EDUCATION and appropriate investment will equip us with the necessary skills to achieve Vision 2030 and become an upper middle-income economy. 

In tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the development process should leave no one behind. 

In this article, we tackle, head-on, foreign language requirements in the education and employment sector that literally prevent the majority from accessing professional training and employment.

Zimbabwe has correctly identified education as the main tool for bringing about its development aspirations. 

It is education that must re-tool the citizens to become innovative and contribute to the industrialisation of the economy. 

Industrialisation will generate goods and services, part of which will be exported to earn the much-needed foreign exchange to purchase essential imported goods and services. 

The challenges to revamp and re-focus our education system are many, but in this article I wish to highlight the English language requirement that sits as the unforgiving guardian to our main higher and tertiary educational entrance gate; feared by both candidates and their parents. 

Readers may be aware that, in Zimbabwe, there is a strict rule inherited from the colonial era that candidates sitting the school-leaving Ordinary Level examination must pass a minimum five subjects — including English language. 

Any, and all, candidates who do not gain a Grade ‘C’ or better in the English language examination will not be accepted to register for tertiary education in any college, university or other formal training institution, regardless of how many other subjects s/he has passed. 

And so, Zimbabweans keep asking the big question: Is it English or is it education?

The English language requirement was a major pillar of the colonial regime as it kept the numbers of blacks aspiring for higher education in check. 

Passing ‘O’-Level English brought African youths into competition for jobs with their white counterparts. 

Even today, 39 years after the British flag was lowered, only a limited number of black students manage to pass English with a Grade ‘C’ or better.  

Those who pass English have traditionally gone on to be clerks, teachers, policemen, technicians and accountants. 

Numbers in the sciences and engineering disciplines have remained very low. 

But for all these black students passing ‘O’-Level examinations, the English paper has been the key means test. 

That examination is the proverbial eye of a needle — so hard for a camel to pass through.

And so, the majority of African students who have unsuccessfully attempted the ‘O’-Level English examination remain outside the academic domain, unable to squeeze through the needle’s eye despite so many attempts! 

One young girl in Rafingora, who obtained seven ‘O’-Levels in November 2014 examinations, has attempted the English paper twice each year and, up to 2018, has not succeeded!

In Zimbabwe today, all formal training in tertiary institutions require a pass in English at ‘O’-Level. 

Records from the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council show that the English language examination is one of the most poorly performed; probably with less than 30 percent passing at any sitting. 

The rural schools, with little or no contact with English culture, are the worst performers! 

The zero pass rates often ride on the poor English teaching.

Because, in Zimbabwe, English is equated with being ‘educated’, virtually all formal tertiary institutions do not accept candidates with less than a Grade ‘C’ pass. 

Without a ‘C’ or better in English, candidates are deemed to have ‘failed’ their ‘O’-Levels. 

Even if they pass any number of subjects as long as their performance is below Grade ‘C’ in English, they are literally doomed, with no prospect of receiving tertiary level training. 

No university will accept these ‘failures’, even if they have passing grades in all other required subjects. 

No college of agriculture or nurse training schools will touch candidates without a ‘C’ or better in the Queen ofEngland’s mother tongue. 

These ‘failures’ cannot get formal training as policemen, teachers, nurses, technicians or, indeed, any professional occupations.

Those school ‘rejects’ could potentially contribute to economic development towards Vision 2030! 

What a waste of human capital! 

Can we afford it at this stage of our development!

If one opens any Zimbabwean newspaper or magazine advertising various jobs, all will have one common line: ‘Five ‘O’-Levels including English’. 

Admittedly, some jobs require proficiency in English, but the majority do not. 

It is also revealing to note that as English remains the medium of instruction, the ‘failing’ candidates will have passed other subjects taught through that same medium of English. 

In other words, the majority of so-called ‘failures’ are candidates with a sufficient command of English to be able to comprehend teaching materials in science, geography, history, mathematics, agriculture and to pass formal examinations. 

But no, they must first pass English language examinations! How ridiculous!


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