IN 2015, government introduced an education policy called Continuous Assessment Learning Activities (Cala), whose implementation has been mired in controversy, amid reports that some students do not understand its framework and have used corrupt means such as paying teachers to do assignments for them, sextortion, bribes and other vices to pass.
The framework stipulates that students in Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper Sixth will be examined on knowledge, skills and abilities.
Former Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora introduced Cala in 2015, which was later taken up by his successor Paul Mavima before he was transferred to the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry.
Dokora was dropped as minister by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on December 2, 2017. Zimbabweans have been blaming him for imposing Cala on children.
When the framework was introduced, it was said that it would be implemented from 2015 to 2022, but government later stated that Cala was there to stay.
The education model now forms part of the learners’ outcomes at Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper 6 examinations.
Grade 7 examinations are now determined by 30% of Cala marks, 70% exams, Form 4 and Upper 6 results are determined by 40% theoretical examination; 30% practical skills and 30% continuous learning. The concept emphasises on assessment of knowledge, skills, abilities, values and trends to ascertain the achievement of a learner.
Although on paper it is a good policy, it was introduced to the school examination system without training of teachers and students do not understand the concept.
This has resulted in corruption in the implementation of Cala at schools where students are allegedly paying bribes to have the assignments done for them by teachers, while girls end up being sexually exploited.
One of the typical case of a student doing the wrong thing to pass Cala was that of Lower Gwelo student Sukoluhle Mlambo (not real name) who narrated to NewsDay how she lost her virginity to a gold panner in search for money to finance her Cala project.
He project was to research on how to make a winnowing basket.
She said she struggled to get assistance from basket-weaving experts in the community who demanded to be paid for the services.
“My project was on how a winnowing basket is made. Experts in my village wanted to be paid. I chose the option of gathering information instead of weaving the basket. I did not have the US$5 charged per session so I ended up sleeping with a gold panner so that I can get the money for the lessons,” she said.
“I regret the decision because I ended up losing my virginity at 16. Our teachers had not adequately explained the concept to us. We did not even have enough time to do the projects. I sat for my Ordinary Level examinations in 2021 and I still awaiting the results.”
A science teacher at Vungu Secondary School in Lower Gweru, who requested anonymity, admitted charging students a fee to assist them with Cala projects.
“It was difficult for teachers to adapt to the new curriculum. It comes with a lot of pressure. You are required to supervise more than 30 students per class with their Cala projects. During the COVID-19 lockdown period, it was the only way to make extra money and most teachers have been charging fees to students to do the projects,” he said.
Another student, Tendai Chokoza (not real name), who recently passed Grade 7 examinations with eight units at Ardbennie Primary School in Harare, narrated how she ended up stealing money from her parents to pay the person who assisted her to do the Cala project.
“I was supposed to do a family expenditure survey for the Cala project and I did not understand it. I ended up stealing money from my parents and paid a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) student to do the project on my behalf. The UZ student charged US$5 per session,” Tendai said.
Several students interviewed admitted paying someone to do Cala projects for them.
Stakeholders in the education sector said Cala was not properly introduced to teachers and students.
Josiphat Gwesela, a research secretary for the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) said in the case of Grade 7 students, Cala did not really yield the expected outcomes because the projects were done by other people.
“Generally, the effectiveness of Cala can only be seen at the Ordinary Level because when Cala was proposed around 2014/15 by Dokora, the policy was meant to improve the pass rate. However, last year, there was an improvement of 4% in the Grade 7 results. For me, it means that Cala did not really work.
“The government needs to rethink the Cala policy because it was a rushed decision. Any policy needs stakeholder analysis for it to be executed. In this case, teachers, pupils and parents are the key players in any educational sector, but the government never bothered to identify the problems encountered in implementing Cala.”
Another teacher said Cala was ill-funded.
“Educators viewed it as a burden to them as it ushered in new responsibilities. They thought it was of no relevance to learning and given the economic hardship, parents had no money to finance projects,” he said.
Former education minister David Coltart once criticised Dokora for causing chaos in the education sector by haphazardly introducing far-reaching policy changes without consulting stakeholders.
Coltart said the new curriculum was likely to throw the sector into disarray as it was introduced without consultation with educators.
Silibaziso Mbewe, a parent, said most parents were failing to pay school fees so Cala projects were a burden to them.
Education ministry response
However, the Primary and Secondary Education ministry has maintained that Cala will promote the quality of education in line with Sustainable Development Goals.
Ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro told NewsDay that the effectiveness of Cala could be seen by the 4% improvement in Grade 7 results in 2021 compared to the previous year.
“The model embraces a holistic approach to assessment which entails assessing learner competencies on a continuum that includes knowledge, skills, abilities, values and traits and the positives have shown themselves in the way the Grade 7 results surpassed the previous year’s,” Ndoro said.
“Inclusive learning, which accommodates learner diversity, is key in the Cala framework. The assessment framework accommodates diverse needs such as different aptitudes, talents, gender, disabilities, socio-economic status and vulnerabilities. The weighted contributions of Cala are in line with our competence-based curriculum framework.”
NewsDay established that most stakeholders are struggling to embrace Cala as a new learning model and recommend that government should restructure its implementation.
Many teachers have urged the government to rethink Cala and come up with a budget to support it.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said monitoring and evaluation of Cala should take place at every stage.
“Currently, the Cala monitoring and evaluation structure could be rigged to make it appear as if it is working. Assessments were not continuous as expected. It was simply a process of assigning marks to raw learners. The grades that were awarded do not reflect the true profile of the learner.”
Masaraure said implementation of Cala demanded massive investments in capacity building of teachers, investment in raw materials for implementation and competitive remuneration of teachers to enhance morale and curb corruption.
“Currently the teachers don’t have the capacity to competitively evaluate and supervise Cala projects. Learners are struggling to secure learning materials required for implementation of Cala,” he said.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive Sifiso Ndlovu said: “The policy is fine, but it cannot be assessed effectively based on the recent Grade 7 examinations. We can only do that after we have seen what kind of a child we have produced through Cala. Cala should improve its application and place children according to their talents.”