Since independence, education has remained stuck in the past since the ultra-racist Godfrey Huggins referred to blacks as ‘’hewers of wood and drawers of water’’ as the latter were meant to be workers in the capitalist society spawned by colonization but the 2015 New Curriculum introduced at the behest of another country -wide consultation birthed the current elephant in the education room, CALA, (Continuous Assessment Learning Activities); it has marked a new dawn for teachers, pupils and parents alike. Learning will never be the same again.
To understand the origins of CALA, one has to dissect the forms of assessment that have been part of the school evaluation for long. Zimbabwe borrowed from the British education where summative assessment is in vogue.
Summative assessment entails giving the student examinations at the end of a certain Grade. In the case of Zimbabwe, there is Grade 7, Form 4 and 6. In the past, learners had to sit for the Zimbabwe Junior Certificate which they did at the end of year 9 at school.
In summative assessment, what a learner obtains as a mark at Form 4 in any subject determines what symbols s/he is going to get ie A,B, C, D, E or U never mind that the learner would have been in a certain psychological disposition when she sat for the examination. Some learners sit for an examination after losing a loved one or they could have been victims of unforeseen circumstances but still, their results stand. This is the bane of summative assessment and from 1980 up to last year, that has been the norm for successive exam bodies namely Cambridge, Examinations Branch and of late, ZIMSEC.
Only a few of the subjects, practical or Tech/Voc subjects allowed their learners to participate in projects which made them pass by the narrowest of margins in some situations? However, for other subjects, one had to do well at the end of the exam for her/him to be considered for college enrollment or work. This is what CALA has come to address although there are controversies as to whether it was the right time for CALA to be implemented.
On the other hand, continuous assessment entails assessing aspects of learners’ knowledge and understanding through-out their course as opposed to summative assessment. In the writer’s view, continuous assessment is more than the CALA that has been introduced for tests have to be included into the mix. However, they must not be universal but peculiar to a particular school.
Continuous assessment must not be done in the piece meal way where learners are given specific tasks only but fortnightly or monthly should be part of the grill for learners to come to school every day. There is a risk that learners are not going to produce original pieces but it could be a cut and paste process. When it happens like that, the whole assessment process is compromised.
Novel ideas can never have an ideal time to be implemented. The human mind is made in such a manner that when there is innovation, it would rather remain in the comfort zone that to be a pioneer of anything. CALA has come at the right time for Zimbabwean students and teachers.
First, CALA allows for teacher, learner and parent interaction as learners have to research and use tools of research such as observation, interview and questionnaire to gather evidence. Parents can delve into the academic arena and between and the teacher, they become part and parcel of the supervision of their children’s work.
Secondly, ICT comes alive in the world view of parents, teachers and learners. Google has become a buzzword to learners, teachers and parents. This propensity to research can only spur the innovation inclined learners to come up with new technologies for the country as it hurtles towards 2030 and with that progression, ICT thrives and who knows, the next Mark Zuckerbag can come from our country thanks to this indefatigable desire to research prompted by CALA.
How is CALA implemented in English? Some teachers tend to love copying and pasting from their groups. While it shows innovation from their standpoint, there is need for teachers to think outside the box if ever their learners would enjoy the CALA period.
One way is appreciating that the syllabus tells you that English should be taught with various skills being earmarked. Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing are the four skills that a learner strives to acquire and that means the teacher ought to target those skills in his/her CALA and there would be fun in the teaching/learning situation.
What are the burning issues of the day in the country? A teacher of English must ask herself such a question. Then, she makes it a bankable topic; the next thing on the line to have a topic and a subtopic on the matter. She is looking at competence skills that she would have imparted over the years which she hopes would be the driving force towards making that learner carry out the CALA.
To illustrate, the following are some of the competencies or skills that a learner must have: research, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, sampling and designing. CALAs have two parts normally namely the research, solutions part and the use of ICT as you gather the evidence. Part B includes implementation. What are you going to do with the data you have from your research?
Suppose your English CALA is looking at the background of environmental pollution in Middle Sabi area where the school is located. Any CALA must have a background before the students embark on a research to provide a solution. The learner write notes, use ICT tools to take pictures and make recordings of interviews and in the process, get information on the ways of preventing littering.
One does not a state of the art camera to take pictures of the litter but the ordinary camera on smart phones is enough.
Some students come about research designs at university; nevertheless, with CALA starting from Grade 7, learners are taught at a young age how to be a researcher and get solutions to the burning issues of the day.
Later, the learners design and draw a poster which is accompanied by notes on the preventive measures to littering and that means that an artist would get some marks from the CALA. Resultantly, days of some people getting very low marks could be over.
It is never good for anyone to be a lost cause even before the exam is written. With CALA, education becomes collaborative and this in turn motivates learners and parents.
There is an achievement standard that the teacher sets and the learners what they do knowing full well that for them to get more marks, they must reach or exceed the achievements standards that the teacher has set.
For instance, the teacher sets a criteria where marks are attached ranging from inadequate to excellent. If you reach a certain threshold, then you know the marks you will get. This collaborative approach allows learners to maximize their use of ICT and research tools.
English language teachers ought to work on the four language skills in their termly CALA for an all-round assessment of their learners’ competence levels.
While CALA revolutionized the education system in 2021, there is an urgent need to spread the activities from Form 1 so that every teacher gets a grip on the whole process and it makes learners to be ‘serious’ from the word go. There are teachers at Form 1 level who think that their input is not recognized when a learner does well at Form 4; this is the chance for them to be part of the final symbol that a learner gets.
It would mean that from Form 1, business begins in earnest.
One teacher asked for incentivization from the government as a lot of work is done over and above the normal time allotted to teaching. She argued that teaching has become burdensome with the advent of CALA.
It remains to be seen how much CALA will make learners self-sufficient after leaving school.