teachers and a host of other professionals. We don’t want to see a student who deserves to be in college roaming the streets, no. Ways should be found to ensure that such a person gets a chance to be in college.

“If the institutions had agreed on a general rule among themselves and it’s now resulting in students’ numbers falling, then it’s up to them to look at that rule again. I’ve always said, you are not cattle on a yoke. We deployed you to those institutions trusting that you are capable. We expect these people (principals) to think and advise us. We don’t want parrots running our institutions.”

The old requirements served no purpose apart from making our education system too exclusive yet education must be inclusive. It did not recognise the obvious fact that people possess different capabilities. In addition, it disregarded the fact that the job market is diverse and each job is different from the other, thus the skills that people doing those jobs must have are different.   The blanket English language requirement was, with the benefit of hindsight now, very unjust.  It accorded the language a status that was far superior to others yet our national constitution recognises 16 official languages. In a country of our history, such a situation was deeply regrettable. Someone with a pass in his or her mother tongue could not advance his or her education because they failed the language of the colonialist!

It is obvious that English Language does not dominate China’s education system or job market. And that English Language does not dominate in Swahili-speaking East Africa but that has not prevented China or Tanzania from progressing.

We don’t know if the preferred status that English Language enjoyed could have withstood a Constitutional Court challenge in a country that recognises 16 languages. Is there a possibility that someone who had passes in five “O” Level subjects and approached the superior court challenging a decision by a local college to deny him a place to train as a Tonga or Shangaan teacher because he had no pass in English Language would have lost their case? It would have been an interesting constitutional case but we argue the person was going to get a positive judgment.

The Government has taken a good decision that accords greater freedom to colleges and universities to decide what is good for their training programmes.

With complaints that enrolment figures were falling largely because of the Mathematics requirement, we foresee college and university authorities exercising their judgments in a way that helps boost their student bodies numerically and open up opportunities to those who were being excluded.