Minister of General Education David Mabumba says all the 388,331 pupils who sat for the Grade 7 examinations in 2018 passed. But the Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) is warning stakeholders that this is not an accurate indicator of performance improvement among the pupils.

ZNUT general secretary Newman Bubala suggests that the 100 per cent pass rate for Grade 7 pupils last year could be mainly attributed to abundant spaces available for Grade 8 pupils countrywide. He says this is because government downgraded some primary schools to basic level, thereby increasing availability of Grade 8 spaces and subsequently lowering the cut-off points.

“The truth of the matter is that, going to Grade 8 has to do with the space available. So, if you have got a lot of space, or if you have a lot of Grade 8 classrooms, as many of those who write exams do make it. So, we cannot really determine by this [pass rate] to say we have improved,” Bubala explained.

“If you build more schools, it will mean that more children will go into grade eight easier. This is because the cut-off point will be lowered. We are seeing more space in Grade 8, that means a lot of primary schools have been turned into basic schools.”

The teachers’ union leader expressed concern that most of the pupils who have made it to Grade 8 are likely going to fail Grade 9 because of the nature of Grade 7 exams, which are less challenging. He suggested that Grade 7 exams be revised in order to improve the quality of education being imparted on students.

“I think the Grade seven exams need to be revisited; it’s a situation where you have the multiple-choice questions; the intellectual tests; the IQ tests and so on. As the children are going to Grade 8, they need to be ready to face serious exams in Grade 9. A lot of Grade 7s are making [it] to Grade 8, but there might be a challenge when they reach Grade 9 if in Grade 10, there is no expansion policy of increasing the infrastructure.”

We find the observations made by the Zambia National Union of Teacher to be very valid. Indeed, Grade 7 examinations need to be revised in order to prepare pupils adequately for secondary education. It should not surprise anybody that in 2018, every single pupil who sat for the exams made it to Grade 8. In fact, the statistics for 2017 are not any different because that year, 99.14 per cent of the pupils passed.

Sometimes, Grade 7 exams are referred to as ‘guesswork tests,’ where even when you absolutely don’t know the answer, you have about a 25 per cent chance of singing “piki piki na piki doli” and circling the correct option.

In the old days, there was a myth that when you are faced with a tough Grade 7 question, you can simply raise the HB pencil a few centimetres above the answer sheet, say a prayer and drop it on the ‘correct’ answer. Funny as these methods of answering Grade 7 exams may sound, for many years, people have been making it to Grade 8 by doing just that.

At Grade 7, the examiners are not interested in your handwriting, your comprehension, your composition, your narrative skills or creativity; as long as you can shade the correctly guessed answer, then you are a good pupil and deserve to progress to high school. How can that be?

We do not think this is a progressive way of assessing the pupils’ intellectual capacity. This is the reason why hundreds of thousands pass Grade 7, but fail to make it to Grade 10. The Grade 9 exam proves to be too challenging for pupils because it brings into play all the aspects that are ignored at Grade 7. Consequently, the country records more Grade 9 school dropouts than any other grade.

If everyone who sits for a given examination is able to pass with so much ease, we don’t see how it can affect the education system if such an exam was abolished. Unless the composition of Grade 7 exams is revised to include real IQ test questions demanding exculpatory answers, we find them a waste of government money and time. It is not the multiple choice questions we are against, but we are calling for an inclusion of probing questions that can help examiners understand which areas the pupils were lacking.

The purpose of upgrading some basic schools to Primary and upgrading some primary schools to lower secondary level was to improve the education standards. But this year, that has proved to achieve the opposite. The system has mopped every Tom and Jerry into Grade 8, and some of those undeserving pupils are the ones who desperately look for leakage when faced with Grade 9 exams.

Teacher Bubala is right; the expansion of school infrastructure must go in tandem with adequate teaching staff, improved teaching aids, sufficient materials and real inquisitive examinations.