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Zambian 2013 Grade 12 Examination Results: Why they were poor

When Zambia’s education minister, Dr. John Phiri announced this year’s results for 2013 Grade 12 examinations, which were generally very poor, he attributed the deplorable performance to the high levels of illiteracy among Grade 12 pupils. He said, ”The general poor 2013 Grade 12 examination results are attributed to the fact that majority of pupils today cannot read with understanding nor write.” The minister further announced that Grant-Aided and Private schools produced better results than government schools.

Out of 104,809 Grade 12 pupils who sat for the exams in 2013, only 63,104 obtained full school certicates. In order to address this lamentable situation, Dr. Phiri says the introduction of the use of Zambian languages in schools will help improve the literacy and numeracy skills among the pupils. The “Let’s Read Zambia” campaign which his ministry has launched with the help of USAID and other stakeholders in the new curriculum is intended to raise the literacy levels in the country and ultimately improve school examination results.

Much as literacy and numeracy are very important skills and are indisputable factors in good performance, there is need as a nation to give a broad based approach to the problem of poor performance among the pupils in government schools. It is gratifying that the minister has acknowleged that grant aided and private schools perform better than government schools. The reasons for such performance cannot be attributed to high literacy levels in these respective schools per se, but on a tapestry of factors ranging from class size to sound management practices that prioritise accountability in teaching and learning, resource utilisation, discipline from both staff and pupils, infrastructure and perfomance.

Effective teaching and learning needs to take place in order for schools to perform to the nation’s expectation. Grant-aided and private schools pay particular attention to what happens in the classroon. Teaching and learning resources are a priority for any meaningful education to take place in the classroom. Teachers need the teaching aids required to effectively and successfully deliver their lessons. Pupils need the necessary learning materials to help them engage with the lessons at hand. Effective teaching requires a manageable class size so that the teacher has ample individual attention for the learners so that he is able to assess his learners’ individual progress and challenges as the lesson is progressing. This practise, called Assessment for Learning (AfL) helps the teacher know and gauge the progress of the child on a daily basis throughout the course of learning and makes appropriate differentiated approaches in his teaching style to meet the individual learning needs of his pupils. This can only be possible in a class where the teacher-pupil ratio is small. The challenge in government schools is that large class sizes make this impossible and learning does not therefore take place.

Teachers need continuous support in their job as each pupil that enters the classroom has his own individual learning style and needs. A lot of teachers are left at their own devices in most government schools with no professional mentoring from senoir teachers who may either be overloaded with work or are also not up to scratch with modern teaching methods that engage pupils to learn with higher order thinking skills, creativity and curiosity. Our Zambian pupils are distracted by a lot of things in this moden era and unless the teachers’ approaches and methods are aimed at addressing the inquisitive and creative mind of today’s learners, then no learning will be taking place in the classrooms. Therefore, it is important that teachers at school level engage in professional mentoring, team teaching and bespoke professional development workshops tailored to addresss the learning and teaching needs of their individual schools. Such practices are easy to carry out in most private schools because there is no red tape when it comes to embracing and implementing change that brings positive results in the classroom.

Teacher and pupil discipline is paramount in implementing successful teaching and learning practices. Grant aided and private schools have high discipline benchmarks set for both their teachers and pupils. Punctuality among teachers is never compromised. Each minute is accounted for. Professional ethics are discussed and emphasised. School managers demand high discipline and professionalism at all times. They do not relent on enforcing these. In most government schools, school managers do not seem to have the muscle to call an erring staff to order. The bureaucracy involved in disciplining the teachers makes the headteachers relent and succumb to their teachers’ impunity. This has a knock-on effect in the entire teaching-learning process and the ultimate victim of teacher indiscipline is often the learner who will never recover his or her lost time.

Notwithstanding all these issues above, the government teachers do largely execute their job with zeal but are quite often encumbered with numerous challenges which their colleagues in grant aided and private schools do not face. Grant aided and private schools often select, for admission, pupils with very high marks compared to the majority of the government schools. This gives them higher numbers of high academic achievers and well motivated learners. Pupils in private schools are motivated by the fact that their parents are paying a lot of money to invest in their education and often such parents have a keen interest in their children’s performance thereby they play a key role in motivating them to learn. Teachers in government schools largely have to deal with less motivated and low achieving pupils whose scores could not see them into top-class grant aided schools. Teachers often find this challenging compounded by overcrowded classrooms, lack of textbooks and teaching aids. Consequently they get frustrated and their morale drops hence affecting the efficacy of their teaching.

The most disadvantaged are teachers in rural schools living in deplorable housing conditions and with no access to facilities enjoyed by their urban counterparts. This in itself is less motivating and gradually compromises the teachers’ effectiveness at their job.

Much as we talk about the introduction of local languages in our schools to boost our literacy levels and produce good results, we also need to look at other factors that promote teaching and learning.

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Comment by Richard Close on February 13, 2014 at 11:29am


While developing the digital storytelling program and portal for UNESCO I am Africa This is my story at http://i-am-the-story.ning.com we did 17 videos in Lusaka High School  you might like to see.

In addition We have a proposal to to build Community Learning Center in Kitale that integrates Adult Learning with business development.

WHile there is met the head of Zambia curiculum development who asked me to take a look at it. The issue with Zambia and the US is that we need to change the objective radically or the colonial curriculum system. This same discussion was in agreement of the Zambian Chiefs. We need a curriculum that trains people to CREATE jobes and not apply for one that are not there.

There is much to share with you. Please email me at rclose@richardclose.info so I can sent you the documentation on these programs

Stay encouraged and let's save some lives,




Richard C Close

Servant - CEO

Chrysalis Campaign

13 Geiger Rd

New Milford, CT 06776

Cell: 860.248.5424

Email:  rclose@richardclose.info  

Home site: richardclose.blogspot.com/

Chrysalis Campaign Site: http://globallearningframework.ning.com

Twitter: @richardcclose

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/richardcclose

Papers: esc.academia.edu/RichardClose


UNESCO PPN site: http://i-am-the-story.ning.com

UNESCO PPN YouTube Channel: http://tinyurl.com/3f6ylgf



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