Let’s stop confusing our children with meaningless subjects at school!

by Tendai Ruben Mbofana

The ZIMSEC Ordinary Level results are out – and already we are hearing of those outrageous numbers of subjects passed by single candidates.

This inevitably leads to the usual debate – is it really necessary for one to sit for, say, 20 subjects are Ordinary Level, or as happened recently, 10 at Advanced Level?

Let me give my own experience.

On my first day of Form Three (at Kwekwe High School) in 1989, our class was supposed to be doing ten subjects.

Yet, by the time we sat for our University of Cambridge GCE Ordinary Levels final examinations the following year, I had reduced mine to only six.

My class was studying English Language, English Literature, History, Extended Science, Geography, Mathematics, Technical Drawing, Shona, Accounting, Core Science.

However, I already knew what path I wanted to follow in life.

As such, most of these subjects were just an unnecessary burden that had to be done away.

My heart had always been in writing, and thus, a profession in journalism was my main objective.

This had been proven by how I would produce a handwritten newspaper for my classmates from as early as my first form at high school.

I then moved on to contributing news articles to a local Kwekwe weekly newspaper in 1989 – subsequently, writing my own regular column when I was in the Lower Sixth Form in 1991.

In so doing, I honestly saw no point in overloading myself with subjects that I considered irrelevant to my quest in life – although a career in law was also on the table.

We were, however, not permitted to drop any subjects by our school authorities at that stage of our learning.

That choice is only available at Advanced Level.

Being the stubborn person that I am, I was not going to allow anyone to stand in the way of my convictions.

As such, I simply ‘bunked’ lessons for subjects I did not regard necessary, in addition to not registering them for the final examinations.

I knew that there was really no reason for me to waste my time (in fact, distract myself) – with subjects like Accounting, Technical Drawing, and Extended Science – when all I wanted to be was a writer and journalist.

There was a need for me to focus and specialize only on what was really necessary.

That is why I feel profound sadness and sorrow whenever I encounter news reports of our children who are said to have sat for something as outrageous as 20 subjects at the Ordinary Level, or 10 at the Advanced Level.

All I can say to myself is, “What will they be thinking? Do they not know what they want to do in life?”

Of course, I do realize and acknowledge that, in all likelihood, it is truly not out of a fault of their own – but, possibly, a lack of proper guidance and advice.

To begin with, the reason we say that someone obtained five points at Ordinary Level is that only the best five subjects are taken into consideration – in this case, having achieved As in all of them.

This is a similar story with Advanced Level when one is said to have obtained 15 points – based on three subjects (with As in all of them).

That is all one really needs!

So why the other six or more subjects?

Are they not simply an unnecessary albatross around our children’s necks?

The reason I ended up writing six and not five subjects was simply because Ordinary Level Mathematics was regarded as mandatory for tertiary learning entrance.

Otherwise, I would have dropped that as well.

Let us also undo the misguided thinking amongst our people that – the more subjects and As one gets, the more prestigious is it, and more intelligent he is!

That is a lie, and we are only leading our children down a path of self-deception.

It then boggles the mind when one decides to dilute their focus by doing an unnecessary number of subjects – which, in all likelihood, are not even necessary for the desired career path.

In fact, this serves as a hindrance – as too much time is wasted on needless concentration and study – which could have been better spent on sharpening one’s understanding and mastery of their chosen profession.

After dropping the unnecessary baggage in my Ordinary Level studies, I used the ‘free time’ I had on my hands – as I bunked those lessons – honing my writing and accumulation of knowledge that I would need in my desired profession.

I spent hours in local media houses’ newsrooms – feeding off the vast experience of veterans who were already masters of this trade – which produced the writer I eventually became.

Where was I to find that time, had I been immersed in the study of Accounting, Extended Science, or even Technical Drawing?

That is a vital lesson that our young ones need to learn.

I am of the strong belief that, by the time an individual reaches high school – more so, Ordinary Level – he should already be sure of the direction he wants to take his life.

