ECZ should seal Exam leakages loopholes


WITH less than three months remaining before Grade 12s and other examination classes start writing, I thought it prudent to revisit the vexing perennial problem of exam malpractices.
Given the little time remaining, I hope the Examinations of Council of Zambia (ECZ) has done everything in its power to seal the loopholes and avoid a repeat of last year when 542 cases of exam malpractices were recorded.
Judging by the gravity of the problem, which as we know has become endemic, there’s no need to procrastinate any further.
Time to resolve this dilemma is now as opposed to waiting for pupils to start writing and then resort to the usual firefighting methods.
Already, ECZ is revising the time-time-tables which will see Grade Seven exams starting on October 14 to 18 while Grade 12s on October 4 to November 8, according to ECZ executive director Michael Chilala.
This is a clear indication that there’s indeed no time for the pupils to relent in their studies or for ECZ to seal the loopholes.
Times of Zambia of July 27 quotes Mr Chilala as saying that out of the 542 cases of malpractices, 463 had been resolved while 51 were still pending.  He further observes that 21 of the candidates had had their results released due to lack of evidence.
As can be seen from these figures, there’s no doubt that these malpractices have compromised the credibility of our examinations and, even worse, pose as a serious threat to the education system and its objectives.
This is why early this year, in February to be specific, I appealed to ECZ and other stakeholders on this same page to come up with proactive measures to stamp out this problem once and for all.
Even Minister of Education John Phiri was so dismayed  by the magnitude of the problem that he directed ECZ to halt the malpractices by cleaning the examination process at the setting, distributing, administering, marking and processing stages.
The question is how far has ECZ gone in so far as implementing the minister’s directive is concerned? Has ECZ managed to seal all the loopholes and should we expect incident-free examinations this year?
These and many other questions beg for answers in the interest of transparency and restoring credibility in our examination system.
Without undermining ECZ’s efforts to curb the malpractices, I believe the issue of leakages and other malpractices is still an uphill battle and may remain so for many years to come unless drastic measures are taken.
While some parents have in the past helped perpetrate this problem, there are many upright parents and other citizens out there who want to see their children genuinely reap the fruits of their hard work.
So as much as I appreciate the ECZ’s determination and efforts to resolve this problem, I think the council hasn’t been candid enough to tell the nation whether this time around they have ably resolved the issue of exam malpractices.
Personally, I expected the council to tell us what measures it had taken as a direct response to Dr Phiri’s order to cleanse the examination process.
This I believe should have started from within the council itself which is the setting up to the processing stage as directed by the minister in February this year.
Instead,  all  I have heard is the Council going in circles –  talking about new exam timetables, a breakdown of last year’s exam malpractices and of course the usual warning for teachers to refrain from engaging in examination misconduct of any sort.
Mr Chilala also announced the introduction of a toll-free line (8383) for voice and short message service which the public could use for reporting cases of examination misconduct.
But what’s new about warning teachers or even pupils against engaging in exam malpractices, especially if such warnings have in the past fallen on death ears?
We know by now that despite the warnings of expulsion, some teachers and pupils have continued perpetrating exam irregularities.
It happened last year and it has been happening in many other schools where teachers feel their pupils are not adequately prepared for exams.
Already, I am reliably informed that some Ndola schools have recorded some incidences of malpractices during the Grade 9 district and Grade 12 provincial mock exams.
Now these are just mock exams, what more with the final exams? And by the way, who leakaged the papers if it’s true that some pupils had them.
This is a harbinger of what to expect during this year’s Grade 9 and 12 final examinations.
As for the toll-free line, it’s a good idea, but it’s not a foolproof solution because one can only report after the damage has already been done.
In my view, it’s not a preventive measure because a pupil or teacher will have already engaged in some sort of malpractice before he or she can be reported.
When this happens, obviously, the next thing is to bar the culprit from sitting for the exams, which in turn is a total waste of time and resources on the part of the pupil and his or her parents.
The teacher on the other hand, will be handed over to be police for prosecution and, depending on the evidence adduced in court, he or she may get away with it. It happens!
They say bad habits die hard. I bet there are still some teachers who despite all the odds and warnings want to risk their necks during this year’s Grade 9 and 12 exams again by leaking exam papers or writing on half of their pupils.
On the other hand, as good an initiative the toll free line may be, it has its own limitations.
For example, for one to report a case of malpractice, he or she would have to be present to witness the incident.
But how can a parent who is not in school blow the whistle on a teacher who is busy helping a pupil write exams or, better still, a pupil who has smuggled some materials in the exam room?
Only fellow teachers who are not involved in the crime can report their colleague. After all, birds of the feather clock together.
Recently also, ECZ blamed examination leakages on the rundown school infrastructure.
According to the Times of Zambia of July 16, education and communication specialist Ronald Tembo observed that dilapidated infrastructure in some school had resulted in an increase in break-ins which in turn led to theft of examination papers.
“Leakages are caused by break-ins in schools and once these people succeed, they easily send these papers to the Copperbelt and Lusaka,” Mr Tembo further observed.
I agree with him to a certain extent, but surely, is ECZ saying there’s no solution to this problem?
Examinations are a yearly phenomenon, so why these dilapidated schools can’t be renovated way before that time is mindboggling. We are talking about a perennial problem here Mr Tembo!
I convinced that the Ministry of Education has enough time to work on these dilapidated schools before the examinations start.
If the ministry is unable to renovate the affected schools because of lack of resources or for some other reason, that’s something else altogether.
But certainly the issue of dilapidation is not a good excuse because you and I know that other methods can be worked out to ensure examination papers are secured to prevent leakages.
Solutions are there laying in wait. ECZ in conjunction with other stakeholders should ponder over this issue seriously and they will find them.
This brings me back to Dr Phiri’s directive to clean the examination process thoroughly and again I am bound to ask if ECZ has done so.
There are still many pertinent questions worth probing. For example, has ECZ established whether or not there‘s a syndicate behind exam paper leakages?
If there’s none, let them come clean. Like I said in my last column on exam leakages, the issue of greed and corruption cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor to the problem.
Just how is the ECZ handling this issue regarding its own staff? I still suggest the cleaning should start from within ECZ before extending to other examination stages, including schools.
What about teachers? What measures have been put in place this year to prevent them from engaging in malpractices? A mere warning is not enough!
I mean even a thief knows very well that breaking into another person’s house is a punishable crime but still takes a chance. If he’s lucky, he gets away with it, if not, he gets arrested.
The same applies to pupils and teachers and I can bet you they are ready to risk their necks this year again.
Finally, with time flying fast towards the final Grade 7, 9 and 12 examinations, should we expect an incident-free year or vice-versa?
Let’s wait and see as the legendary soccer commentator Dennis Liwewe would say.
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  1. I think if rumours are true that there will be an aggregate deduction across-the-board as a way of seeking justice for cases of leakages as they have done in the past ,then the examination council is thus in support of the vice.Let them think consideratly