The Dog Wagging the Tail or the Tail Wagging the Dog? the Impact of National Examinations on Curriculum Implementation in Zimbabwean Secondary Schools

Article excerpt


It is now commonplace in the Zimbabwean secondary schools that examinations have dictated the curriculum instead of following it. Public examinations have negatively impacted on curriculum implementation in secondary schools. Regrettably, quality education has been the biggest casualty. This case study collected qualitative data from school heads, teachers and students to ascertain how examinations have impacted on teaching and learning. Twenty (20) form four teachers responded to questionnaires, sixty (60) students participated in focus group discussions and three (3) school heads were interviewed from the three randomly selected secondary schools in Masvingo urban. The research found that national examinations have grossly affected, influenced and dictated the way the curriculum has been implemented. School quality has thus been described in terms of the overall pass rate in national examinations. In turn, teachers have narrowly focused their teaching on possible examination topics at the expense of some vast knowledge forms. Both teachers and students have carried a heavy academic cross on their shoulders and the pressure and strain have resulted in a lot of cheating. The study recommends a two way evaluation system in which the student's school grade and that of the national examinations are combined to come up with the overall final result. The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council should have its own pool of full time item writers and examiners in order to enable teachers to have wider coverage of the syllabuses and avoid concentrating on possible examination topics.

Keywords: curriculum implementation, national examinations, quality education, assessment, evaluation.


Zimbabwe's education system continues to be modelled along the British educational system with its deep - seated emphasis on examination. Singh's (2010) observation has been that external examinations took root in virtually all British colonies and have become entrenched as an integral part of pedagogic practice. This has had a knock -on effect on curriculum implementation of the Zimbabwean secondary school curriculum. The implementation of a viable curriculum can easily be betrayed by an examination system which pays little regard to the merits and superiority of other important skills and practical capacities over theory and academic knowledge. It is unsound educational practice to allow an examination to determine what students need to learn.

Zindi's (1989) research observed that there is too much concentration on academic subjects, with a consequent failure to value non- academic and non-cognitive aspects of the curriculum. With this scenario Stiggins (1999) noted that teachers now spend most of their teaching time in examination related activities. Without necessarily denying that examinations are one of the important and key aspects to school effectiveness and curriculum evaluation methods, the road to the examination destination should allow dynamic dialogue between the teacher and the student (Leat and Nichols, 2000). The Zimbabwean classroom scenario has shown very little respect and concern for this interaction between the teacher, student and the curriculum as sound curriculum implementation practice as examinations have become engraved in the minds of teachers and students as the only proper means of assessment. Freire (1972) has stressed that without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education. In the same vein, Ndawi and Maravanyika (2011) observe that curriculum implementation can be seen as a process of the school facilitating the interaction between the teacher and the curriculum. Teachers, because their focus is on examinations, have tended to perpetuate rote traditional, unreflective and teacher centred methods rather than bringing in innovative and productive methods that put the student at the centre. Singh (2010) says that external examinations continue to dominate and haunt the thinking of teachers in secondary schools today. …


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