In 2015 the Minister of Education, Lazarus Dokora, announced that the government would be enforcing a new system for the application of Form 1 (High School) places that relies on Grade 7 results from the national public examinations.
This new system was meant to replace the entrance tests method used by a large number of schools across Zimbabwe.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Ministry of Education has reminded parents and guardians that the same process which relies on Grade 7 results will be used for pupils looking to secure places for 2017.
The one major difference is that parents looking to secure boarding school places for their kids will use an online e-application system.
It’s called the electronic Ministry Application Platform (eMAP) and it is expected to be used on the one day (16 December 2016) that the government has selected for boarding school enrolment.
How will it work?
According to the information communicated to the media by Dokora so far, all Grade 7 pupils including prospective boarders are supposed to collect a clearance letter from their previous school as a prerequisite for applying for a place for Form 1.
On the day for enrolment, they are then supposed to log onto the web-based platform and fill out an electronic form carrying their key details specifying the three schools of their choice.
This form will then be sent to the specific schools. Feedback on the outcome of the application will be sent to the applicants via SMS within three days (by the 19th of December).
On the 20th of December, the Government will then conclude all enrollment for day and boarding school.
A leap for “efficiency” that looks and feels clumsy
It’s hardly surprising that this e-enrolment approach has triggered some heated debates (on social media and offline) on whether or not it makes sense.
Arguments for it – which have also been presented by Dokora – are fairly straight forward. The Ministry is providing a cost-effective way to apply to the three schools that you want to send your child to just by tapping in details online.
Material resources and time are saved and the evil monster of corruption that has become part of the Form 1 enrollment process is also supposedly dealt with. Technology comes off as the solution provider that it’s supposed to be. It sounds like great idea.
However, there are holes in this process and the use of this system carries risks that could create a lot of complications for parents and guardians.
The biggest issue is the fact that this system which is supposed to give every prospective boarder a fair chance at applying to schools is an internet based system. Broadband isn’t free and access is also affected by factors like the availability of hardware.
With a little over a week to go until the big day, the Ministry is yet to propose how all applicants will be accommodated in this regard especially in the marginalised areas where there is likely to be a greater concentration of beneficiaries of a fair application system.
Another consideration is how this system, as far as government’s communication on this new approach is concerned, will be introduced to the public for use on just one day without any information shared or awareness created on how it works.
There also hasn’t been any indication of whether this system was trialled anywhere and put through tests, something that is a major concern seeing that it is set for its debut just weeks before schools open.
If there are technical challenges encountered at any stage – be it during data capture, collation or even at the feedback stage – this will create complications for parents and guardians who will need to make hurried decisions as the new school term approaches.
While all these risks are related to system deployment the underlying complication is the fact that the enrollment process has been earmarked for one single day which is precariously close to the start of the new term.
If you add a new system into that mix the result is a software project management landmine fill with every possible benefit created by the system and its proposed tech efficiency drowned out by all these risks.
An unnecessarily rushed approach
According to the Ministry of Education, there were 329,549 Grade 7 pupils in the 2016 and from this group, only 24,000 will have a chance to go to boarding school.
Minister Dokora has called boarding school a luxury and reiterated the fact that local schools can absorb all the other applicants that don’t get one of the limited spaces.
With such numbers in play, boarding school is marked as an option for a privileged few. However, the parents that want to and can send their children to boarding school shouldn’t be subjected to a rushed system with potential complications because of this.
The introduction of such a system that has such a major implication on the enrolment process could have been done under less strenuous conditions.
The hope is that all the pupils who want to go to boarding will have a fair chance to secure a place and that the system that has been proposed will work.
Perhaps there will be more information shared in the next 7 days, or maybe the resources needed for its deployment will be released and some adjustments will be made to the enrolment schedule. For now, though, it looks like Government is taking a huge and unnecessary risk.