AS if the deteriorating Zimbabwean education system did not have enough problems, the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) is fast becoming a serious liability to the credibility of primary and secondary school exams as it lurches from one exam scandal to the next, year in year out.
The whiff of an exam leakage is never far during the exam season and to that you can add tender irregularities and students being awarded marks for examinations they never sat for, among other bungles. One thing appears clear; little or no lessons have been learnt from previous botched exams.
The latest scandal to hit Zimsec and get just about everyone who has an opinion talking — as has become tradition — is the leakage of the ‘O’ Level English Language Papers 1 and 2 and Mathematics Papers 1 and 2 at Whata Secondary School in Lower Gweru.
Six school officials in the headmaster entrusted with the exam papers, four teachers and a cook have since been arrested for the embarrassing leak.
Last week, students at privately-owned Fountain College and two men from Chitungwiza were sentenced to six-months in jail each by Chitungwiza Magistrate Donald Ndirowei after they were convicted for leaking this year’s ‘O’ level Commerce and Science papers. Maybe as an indication of the low esteem he holds the Zimsec exams — or is it desperation — the student flogged the leaked papers for only US$2 each.
Much to the dismay of those pupils who thought the subjects were over and done with, Zimsec had a surprise in store: It announced last week that ‘O’ Level English papers 1 and 2, and Mathematics papers 1 and 2 would be re-written from November 24 to November 27. The news must have been greeted with a despairing shaking of the head by many a pupil.
The re-set exams will certainly not come cheap for the exams department reeling from perennial under-funding as the re-sit would cost Zimsec over a million dollars, further depleting its meagre coffers.
Firefighting, Education minister Lazarus Dokora recently said to reduce chances of examination paper leakages, exam papers will now be under the custody of examination officers that Zimsec will appoint and deploy at each school.
Many are only likely to believe this measure will work if next year’s exams are scandal-free.
“We shall appoint examination officers at each school in every province to avoid leaking of examination papers and supervision should be done extensively in the ministry,” Dokora said.
“Lack of supervision in the school and at provincial levels has caused breach of security by allowing leakage of examination; therefore, no headmaster will be responsible for any examination material henceforth.”
The broke Zimsec will need a new budget for Education for the recruitment of exam officers.
But former Education minister David Coltart told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the appointment of examination officers would only help if it ensures that there are no remaining “split responsibilities”.
“I also think that Zimsec needs to move towards more stringent standards being applied before ‘examination centre status’ is conferred on a school. For example, schools which write Cambridge examinations have to earn the right to become examination centres — it is not automatic and if a school breaches their protocols Cambridge are quick to remove that status,” said Coltart.
“The same needs to happen with Zimsec — it is far too easy for a school to become an examination centre. While of course the ideal is that every high school in Zimbabwe should be an examination centre that has in some cases led to a slack attitude regarding Zimsec protocols. So in short, we need the combination of both examination officers being appointed and tighter controls over conferring examination centre status to schools.”
Last year, Geography Paper 2 and Integrated Science papers were leaked, again in the Midlands Province, leading to their costly cancellation.
In 2012, at least 13 ‘O’ Level examinations had to be reset at a cost of US$850 000 after a headmaster lost the exam papers while travelling by public transport from Bulawayo to his rural school.
The papers, English Language (Paper 1 and 2), Mathematics non-calculator version (Paper 1 and 2), Geography (Paper 1 and 2), Integrated Science (Paper 1, 2 and 3), Commerce (Paper 1 and 2) and Ndebele (Paper 1 and 2) were allegedly lost at Renkini Long Distance Bus Terminus in Bulawayo.
The question worried parents, teachers, pupils and other stakeholders want answered is why is Zimsec perennially embroiled in such scandals that have a devastating consequences for education in Zimbabwe? Some say Zimsec needs an urgent overhaul while others are calling for heads to roll there.
The only time a government official took responsibility for exam leakages was in 1996 when then Education minister, the late Edmund Garwe, resigned from his post after his daughter was found in possession of junior examination papers before they had been written.
As a result of questions over the integrity of the country’s examination some parents would rather fork out hundreds of dollars for the more costly Cambridge international examinations.
Social commentator Stanley Tinarwo said the leakages are symptomatic of the rot at Zimsec.
“This is not the first time we are witnessing such serious leakages. This is just a sign of the total collapse of the whole education sector. Some of the people on the Zimsec board are the same culprits who are giving PhDs to undeserving recipients. The system needs to be totally revamped to restore confidence in our education sector.”
Professor Levi Nyagura is Zimsec board chairperson. Nyagura, also University of Zimbabwe Vice-Chancellor, is currently under fire after he was blamed for the UZ’s awarding of President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace with a fraudulent PhD in sociology.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) party in a statement said it was alarmed by the decision taken by Zimsec to nullify the 2014 ‘O’ Level English and Mathematics examinations and order a re-write. It demanded that Dokora must resign.
“The decision by Zimsec is both irresponsible and grossly irrational. It subjects innocent pupils to unbearable pain and suffering. It is unnecessary as it does not contribute to stamping out corruption at Zimsec,” the statement said.
“The Zimsec approach is draconian and does not take into account the fundamental rights of the children concerned.
However, these are not the only problems bedevilling Zimsec — far from it. In June, two students who registered as private candidates had to travel 100km from Bikita to Masvingo to write the June 2014 Biology Paper 2 at night because Zimsec had failed to deliver question papers to their centres on time.
There have also been instances of serious mix-ups in the issuing of results with some candidates getting grades in subjects they did not sit for whilst others failed to get marks for subjects they had written.
Early this year, Zimsec was accused of failing to print Grade Seven certificates for the past four years, but the examination body blamed this on government saying it has not received the US$3,15 million it is owed.
Zimsec claims inadequate funding by government has caused inefficiencies.
Comptroller auditor- general Mildred ChiriH has found Zimsec liable for irregularities, flouting tender procedures and paying service providers US$1,8 million without proper invoicing while overpaying some suppliers and buying a Nissan UD truck for an inflated US$149 000.