Revitalizing science education through the provision of equipment and teacher training in Zimbabwe
By Richard Nyamanhindi
Sazilina Masukume has been teaching Science at Makotore Satellite Secondary School in Masvingo for more than a decade now. Since she started, she has seldom carried out practical science experiments, as the school does not have any apparatus for this critical subject.
“The main challenge that we face in science teaching is that many of our schools lack the required equipment. We concentrate on the theoretical aspects of the subject. The majority of our pupils graduate from school without having carried out a single experiment or in some cases even seen a beaker, spatula or Burnsen burner.”
“This has been the reason why most of our pupils especially girls shun sciences and inevitably we have less and less pursuing careers as doctors or engineers,” added Masukume.
The shortage of science equipment and science teachers in Zimbabwean secondary schools has had its negative ramifications on the career paths for many pupils, especially those that have a bias towards the science field. As explained by Marian Moyo who finished her ‘O’ Levels four years ago and failed to proceed to nursing school because she did not pass Mathematics and Science, “I vividly remember sitting in a science class especially after Form 3 and feeling invisible.”
“I did not see myself as a part of the classroom, and was not able to involve myself in the lessons that were taught. I was not dull but rather, I could not relate with what was happening because the teaching was theoretical,” said Marian.
Since gaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has made substantial progress towards widening access to education. However, between 2000 and 2010, Zimbabwean schools were hard hit by shortages of trained science teachers and equipment for experiments.
Having realized the challenges facing the promotion and teaching of Science in Zimbabwe and the ever increasing number of pupils failing the subject – the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education through its Strategic Plan (2011-2015) in partnership with UNICEF have embarked on a massive program to revive science teaching in the country. The program is funded through the Education Development Fund (EDF) – a multi-donor funding mechanism.
The program has already acquired 2,449 sciences kits which will be distributed starting January 2014 and is currently working on the re-capacitation of more than 5,000 science teachers from the 2,336 secondary schools in the country on the safe use and maintenance of the apparatus in the new science kits.
The science kits will be distributed to all registered and satellite secondary schools as well as some registered non-formal institutions offering the science curriculum. Each kit comprises of 172 different items, 46 of which are chemicals and has enough supplies to cover 178 different experiments from Form 1-4 classes. The distribution of the kits is expected to have been completed by the end of July 2014. The science kits are not being distributed in isolation but are meant to complement the EDF science textbooks that were distributed between 2011 and 2013.
Speaking at one of the Training Sessions at Checheche Secondary School, the Provincial Education Director (PED) for Manicaland, Mr. A. Chigumira noted the timeliness of the science kit in reviving science education in Zimbabwe which is facing a myriad of challenges and expressed hope that the equipment and the refresher training for the teachers will result in motivated science teachers and better results after 2014.
“The training and provision of the science kits could not have come at better time for all the science teachers and pupils in Zimbabwe. The new science equipment will definitely generate enthusiasm among most of our teachers who last received a similar science kit in the 1980’s. However, we should keep it safe and encouraged schools to charge a science levy that will be used to sustain the science kits,” said the PED.
The PED further emphasized the need for science teachers to upgrade themselves through a partnership that is in place with the Bindura University of Science Education and urged the teachers to establish provincial science platforms to facilitate innovation in the teaching of the subject.
Some of the challenges faced so far during the trainings include the increased number of teachers who are teaching science in many schools without a science qualification. An increased number of teachers from the humanities are teaching science with ominous consequences on the pupils.
The other challenge noted by the teachers being trained is that a single day for the refresher training is not sufficient to appreciate most of the new developments in science teaching.