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PANIC and desperation have gripped many parents and pupils still looking for Form One places as the ban on entrance tests fees earlier this year has created more problems than it sought to address. Government prohibited schools from charging entrance test fees to prevent the fleecing of parents, who were complaining about the exorbitant fees by some schools.

Though entrance tests had over the years easily become a fundraising gimmick by schools, they also created a mechanism where schools would place prospective students well in aance in a comparatively more orderly manner. With the absence of entrance tests this year, chaos and panic prevailed as parents, with their children in tow, thronged schools in unmanageably large numbers with many of them failing to secure places even when their children had passed.

With only a month to go, many pupils are yet to secure secondary places. “By this time most prospective Form Ones would be knowing where they are going to next year, but that has not been the case for a good number of them this year,” said Obert Masaraure, president of the Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ).

With the results of the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) Grade Seven exams coming out on December 2, most schools opened up their doors to accept prospective Form One pupils to floods of parents and their children on December 3 and 4. A few other schools extended these days all the way up to December 11. While a good number of the pupils secured places for Form One, plenty others did not get.

“It has been very hard to get a place with all that pressure. Too many people came to the popular schools and we couldn’t all get places. Then there was the issue of only those with four or five points getting places leaving children like mine with six not getting,” said one mother who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We still do not have a place after going to more than 10 schools. The pressure and disorder is what has been shocking.”

The Financial Gazette understands that elite mission schools such as Bonda, St Dominic’s and others were taking pupils with four and five points while other mission schools were accepting four to eight points. Elite government schools were accepting four to six while the rest of the government schools were taking any points because they are obligated by government to take any pupils whether they failed or not as long as they are in the zones.

What has been exacerbating the situation and causing panic and chaos, according to Masaraure, has been that most parents have been trooping to the top performing schools — the ones known for good results — and ending up missing out. Even though their children had passed with sixes and sevens — when the schools filled up with four and five-pointers by the time they went to other schools with more lenient cut-off points they were finding that these had already filled up with pupils with, oftentimes, more points than their children as they had gotten there earlier or faster than them, Masaraure said.

“We have pupils with six points who have not yet managed to get places because when they failed to get places at the top schools by the time they went to other schools they found places already been filled by people with seven or eight points,” Masaraure said.

While with or without entrance tests, brighter students have always had an edge over those less bright, according to the RTUZ this year’s situation has been compounded by the lack of time. “Now many people will go for the Christmas holidays without yet securing places,” Masaraure said. “This causes stress.” Although the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) agrees that previously by now most students would have already secured Form One places, they believe that the current situation is good in that it allows for the Grade Seven exams to be used in the selection process.

“If we rely on entrance tests, when will the Grade Seven exams be used? What then is the purpose of the Grade Seven exams?” asked ZIMTA president, Richard Gundani. “The Grade Seven exams are nationally standardised exams which need to be used.” If the Grade Seven exams are not used, Gundani said, then other instruments used such as entrance tests compromised the system “because they are not standardised at national level.”

The RTUZ at its congress earlier this month, resolved to call for the lifting of the ban on entrance tests as they said these, in addition to allowing schools to test for the aptitude levels they wanted, also allowed pupils and their parents time to prepare as they would know well in aance where they will be going since entrance exams are done from June in the previous years.

“This enables parents and pupils to prepare in terms of tuition, buying uniforms and the like. This early determination of which students are going to which school also helps the schools in their administrative planning as they can do their class allocations well before schools open,” Masaraure said, “Schools cannot spend the whole holiday accepting pupils.” He also said in any case the ZIMSEC exams were now discredited following repeated exam leakages and that schools were better off using their own tests.

Source : Financial Gazette