Zimbabwe’s education system has undergone a major overhaul in recent years, with the introduction of the competence-based curriculum (CBC) and the continuous assessment learning activities (CALA). The CBC aims to equip learners with relevant skills and competencies for the 21st century, while the CALA are meant to measure their progress and achievements.
However, many parents, teachers and students have expressed their dissatisfaction and frustration with the CBC and the CALA, citing various challenges and drawbacks that undermine the quality and equity of education in the country. Here are some of the reasons why the CALA system is not working for our children and why we should say no to it.
## 1. The CALA test the competence of parents and guardians, not learners
One of the main criticisms of the CALA is that they are too complex and demanding for learners, especially at the primary level. They require extensive research, writing, presentation and practical skills that many learners do not possess or have not been taught. As a result, many parents and guardians end up doing the CALA for their children or helping them excessively, defeating the purpose of assessing their competence. This also creates an unfair advantage for learners who have educated and supportive parents or guardians over those who do not.
## 2. The CALA exclude and disadvantage rural and poor learners
Another major problem with the CALA is that they assume that all learners have access to adequate resources and technology to complete them. However, this is far from the reality in Zimbabwe, where many households do not have phones with internet access, computers, electricity or even textbooks. Data charges are also too high for many families to afford. This means that many rural and poor learners are unable to do the research and online activities required by the CALA. They also face challenges in printing and submitting their work. Furthermore, many rural and poor learners are under the care of elderly or illiterate relatives who cannot assist them with their CALA. These factors create a huge gap between urban and rural learners and between rich and poor learners in terms of their performance and opportunities.
## 3. The CALA affect the social and emotional well-being of learners
The CALA also have negative impacts on the social and emotional well-being of learners. Many learners complain that they have no time to play and socialise with their peers because of the heavy workload and pressure of the CALA. They also feel isolated and bored by learning at home without interacting with their teachers and classmates. Moreover, some learners experience stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem due to the difficulty and expectations of the CALA. Some even resort to substance abuse or suicide as a way of coping with their frustrations. The CALA are robbing our children of their childhood and happiness.
## 4. The CALA are still theory-based, not practical-based
The CBC claims to be practical-based, but the CALA are still largely theory-based. They still rely on written assignments, tests and exams that do not reflect the real-world skills and competencies that learners need. For example, a learner who is poor in English may fail a Geography CALA because he or she cannot express himself or herself well in English, even if he or she understands the concepts and can apply them in practice. The CALA also do not cater for different learning styles, abilities and interests of learners. They force all learners to follow the same curriculum and assessment methods regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.
## 5. The CALA discourage learners from attending school
The CALA also have a negative effect on school attendance and retention. Many learners prefer to stay at home or drop out of school altogether than to go to school when they have not completed or failed their CALA. They fear being punished, ridiculed or left behind by their teachers and peers. Some also lose interest and motivation in learning because they find the CALA boring, irrelevant or too hard. The CALA are pushing our children away from school instead of attracting them to it.
## 6. The CALA expose learners to harmful influences on the internet
The CBC encourages learners to use technology for learning, but it does not provide adequate guidance and protection for them from the harmful influences on the internet. Many learners who have access to smartphones or computers for research end up being exposed to inappropriate or dangerous content such as pornography, violence, drugs, gambling or extremism. Some also fall prey to online predators, scammers or cyberbullies who exploit their innocence or vulnerability. The CBC does not equip learners with digital literacy skills or ethical values to help them navigate the online world safely and responsibly.
## 7. The CBC neglects traditional subjects and skills
The CBC also neglects traditional subjects such as Home Economics, Technical Graphics, Woodwork or Agriculture that used to be taught at primary level. These subjects helped learners to develop practical skills such as cooking, sewing, carpentry or farming that could be useful for their livelihoods or careers. They also helped learners to discover their talents and passions at an early age. The CBC has replaced these subjects with generic ones such as Heritage Studies or Visual Arts that do not offer much depth or diversity.
## 8. The CBC does not suit the economic situation of Zimbabwe
Finally, the CBC does not suit the economic situation of Zimbabwe. It is too expensive and impractical for a country that is facing multiple crises such as poverty, unemployment, inflation, corruption, sanctions or Covid-19 pandemic. It puts too much burden on parents who have to pay for data, printing, stationery or transport for their children’s CALA. It also puts too much strain on teachers who have to mark hundreds of CALA without adequate training or remuneration. It also wastes precious resources that could be better used for improving infrastructure, facilities or salaries in schools.
The CBC is a noble idea but a failed experiment in Zimbabwe’s education system. It has failed to deliver on its promises of quality, equity and relevance in education. It has failed to prepare our children for the future they deserve.
It is time to say no to CALA and yes to a better alternative that meets the needs and aspirations of our children.