As such, he needs to be certain of which subjects are necessary and which are not.

At the same time, after offloading the unnecessary baggage – he can, then, utilize that time to get a feel of what he wants to do for the rest of his life – by volunteering at establishments where his chosen trade is plied.

This experience at such an early stage also helps in providing the child with a real understanding of what his profession truly entails.

In fact, that is where that ‘five years experience’ will come from even for someone fresh out of university or college.

In my case, for instance, by the time I began journalism school after high school, I already had eight years of experience!

I remember a story once told of a friend of ours in high school.

At Advanced Level, he did Mathematics, Biology, and Chemistry – fully intending to study medicine at university.

Once there, he had a shock of his life when the time came for him to handle and work on a cadaver!

It is said he speedily bolted out of the laboratory (or wherever they were) – and immediately switched programs to engineering!

This was a clear sign of his lack of prior knowledge and understanding of what the career he had dreamt about for all these years was all about.

Unfortunately, he is far from being the only one – as many people have ended up ditching the professions they, and their parents, had invested so much time, effort and money – only to opt for another later on in life.

Maybe, had they expended more time in studying what their chosen careers really encompassed – as opposed to spending countless hours each day in the pursuit of subjects they really did not need – they would have been able to make an informed decision.

Not only that, but this acquired information would give them a head start by the time they reach university or college – including an invaluable wealth of knowledge, which even learning institutions can never provide.

This would be a huge plus on their CVs – since, sad as it may be to admit, most of our graduates lack the ‘X factor’ – which makes them unique and outstanding from the rest of those with similar qualifications.

What we find, though, are graduates who appear like mere photocopies of each other – as if created from some mass production line, all from the same mould or template – since they studied identical things.

We now need those who choose to stand out from the crowd – who possess knowledge and skills that the rest of their peers can never dream of acquiring – which can only be achieved by going beyond the realm of the classroom.

That is when the country can seriously begin to dream of genuine innovators and inventors – who think, perceive, and analyse any given scenarios differently from the rest.

In order to acquire this ‘X factor’, there is an urgent need for our children to be encouraged to hone in their passions and dreams, well before they reach tertiary education.

This means specialization at a much earlier stage than is currently the case.

Honestly, what point is there in someone wanting to be a builder, wasting their time studying Biology, even at the Ordinary Level?

Are we not placing undue pressure on our children to pass subjects they do not really need in their pursuits?

No wonder we have such high failure rates especially at Ordinary Level – which stood at 70 percent in the 2023 examinations.

We have children who are overburdened with too many subjects that have absolutely nothing to do with what they want to do in life.

This brings me to another contentious issue.

What’s with this ‘university craze’ we witness in Zimbabwe?

The truth is that most people are getting degrees, not necessarily because they believe that is the gateway to the fulfilment of their dreams and financial success.

This is being done, however, more as a status symbol.

The degree itself has become a sign of great achievement more than what they will be able to use it for in real life.

That is why we see even grown-ups now seemingly competing to get PhDs!

Most of them just end up being ‘unemployed academics’ – who find themselves doing work that has very little or nothing to do with what they graduated in.

This is usually the case for those with low self-esteem who perceive carrying a title to their name as giving them some worth and importance in life and a form of validation.

Personally, I would rather our youth be taught how to successfully monetize their God-given skills and passions.

Not everything needs a university degree.

Furthermore, possessing a PhD doesn’t necessarily make one more respected or important.

Personally, I don’t believe the work I do would have carried greater impact had my name been Dr. T. R. Mbofana.

I believe in my own abilities – with or without a PhD – such that no title can either add or subtract to the value of what I produce.

Therefore, let us not confuse our children with needless subjects – usually because we want them to be considered ‘geniuses’ for obtaining 20 As or university degrees.

Actually, 5As is just as good – if not better – since this would have been achieved in subjects relevant to one’s career aspirations.

I will dare take this further by asserting that a student who only passes three subjects, but which are aligned to his life ambitions, should be commended.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email:, or visit website: /

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