19 June 2013

Rwanda: The Inside Story of 16 Fleeing Students

On the chilly dawn of Sunday, June 2, 16 students crossed the border into Uganda. They arrived in Kampala in the evening and proceeded to Kololo, an upscale suburb of the capital.

The students knew their destination all too well as if they had been briefed on where to go and what to say. All they had to do was seek direction to the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

At the UN office, the students said they had fled their homeland over harassment by examinations officials.

But officials sent the students, part of 574 whose A-Level results were cancelled by the Rwanda Examinations Board (Reb) for breaching various examinations rules, to Police where their first query would legally fall having fled on their own volition.

The students have since given miscellaneous reasons for their fleeing the country, from alleged harassment by Reb officials, envoys and even jumped on the bandwagon of rebel recruitment-deal-gone-bad. The allegations have baffled many, while others have rubbished them.

During interactions at the MeetThePresident function in Kigali on Sunday, President Paul Kagame urged the youth to learn the value of following procedures. He said the group should have followed normal procedures instead of fleeing without any clear reasons.

However, a probe into the allegations made by the students against Reb and further minute detail inquiry into their status with the examinations body has revealed that the students had a series of inconsistencies.

Naming the 'fugitives'

The Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Mathias Harebamungu, said after crosschecking the students' files, it was discovered that all the 16 had used fraudulent means to sit their exams last year.

A ministerial probe report, released Monday, says during the 2012 examinations, there were various cases of malpractice, but the most significant one involved the 574 students who were found having illegally registered for A-Level national examinations.

Some of the students were found in examination centres in possession of school identity cards and wearing school uniforms of the former high schools where they illegally registered for the examinations.

The report adds that some female students were found wearing veils, despite being in non-catholic or deeply Islamic school milieu, pretending to be nuns and, apparently, because they did not want to cut their hair just for the short examination period.

"There is nothing to hide about these students; we took time to look at their files. These students are guilty of various illegalities, and none of them studied A-Level either as full time students or a private candidate," he said, adding that almost all the 16 students did not qualify to sit as private candidates.

The ministry also revealed the identities of the 16 students, complete with malpractices committed by each student. They include Richard Mugabo, who has been speaking on behalf of the group, James Rurangwa, Charles Higiro, David Kagame, Sam Murarura and Joseph Muligande.

Other male students are Moses Mugisha, John Bosco Kamanzi, Steven Mbakuratire, Claude Ndamushimye, James Nkotanyi, Alex Safari and Marc Ngirabakunzi and James Rulinda. The two female students are Faith Ingabire and Egidia Uwera.

According to Reb regulations, a student is allowed to sit as a private candidate only after providing evidence that they have been out of school for at least five years, and with tangible reason as to why he or she cannot go back to school.

Detailed information furnished to this newspaper by the Ministry of Education shows that John Bosco Kamanzi used different names for two education levels.

"All the 16 students did not attend studies at upper secondary school and were therefore not eligible to register as full-time school candidates in 2012. They all registered illegally at various private schools," reads part of the ministerial probe report, a copy of which this paper has obtained.

The report indicates that eight of the fleeing students registered at ESSA Nyarugunga, three each at Kabuga High School and Nyamata High School, and another two from Solidarity Academy.

In total defiance of logic, Mugabo and Rurangwa sat their O-Level exams in 2011, making them ineligible to have sat for A-Level the following year. The ministry ruled that the duo was not eligible to register for 2012 exams as candidates.

"Only two students [Marc Ngirabakunzi and James Rulinda] were legally allowed to sit as private candidates because they completed O-Level in 2006, but did not register as private candidates rather they cheated and registered as full-time students."

The case of malpractice in the 2012 exams was discovered when some students were found without full documents from schools they claimed to come from, prompting authorities to launch investigations.

Admitting guilt:

James Mutabazi, 21, from Nyagatare District, yesterday admitted to irregularly registering to sit the exams. Mutabazi is not among the group that has fled, but in explaining his impropriety, he said he was a full-time student at Groupe Scolaire APRED Ndera. He fell ill a week to registration at his school. Upon recovery, he enrolled at a coaching private candidate centre but registered at another private school, Nyamata High School.

"We were wrong but trying to look for an easy way out. I registered at Martyrs Secondary School as a full-time student," he said, adding that he does not understand what compelled his colleagues to take the decision of fleeing the country.

The investigations show that most of the affected students had been studying at private coaching centres, which connived with some secondary schools to have some students register as candidates in the legal schools because they were not legally eligible to sit as private candidates.

Options for the students:

Upon cancellation of results, some of the affected students approached Reb for explanations and advice. The majority accepted the blame and were advised on how to proceed with their studies.

Some returned to Senior Three, others went back to upper secondary school, while those like Mutabazi,who were eligible to register as private candidates starting this year, have already registered for exams.

The Ministry of Education recently suspended the operations of private coaching schools in the country, urging them to fulfill the minimum education requirements. The centres were ordered to register with Rwanda Development Board, and follow other procedures from district level.

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