11 February 2018

Zimbabwe: Lax Systems Cost Zimsec Reputation, Credibility

The Zimbabwe School Examination Council (Zimsec) last week shocked the nation with an announcement that November 2017 English Paper 2 Ordinary Level has to be rewritten. This is the first time in the history of Zimbabwe that all examination candidates have been recalled for a re-sit because of an exam leak.

The decision by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry has exposed the education sector to many legal battles as parents and guardians are determined to fight from many fronts to defend their children's rights.

According to reports, Ordinary Level question papers for November 2017 were easily accessible on social media, especially WhatsApp where candidates formed groups with teachers or tutors to formulate answers.

What sold off the scandal, especially for the English Paper 2 was the striking similarity of the answer scripts of about 17 000 candidates. In other subjects like Mathematics Paper 1, the scale was slightly lower, hence did not warrant a re-sit.

The two subjects, Mathematics and English are compulsory for qualification into any training or employment in Zimbabwe.

The big question is, how did this exam leak happen?

According to well-placed sources within the examination council, the leaks were confirmed during the marking exercise in December last year where it was discovered that some candidates had exactly the same correct and wrong answers.

"There are poor controls on the administration of these high stake public exams. Zimsec has a tendency of claiming that examination papers leak at schools but that is not the case.

"For the first two weeks, there was minimum supervision of the writing process because of the tug of war between the examination administration department and the test development, research and evaluation departments. This caused chaos on the ground and as a result, there was no supervision for the first two weeks where the most important subjects are written," said a source.

The Standard gathered there were serious challenges at the examination mother body led by Esau Nhandara and deputised by John Maramba.

The two have been at Zimsec since its formation in 1996, in senior positions and have reportedly led disgruntled staff that now take a lackadaisical approach to work.

"Although these men were appointed to their current positions a few years back, they are leading poorly motivated staff. The top hierarchy is well-remunerated yet the staff on the ground is poorly paid and disgruntled. Zimsec former directors have left positive legacies which is a direct opposite to what is happening now," a source said.

From 1996-2002 there was Isaiah Sibanda followed by Happy Jabulani Ndanga who served from 2004-2013.

"Now there is no proper supervision of the examinations. The general weakness of the current leadership is that it trivialises issues and focuses on non-policy matters. For example, in 2013 the organisation embarked on a process to have ISO certification, but because of serious lack of management commitment, the organisation has lost track of it.

"In 2015, Zimsec embarked on a strategic plan and according to the norm, there were supposed to be annual review meetings to check on the progress, but that is not happening save for departmental meetings so that when audit time comes they will show something.

"There is also a general feeling at Zimsec that the director is ill-advised on critical issues, for instance there are reports of a cold war within departments and as a result there is no proper co-ordination on all programmes," another source said.

Although there have been leaks at Zimsec, this year proved to be the worst and many students will have their results nullified.

Nhandara refused to comment on the matter yesterday.

A renowned educationist who at one point worked for the London School Examinations board Fred Zindi said Zimsec must change its way of doing business and introduce item banks where the question papers are kept.

"The way forward is to tighten the whole process. In London they have what they call item banks and this is where the papers are kept, they can be there for many years to come. There is only one person with the keys to the bank and these banks differ with subjects. The person who keeps the keys will be responsible if the exams leak," Zindi said.

He described the situation as unfortunate.

"There are a lot of loopholes in our system and corruption is one of them. Examination leaks didn't start today and if you check, at one point a Cabinet minister leaked examination papers to his child and it became a very big scandal.

"The board is not tight and there are many loopholes. However, the decision has affected many children some of whom have gone outside the country. If I was the minister I was going to ignore it and try to tighten the board for next sittings," said Zindi who is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe's department of education.

Former Education minister David Coltart said the biggest losers in the whole issue were students who were expecting to go for A'Level. He said it was problematic that some subjects were allowed to stand, yet others were said to be compromised. He called for an urgent review of Zimsec systems.

"This is not the first time that we are having problems. When I was still minister we had a case where papers were compromised and it happened at the time when examinations were written. This current one was discovered at the marking stage.

"This creates a real dilemma for the minister because you need to maintain the integrity of the system and the problem that he faces is that if the English paper has been compromised, how do you guarantee that the results right across the board are not compromised?

"This raises questions on Zimsec and the security of their systems. There is need for an urgent review of their systems. However, Zimsec remains a credible organisation and we must do everything possible to maintain the credibility," Coltart said.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) described the move as illogical and "totally unreasonable".

"More gravely, the move impact negatively on rural learners studying at satellite schools who travel long distances to the examination centre," ARTUZ leader Obert Masaraure said.

"The allegation raised by the ministry that the examination paper was leaked via social media and was discovered during marking defies logic.

If any candidate cheats during the examination process, such discovery must be made at the site of the examination.

"In any event to blanket all the over 200 000 candidates as having cheated is unreasonable. As a way forward, ARTUZ demands that results of all candidates be released without further delay or rewriting."

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