JUST what can the ever blundering Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) be likened to? To a child who never learns or to a hopeless pupil who repeatedly fails his or her examinations despite having been supplied with the answer sheet well ahead of the test? Both would do but the former more so.
Many times, what might be perceived as an error or failure can actually turn out to be an opportunity. More often than not, the lessons gleaned from such discouraging experiences have proved to be of great worth. Coming to ZIMSEC, this principle is simply alien to the establishment. Whereas some fail and learn from their failure, ZIMSEC fails, fails and fails!
Every year, the parastatal is rocked by exam paper leakage scandals — in almost similar circumstances. An autonomous parastatal under the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, ZIMSEC is responsible for the administration of public examinations in the country’s schools and runs under the ZIMSEC Act of 1994. It started running the country’s examinations in collaboration with the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate in the late 1990s before it went solo at the turn of the millennium.
Zimbabwe’s education system, widely considered to be one of the finest on the African continent, has been heavily compromised since then as the issue of examination leaks and results mix ups has become a common feature year in year out. Now, only a few weeks into the 2014 examinations season, there have been massive leaks of the Mathematics and English Language examination papers in various places around the country.
Arrests and convictions to that effect have been going on in Bulawayo, Harare, Chitungwiza and other places and Lazarus Dokora, the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education has ordered that the leaked examination papers be reset at a cost exceeding US$1 million. Those arrested were caught selling the leaked papers at prices ranging from as little as US$2 up to as much as US$40 per copy.
Over the years there have been calls by stakeholders in the education sector encouraging both the parent ministry and the examinations organ to rethink their strategies, chiefly the logistical part of the matrix. Heads of the country’s 2 118 examination centres collect the papers at their regional offices and from there; the onus is on them to ensure safe delivery of the papers to the centres and store them safely until the day they are written.
While some school heads have their own vehicles which they use to ferry the papers, others use public transport like buses and it certainly does not reflect well that such crucial documents are to be seen transported on a bus rooftop. Two telling incidents happened in 2011 and 2012 respectively. A headmaster on his way from collecting papers in Chinhoyi back to his rural school in Hurungwe decided to put some passengers in the truck only for one of the passengers to disembark taking with him a pack of exams papers. The head only discovered it upon arrival at the school.
The other headmaster put the papers on the roof of a bus from Bulawayo only to discover them missing when he reached his destination. Still, there could be a far worse scenario. Picture a headmaster at a school in Muzarabani who has to use an ox-driven cart for several kilometres to reach his school late at night. Experience has shown that it is extremely risky to have a situation whereby the only form of security is the individuals themselves, but still, ZIMSEC will not learn.
And the parent ministry is just as liable. It is demonstrating an unsettling flip-flopping tendency on the matter of exams.
Only recently, Dokora was quoted in the press as having said they would change the system banning school heads from collecting the papers and the following day, he released a press statement refuting the quotes and denying ever making such statements.
What this means is that the country will continue to use the current discredited system for the foreseeable future. A retired educationist who declined to be named saying he wanted to enjoy his retirement out of the limelight, tore into both ZIMSEC and the ministry saying they should have learned something by now.
“It is sad that we continue experiencing the same problem over and over. It shows we do not learn and we are not growing. ZIMSEC should by now be using courier services for safe transportation of the papers. Arguing against this on the account of funds does not hold water given the over US$1 million which will now go into reprinting of the papers,” he said.
Politicians have also waded into the debate with National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader, Lovemore Madhuku, calling on Dokora to resign along with the entire ZIMSEC leadership in the wake of the latest scandal. “Instead of nullifying the examinations the ZIMSEC authorities must scrutinise themselves and remove bad apples within the institution. The problem is with ZIMSEC systems not the candidates,” he said in a press statement on in which he also called on parents of the affected children to approach the courts resisting the nullification of the examinations they sat for.
Teachers also complained that they were being subjected to double work. “It is taxing. I had worked hard with my students and now I have to do more revisions and go back to invigilate the same papers again. What if the paper they are doing again also leaks? I am very angry with this,” said a female teacher at a school in Harare.
Because the administration of the examination process is porous and prone to abuse, education experts and concerned citizens have warned that the country’s educational qualifications now run the risk of becoming only acceptable in Zimbabwe. President of the Apex Council, the umbrella representative body for civil servants, including school teachers said the system should not be allowed to continue.
“We do not have to face the same predictable problem every year. We are coming to a point where we would say teachers should be paid incentives to re-invigilate the exams or boycott it altogether. They should find a way of solving the issue once and for all. It is government’s responsibility to fund the examination process. But what we have seen is the transferring of the responsibility to individual schools,” she added.
A country which boasts the highest literacy rate in Africa at about 92 percent should, without doubt, find a way of arresting the problem.