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Should pre-form one classes be formalised or banned?

12th November 2012
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Tanzanian students in a class

Recently, Standard Seven students completed their National Examinations. Currently, majority of them are waiting for the results in order to see whether they have passed the examinations and selected to government secondary schools.

However, there are a portion of them who are currently looking for admission into private schools regardless of the outcome of their National examinations. Most of these are coming from affluent or middle class families, who can afford to pay tuition fees in private secondary schools…

As these students wait for their examination results, there has been a tendency of parents seeking pre form one courses for their children. I have been going around in Dar es Salaam on business matters, and I managed to see a number of advertisements calling for standard seven leavers to register for pre form one courses in various education centers.

Most parents have enrolled their children in these courses, without even understanding how will such courses support their children’s future education as well as whether the knowledge content given in these courses are relevant to the Form one and general secondary education academic content.

One example is my brother who has registered his daughter to one of these centers, whom I ask whether what is given in these courses is building a bridge to what is expected to be learned in Form One.

He was not able to give me a very clear explanation, but he just said that his child has completed standard seven and she does not have anything to do now at home, therefore it was deemed necessary to find her something to keep her busy before joining form one in January 2013. Its very unfortunate came to realize that most of parents have this notion of ‘keeping their children busy”.

This article is going to analyse whether pre form one courses are relevant and how should they be organize, if they are needed at all, in order to give children skills and knowledge as a bridge to secondary education.

There are many justifications for pre form one courses can be as following: on of them is that most of students, especially from public primary schools, complete standard seven with minimal mastery of English and Mathematics content and knowledge.

Therefore, there is a need to improve English and Mathematics skills of these students to prepare them for coping with Form one subjects.

Taking into consideration that in public primary school, the medium of instruction is Kiswahili, therefore, students cannot cope with sudden changes in the English medium of instruction in secondary schools.

At primary school English is taught as a subject, however, due to lack of competent teachers and teaching and learning materials, it has not been taught effectively enough to enable primary school leavers to be competent in written, spoken and reading English, which is very crucial for coping with secondary school instructions.

However, basing on my background as a language teacher, I am convinced that if students master Kiswahili very well, competently, it will not be very difficult to learn any other language, because most of skills in language learning do not differ much. The problem we are facing in Tanzania is that we have not mastered even Kiswahili it self.

Pre form one courses may be relevant. However, there are so many things about pre form one courses which rise eye brows, which are:
(a) Amount of fee charged: Fee charged differ from one education center or school to another. Some education centers charges between 10,000/= to 30,000/= per head per month. Some school charged between 150,000/= and 250,000/=.

For example, I have a copy of letter of offer for pre form one course from one of secondary schools in Dar es Salaam, which was issued in October, 2011, and address to a parent/ guardian, which explain that for a boarding orientation course for 45 days a students is required to pay 245,500/=.
This may be afforded by middle class and affluent families but it will automatically sideline students from poor families. This might rise questions as to whether the aim of these courses is to support students skills or these are just money making projects.

Because of ignorance or not knowing much, some parents started to that without the pre form one sessions, children would not be allowed to join secondary school, so they strived to raise money.

It has been painful for both parents and students.
(b) Quality of Teachers: In some centers and schools, there are competent teachers, however, in most of these centers they hire Form Six leavers and university students who are yet to complete their studies.

Though there are some owners of these centers who have argued that Form Six leavers have done wonderful work in preparing standard seven leavers, I still do not agree with them that teaching especially languages is a profession, which encompasses a wide range of issues including psycho social support to students, phonetics (how to pronounce words), speech therapy, and many more,  than students instilling content knowledge into students heads.

This can only be done by a professional teacher who have mastery in English skills;
(c) Time: most of these classes are conducted between one month and three months.

I wonder whether language skills which have been mastered for seven years can be mastered in one month, 45 days or three months? I am not convinced that this time is enough to prepare students to master English skills and knowledge;
(d) Teaching and Learning content: there a variety of prepared content for each center. Moreover, these contents have not obtained any official approval from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT), as the ministry does not formally recognize them as part of formal education system.

As a result, there is not possibility of ensuring that what our children are taught is relevant to secondary school content. I looked into subject content of one of the pre form one course materials, and found out it contains a lot of grammar and content mistakes which I am sure students would take them as they are.

As explained above, though deemed helpful, the MoEVT does not formally recognize pre form one classes as part of education system, though there has not been a direct order from the ministry to stop these classes, unless may be a punishment may be imposed in schools which have scammed parents and students.

In some countries such as Kenya, they have a Standard Eight class which means to prepare students for the whole year to orient them to secondary school content. Standard eight acts as a bridge to prepare students for secondary school academic life. On the other side, back in 1996 to 1997, I was teaching at SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Zanzibar, I learnt quite a lot about preparing primary school leavers for secondary academic life.

Zanzibar have what is known as ‘Orientation class’, which is attended by standard seven leavers, who spend one year learning various concepts, formulas and content which are expected to be taught or frequently used in Form one and other classes in secondary education.

Orientation class has only three major subjects: Mathematics, Languages (English and Kiswahili) and General Science. Apart from teaching secondary school classes, I was also allocated to teach ‘General Science’ at Orientation class. The subject content required me to teach all concepts, formulars and content in sciences (physics, biology and chemistry).

There were students’ books, teachers guides and other teaching and learning materials officially prepared and approved by the Ministry of Education and Vocation Training of Zanzibar. These materials were used by all schools in Zanzibar.

Preparation of teaching and learning materials was accompanies by training of teachers on how to teach the content. This was very effective as students were exposed to skills and knowledge for the whole year, within the same schools, and in very simple methods. I am not sure whether the programme continues to date, but I would say it was an ideal programme for preparing primary school leavers for secondary school academic life.

So should pre form one classes be abolished or officiated? I would comment that before we come to such conclusion, we should evaluate our education system and ask ourselves, how did we reach a stage of pre form one classes to be deemed necessary? I am sure that if teaching and learning process in primary school has been effective we would not need pre form one classes.

I completed standard seven in public primary school, Mabatini Primary School in Temeke and later joined a prominent private secondary school in Tanzania, Aga Khan Mzizima Secondary School, I never needed a pre form one course because back at primary school level I had motivated and competent teachers, who taught effectively such that I managed to gain skills in languages, which became a bridge in form one.

Currently, teachers are demotivated and most of them are incompetent due to their ill preparations, and therefore, unless something is done to boost primary schools teachers’ morale and competency, we would still need orientation classes. It is just the whole vicious cycle.

I appeal to both the ministry of education and organizers of pre form one classes to ensure that subject content and professionalism in teaching is considered. However, parents should also play their part by demanding the quality of services in relation to what they pay.
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The writer, Masozi Nyirenda, is a Specialist in Education Management, Planning, Economics of Education and Policy Studies; he is reached through +255754304181 or masozi.nyirenda@gmail.com

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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