Form-IV exam results: We must stop lying to ourselves

What you need to know:

  • The discussion that arose from the recent release of Necta’s Form Four 2021 results highlighted how Tanzanians think about education. In my opinion, I think we are learning the wrong lessons.

If a certain product costs $1,000 inclusive of VAT, what is the price exclusive of VAT?

This is the kind of question that a Standard Seven pupil should be able to compute without touching a pen and paper.

But I had an intern, a graduate with a postgraduate diploma in computer science from a very reputable university, who could not compute that very problem. Worse still, I had to spend over an hour trying to explain how to go about solving such a problem – and I am not sure that I succeeded!

These are the products of our education system! While that is an extreme case – I would like to believe that many university students who would have been insulted to even be challenged by such a question, but the question remains, how did this intern get so far without a mastery of even basic arithmetic?

The discussion that arose from the recent release of Necta’s Form Four 2021 results highlighted how Tanzanians think about education. In my opinion, I think we are learning the wrong lessons. The purpose of this article is to give a voice to some unpopular but quite pertinent observations.

To start with, according to Necta, a total of 422,388 candidates, that is about 87 percent of 483,830 candidates, passed their examinations. Based on this report, Tanzanians are led to believe that this is great – who would be dissatisfied by 87 percent pass rate? However, I am not sure how any person with any knowledge of Tanzania’s system of education would believe that such a pass rate is possible in Tanzania.

In our grading system, scoring Ds or higher is considered a pass. Firstly, in what world is a D a pass? Secondly, one needs to remember that this is a Tanzanian D – obtained by students who crammed for exams, without books, without practical work, and under the instructions of barely literate teachers. Many of our grades are questionable at best – let alone Ds.

Moreover, a person scoring a Division I, even that of 4Bs and 3Cs, is considered to have excelled. Such a performance is most likely a 50 to 60 percent in average score. Again, in what world is that excellence? If we were to plot the exam results on a normal distribution graph, it is not those who gets Division 3s who would be in the middle of the grading system, it is those who get possibly 16 to 18 points. That’s average performance. Everything below that is practically a failure.

If we compare our performance with a British system, which we once pretended to imitate, one, the pass mark is a score of 4 to 9, that is a low C to a high A, possibly from 40 percent and higher. Two, only 77 percent of students passed the exams – again, this is the United Kingdom. Three, 29 percent of students got an A-average. Four, 60 percent got a strong pass – possibly 50 percent and above.

Now, these are results that make sense. If we were to plot our results on such a graph, we would have expected over 140,000 students to get A-average. But how many do we get? Can they even reach 1,000?

This brings me to my last point – there were a barrage of comments questioning the apparent stellar performance of schools such as St Francis Girls and Feza Boys. People questioned the techniques used to achieve such results and many questioned what happens to those students afterwards. I think these questions miss the point altogether.

As I have just showed from the British results, if we care at all about education, we would aim for 30 percent of our schools to perform as high as these schools. In other words, the question is not how do they perform so highly but why do others perform so poorly?

Similarly, people ask – what have those students achieved after graduation? While this is a valid question, I think it also misses the point: any student that gets all As doesn’t need to prove himself or herself anymore, they have already done that. Anyone who has any idea the kind of effort that goes into achieving anything close to what they have can testify to that. In fact, the gulf between A-average performers and C-average performers is huge – many average performers cannot even comprehend it.

In my opinion – the question is: what have we done for these students? What do we expect an all As O-level or A-level student to do? You need to keep investing in them for years before you get results. The Israelis, for example, recruit them into special technology programmes where they are expected to finish technology degrees with exceptional performance in two years and start to innovate within five years. This is how Israel has a GDP of $420 billion while it has the size one third of Ruvuma Region. It is not these students who need to prove themselves – we need to nurture them, then stay out of their way. Those are Ferraris, not Bajajis.

To conclude, let me make a couple of recommendations.

One, let us stop lying to ourselves. What we call a pass we all know is absolute bullshit. We need to change the grading system to reflect our proficiency levels. Anything lower than the current C should be called a FAIL. Moreover, Division II should start at 14 points to 17, Division III should be the current division 2.

Two, we need to focus on producing more all As performers, there is just so much one can do with our Cs and Bs. We surely don’t have the wherewithal to achieve that today, but if we at least focus on 500 schools to give us the performance close to our top schools today, we can possibly create a critical mass of innovators to transform the nation with time. My suggestion is – start by offering direct employment to a place of their choosing in the government, no interview needed, to all As performers. You will get results automatically.

Three, we need to plan where these students go and how they will continue to develop after graduation. The quality of our tertiary level institutions is not good enough for them to continue to perform at a top level.

If we don’t focus on top performance, we will continue to remain baffled by graduates such as the intern that I had all the time. Then we will ask – what use is education altogether.