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Education in Zimbabwe - An Overview

Zimbabwe gained independence from colonial rule in April 1980. Those times many people have not access to quality secondary education; mostly ended school only after finishing primary school. In first 25 years the people of Zimbabwe has seen implausible strides in school expansion, teacher training, and resource improvement. As a mater of fact Zimbabwe continuously strives to boast the highest literacy rate in Sub Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe sends the fourth largest number of students from Africa to the United States.

There exists a major void for educational opportunities available for Zimbabweans living in urban and rural areas. Those staying the urban areas of Harare, Chitungwiza, Bulawayo Mutare and Gweru have better access for education. The apartheid legacy has also left its mark on Zimbabwe's education system with formerly-white, private "Group A" schools far superior in terms of resources and trained teachers when compared to their mission and government-sponsored counterparts.

The education system in Zimbabwe comprises 7 years of primary school and 6 years of secondary school. After successful completion of secondary school students get access to a university in the country or overseas for higher studies. The academic year in Zimbabwe runs from January to December.

Primary school comprises grades 1 – 7. Most children join grade 1 by the time they turn 6 years old. However, few children begin study in grade 1 either at 5 or 7 years of age. In Urban centers the medium of instruction is English with Shona or Ndebele taught as a subject.  In schools in rural areas students start receiving education in their mother tongue but changes to all reading and writing in English by Grade 3. There is a nationalized curriculum to be taught in all schools. The seven years of primary schooling culminate in four nationally set Grade 7 examinations in Mathematics, English, Shona or Ndebele and Content, which is a combination of sciences and social sciences.  After successful completion of 7 years of primary school students get access to Secondary School  (Forms I - VI).

Students 12 or 13 years old attend secondary school form I. Government schools receive students by zone and then allot the rest of the places to those with the best qualifications. Secondary school in Zimbabwe comprises of three levels: ZJC (Zimbabwe Junior Certificate) which includes Forms I and II; "O" level which includes Forms III and IV; and "A" level which includes Forms V and VI. The ZJC Core Curriculum (equivalent to Grades 8-9) consists of 8 subjects: English, Shona or Ndebele, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Bible Knowledge, and a Practical Subject (ie Food and Nutrition, Fashion and Fabrics, Woodwork, Agriculture, Metalwork, Technical Drawing, etc.)

In year 2001 Zimbabwe has faced out ZJC examination but has maintained the same curricular framework for general Form 1 and 2 educations and planned to renew this set of examinations at the end of Form 2 education in 2006.  Depending on their Form 1 and 2 reports, students are allocated to courses and tracked classes for their "O" level studies for Forms III and IV (equivalent to Grades 10-11). In government schools in the much-populated urban townships and in the rural areas, students are limited in their alternatives and usually are only given the opportunity to take 8 or 9 subjects.

Elite private schools often allow and encourage students to take up to 12 or 13 subjects for "O" level exams. Since the early 1990's and until April 2002, GCE "O" level examinations were set and marked in Zimbabwe by the Zimbabwe Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) in conjunction with the University of Cambridge International Examination GCE system. In 2002, Zimbabwe issued a directive to try to ban private schools from offering any foreign examinations. In 2002, the O and A level examinations were first to be administered solely by ZIMSEC administration without University of Cambridge collaboration.

Subjects currently on offer for  "O" level examinations include:

  • Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Physics with Chemistry, Integrated Science, Mathematics;
  • Liberal Arts: English Literature, Religious Education, Geography, History
  • Commercial Subjects:    Accounts, Commerce, Economics, Computer Studies
  • Languages: English, Shona, Ndebele, French, German, Latin
  • Arts: Art, Music
  • Practical Subjects: Woodwork, Metalwork, Agriculture, Technical Drawing, Fashion &  Fabrics, Food & Nutrition

"A" level subjects currently offered in Zimbabwe include:

  • Arts: English Literature, Geography, Shona/Ndebele Language and Literature, Divinity, History, French, Art, Music, Latin, German
  • Commercial: Management of Business/Business Studies, Economics, Accounts, Computer Science, Technical Graphics
  • Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Further Mathematics

On 22 September 1980, Zimbabwe joined UNESCO. The UNESCO office in Capital Harare looks after the country. Distance learning, a central issue of the country’s education policy, was reinforced in 1996 with the establishment of a UNESCO Chair of Distance Education at the University of Zimbabwe. As of September 2006, 93 schools in Zimbabwe were part of the Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet). The UNESCO Institute for Statistics has conducted detailed study on education and literacy scenario in Zimbabwe. For details please click here.
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