5 minute read

Zimbabwe - Educational System—overview

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceZimbabwe - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Compulsory Education: The 1979 Education Act, which has undergone various amendments, defines aims and objectives, structures, and types of school programs, as well as evaluation and assessment procedures and ongoing scheduling. Although the act originally abolished compulsory education, the government of Zimbabwe reinstated compulsory universal primary education for every school-age child. However there was never any mechanism in place to enforce that policy particularly in remote rural areas that are home to the majority of Zimbabwe's residents. Even without enforcement, the policy led to large increases in enrollment, increases that were so large, in fact, that at the end of the policy's first six years, the secondary, tertiary and higher educational systems, as well as the labor market, were stretched past capacity. The result was a shortage of available spaces and strict competition for the few that were in the secondary schools. Enrollment levels in primary education remain high in present times, which uses up a large share of the education budget.

Independent Zimbabwe has made great strides in racial integration in schools, with the exception of a few private institutions. Private schools continue to receive government subsidies, while former European schools continue to charge fees and are zoned only in certain geographic areas. These schools mainly cater to the children of elite families who can afford to pay high fees.

Enrollment: The 1979 Education Act was amended to change the standard model of education from 8+4+2+4 (eight years in primary school, four years in secondary school, two years in high school, and four years in university) to a new model of 7+4+2+4. It reduced elementary primary education by one year, with other time periods remaining the same. The primary focus of elementary and high school education is to enhance the united nonracial and egalitarian society that accepts critical thinking and has a curriculum that features a combination of ideology, science, technology, and mathematics. However, the inherited education system—which still uses British-oriented examination boards—retains a highly academic and elitist curriculum and also continues to feature a restrictive selection process that determines who enters higher education and excels beyond.

The education system is exam-oriented, with automatic promotion from one grade to the next in a seven-year elementary education cycle that concludes with a national school leaving examination. While primary and Junior Certificate exams are constructed and administered locally, the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education and Culture, in conjunction with the University of Cambridge local examination syndicate, develops "O-" (University of Cambridge Ordinary level) and "A-" (University of Cambridge advanced) level exams.

Academic Year & Language of Instruction: The Zimbabwean school year runs from January to December, with approximately 188 days spent in school. The academic calendar for tertiary education and higher generally runs from March to December. The primary and official medium of instruction is English (even though the use of vernacular is permitted in early primary education), and students also learn at least one of the two major native languages.

Curriculum Development: Zimbabwe's curriculum is centralized and is determined by subject panels of teachers, education officers, and representatives from the teachers' association, universities, churches, and other stakeholder groups. The Curriculum Development Unit within the Ministry of Education and Culture coordinates the subject panels. Elementary school curriculum includes mathematics, English, agricultural and environmental science, physical education, social studies, moral and religious education, music, craft and art, and the indigenous languages (Ndebele and Shona). Indigenous tribal languages of the Kalanga, Tonga, Shangaan, Venda, and Nambya are taught during the first three years of elementary education within their communities.

Whereas one primary school teacher is assigned to teach all subjects in a class, in high school, there are various experts specializing in particular subjects. There is a compulsory core curriculum for secondary education up to O-level consisting of English, mathematics, and science. After the core courses, students take electives, as time allows. At A-level, the curriculum is more specialized, as students choose either the sciences or humanities. Within either track, a student and various schools can freely make any combination of three subjects. However, depending on the school timetable, combinations of subjects across tracks is possible. Some secondary schools teach foreign languages such as Afrikaans and French. The Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) and private publishing companies prepare learning materials and textbooks. However, the CDU concentrates more on education quality control than material development. Schools have discretionary powers to select appropriate materials within the CDU-recommended and approved materials. There is increased and improved Internet use in distance education, particularly in tertiary and higher education.

Beginning with the 1990s, there has been an increased emphasis on creating research-based curriculum development and on improving teacher-effective use of materials. Making educational material more userfriendly and affordable is a challenge for this millennium. There has been ongoing research into and evaluation of education endeavors. Initially, evaluation efforts were carried out by the government and various stakeholders, such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Swedish International Development agency (SIDA). Thus the Ministry of Policy Planning and Evaluation Unit assessed whether resources were available to expand educational facilities and implemented the expansion in a timely and effective manner, overseeing construction and the provision of adequate instructional materials and teaching staff. Similarly the donors were concerned about the capacity of the ministry to implement its ambitious educational programs and to ensure that the donors' money was utilized just as it had been allocated.

Since the end of the 1980s, there have been various evaluative studies on learning achievement and on the efficacy of foreign donor interventions in improving teaching and learning; on the appropriateness of the curricula; on gender issues; on teacher motivation; and on the impact of untrained teachers on students' performance. Since the 1990s, the World Bank has commissioned research and evaluative studies on factors associated with learning achievements. Zimbabwe's universities have also undertaken research on these issues. In addition, the Research Council of Zimbabwe engages in research as a development tool and makes its findings available to scholars and policy-makers. Projects funded in that manner include UNICEF's primary-teacher-training distance education program, as well as a multipurpose program expanding and monitoring childhood development and survival. Dissemination and evaluation of appropriate technology use for promoting program objectives is ongoing.

Additional topics