THE release of Zimbabwe School Examinations Council Ordinary Level results is usually accompanied by playing of the late Paul Matavire’s song “Ma U (Ungraded)”, especially on radio.

In the song, Matavire tries to capture parents’ despair over learners who would have failed the exams.

Unleashed in 1993, the song has over the years arguably become a source of anxiety as both parents and learners await the release of Ordinary Level results.

The track seemingly buttresses the notion that passing tests at this academic level is the only way that learners can have a bright and successful future.

Mr Sewera makes a presentation in Kenya on e-mobility

Those who fail are said to be “doomed” and Matavire’s song can be haunting to them.

Just after the release of the results last month, social media platforms were flooded with posts in which parents and guardians were sharing news about their children’s success in the 2023 Form Four exams.

Amid the celebrations, there was a painful reality that not all learners would have passed.

Only 29 percent of learners who sat the 2023 O-Level exams passed five or more subjects with a grade C or better. In the last decade, the pass rate has hovered between 22 percent and 34 percent. The O-Level results are widely used as a yardstick to gauge one’s intellect and the possibility of pursuing further studies.

Even those who might be interested in non-academic careers are also judged by their performance at this stage.

But does failing O-Level  exams spell doom for learners?


Taurai Sewera sat his O-Level exams in 1993 and never went back to collect the results.

After school, with no academic or formal professional qualification, he became a “bush mechanic” (untrained mechanic).

At the age of 20, he was already a breadwinner for a family of six.

He first plied his trade at the highly informal Gazaland Shopping Centre in Highfield, Harare.

“I am turning 48 in May this year, and I am yet to collect my O-Level results at Oriel Boys High School. I have never been employed and started my own company in 2006, a decade after embarking on my profession as a self-taught automotive technician,” said Sewera.

“My dad only managed to pay for six O-Level subjects yet I was doing 12 subjects, which included Physics, Chemistry and Biology. That discouraged me to even collect the results. We were poor!”

But Sewera has since been turned into one of the few automotive technicians who can fix different types of vehicles, as well as earthmoving and farming equipment.

He now exchanges notes with some of the best minds in the automotive industry from around the world.

The automotive specialist is one of the few technicians in Africa who is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) for light-duty diesel, as well as medium- and heavy-duty trucks. He is also an advanced level specialist (L1).

ASE is a professional certification group. It certifies professionals and shops in the car repair and service industry in the United States and parts of Canada.

Furthermore, he is the first African member of the Texas-based Automotive Service Association (ASA), which is considered the biggest professional body for automotive service and repair professionals.

“I realised I did not need them (O-Level) to achieve what I wanted, which was being one of the best automotive technicians in the world. I guess I was right; today, I am recognised by the biggest boards in the world automotive industry as a world-class technician.

“I have numerous international credentials and was recently awarded the biggest accolade in the world automotive industry, which is ASE and Autocare Association World-Class Technician status.

“The notion that ‘education is the key to success’, taking Ordinary Level as the first key, is a misplaced one. One can be successful if we can let them express themselves in their line of gifts/talents, not necessarily judging them from their results in academics,” he argued.


Rising sungura singer Mark Ngwazi also has a story to tell.

“I was not academically gifted at all. I had a chance to write O-Level exams, but could not pass even a single subject. Nobody gave me a chance to pursue my dream of becoming a musician such that I was forced to become a security guard.

“But I did not allow that to dampen my spirit and focus. I would carry my guitar to work and take time to practise. That was the time I wrote a number of my songs, at work. I used my salary to record my debut album ‘Zvandigumbura’ in 2013,” revealed Ngwazi.

The “Taurai Madzoka” hitmaker is now one of the most sought-after sungura singers in the country.

“Back then, my family never thought I would have a better life because I failed O-Level. However, God rewrote the script of my life. I still dream big, but I have a decent life. I drive my own car and live in a beautiful house in Waterfalls.

“I am also now a successful farmer and this has all been made possible by revenue from my music,” added Ngwazi.

Tatenda Mashonganyika failed at school and became a drug addict, but later reformed and is now a successful entrepreneur.

“I lost hope after doing my Form Four when I only managed to pass two subjects with a C. Deep down, I knew I was not an academic person but my parents kept forcing me to go back to school.

“It was only after they decided to support my furniture trade that my life took a pleasant twist. I have since done several practical courses and life is flowing smoothly for me,” said Mashonganyika.


Dr Caiphus Nziramasanga

Veteran educationist Dr Caiphus Nziramasanga opines an O-Level outcome does not have that much bearing on a learner’s future.

“All this lies in the national policy. To me, there are no dullards in learning. Each child learns at his or her own pace. The strategy applied by the teacher, depending on the intended goals, defines the results,” he argues.

These results, he said, do not signal the end but serve as a “turning point”. He said there is need to redefine the learning process.

“Learners must be allowed to continue at their own rate with wise guidance in an area or field of their choice that makes them successful individuals. If the learners are able to read and write, and have deeper interest in a defined field, parents should encourage them to continue on that route,” advised Dr Nziramasanga.

The educationist is of the view that an examination-driven education system focuses on tests and results at the expense of imparting knowledge to learners.

“Schools are producing half-educated learners, who struggle to fit in the modern job market. We have learners who are academically gifted and those who are gifted in practical aspects. Those who are not academically gifted can exclusively focus on practical subjects and this helps learners to become masters in specific disciplines,” said Dr Nziramasanga.

He further argued that the education system must produce employers, as opposed to employees. This sentiment seems to be shared by American business magnate Bill Gates, who once took a swipe at the United States education system.

Gates said: “I failed some subjects, but my friend passed them all. Now he is an engineer at Microsoft and I own Microsoft.”

While excelling in academics is a good thing, Gates believes that some people are gifted when it comes to starting companies and must be given enough support.


Mr Edwin Mavindidze, an occupational therapist with the University of Zimbabwe, is of the view that a learner’s future is affected by the parents or guardians’ perception and support.

“Labelling the child’s results as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is based on the parents’ perception. For some parents, a child with 4Cs is viewed as having performed poorly. Other parents with a child with 4Cs will celebrate,” Mr Mavindidze said.

“Parents must acknowledge their children’s efforts and guide them accordingly, considering their aptitudes, capabilities and passions.”

The University of Zimbabwe official notes learners who fail O-Level exams have alternative career paths to take.

“They can pursue a vocational training course or work that does not require, or is limited by, qualifications.

“The country is short of innovators because we have people who are theoretically oriented. We need more entrepreneurs who can break new ground,” he said.


Poet and social commentator Tatenda Chinoda said denigrating learners who would have failed has adverse effects.

“Some people who fail exams can become sportspeople. We inherited an education system which was tailored to mould indigenous people into employees.

“We need an education system that identifies children’s capabilities during early childhood development so that, as the child grows, the skills will also be developing,” said Chinoda.

Dr Nkululeko Dewa, founder and chief executive officer of the Goromonzi-based mental health rehabilitation institute, The International Wellness Centre, opines the majority of youngsters abusing drugs and substances are those who would have been labelled “academic failures”.

“Once parents and society agree that failing an O-Level exam is the end, we are creating our own problems.

“From my experience, most of the children who end up becoming drug addicts are those that would have been labelled academic failures.

“Being called a failure results in them losing self-love and self-esteem,” said Dr Dewa.

Apart from becoming drug addicts, some of the children simply become rebellious.

In 2023, Zimbabwe completed a curriculum review, which is expected to be released soon.

Sunday Mail

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