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Zimsec Must Tighten Exam Security Systems

Samson Muhau is a parent in distress. News that his son would soon re-write the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council English Paper 2 that is said to have leaked last November has worsened his January “disease” woes.

The announcement meant he had to fork out money to send his son back to Gokwe from Harare where he was enjoying his vacation. His son Terrence wrote his O-Level exams in November 2017. Results for the exams have been delayed after the English paper leaked. Mahau was looking forward to the results and making plans for his son to proceed to A-Level by March.

He thought he would solve the school fees issue at the end of this month when he gets his pay. But Muhau’s honeymoon was cut short as he and thousands other parents woke up to read news that one of the papers, Ordinary Level English Language Paper 2 is set to be rewritten this Friday.

Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Paul Mavima announced that the paper will be rewritten on February 16 as the previous submissions have been nullified. The announcement has plunged Muhau into crisis as he had to borrow money to help his son to return to school in Gokwe.

“My son had travelled from the rural areas to join us here in Harare as he waits for his results. Now he has to return home to write and I am broke.It’s mid-month and I have no money,” said Muhau.

“I am going to sell the few buckets of maize we had reserved for food, so he can be able to make the trip to write the exams. I wish we had been given more time to prepare and source money,” he said. For his troubles, he hopes the re-sitting is only the beginning of more substantial corrective measures to follow.

“We need to know who was responsible for the leak, how they are being dealt with because an issue this big cannot end with learners re-writing. I hope the culprits will be brought to justice. I also hope we will be informed about the investigations,” Muhau said.

Muhau is just one of many parents who are livid at the decision to have the paper rewritten. The re-writing of the English paper has ignited fiery debate about the integrity of the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council.

There are so many unanswered questions. Just what happened? Zimsec board chairman Professor Eddie Mwenje told the media recently that social media was central to the leak.

“The board and management are seized at this moment to look at issues of security across the value chain. We are living in a technological era where one leakage from one person can actually go across the world in a split of a minute and this is exactly what happened,” he said.

“It is not that there were massive numbers of people who had access to the people but when an individual gets access to the paper it goes viral.” Zimsec internal systems were said to have picked an anomaly.

“The essential thing was even our marking system was able to detect the leakage for us that is one thing we are proud of. We analyse to see the extent of cheating and where examination regulations were flaunted. For this we saw that there was cheating through social media and we took appropriate action.

The levels were not good for us to go on and say these results show integrity, that is why we took the position we took,” Mwenje said. Some experts have argued in favour of the re-sit. Educationist and senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Technical Education Dr Peter Kwaira said the move, though painful to parents, was necessary.

“In my view the move by the Government was necessary because it shows that the country is willing to confront the truth even when there is a risk of a backlash,” he said.

“It would have been a bigger crisis if Zimsec had swept the issue under the carpet. Imagine what it would have done to the country’s academic reputation.” As a solution, the UZ academic suggested that authorities should tighten systems to avert unfortunate circumstances like exam leakages from happening again.

“I commend the Ministry for taking a brave choice to confront the leakage because imagine that we would have had lawyers, doctors, pilots who emerged from a porous system with no respect for ethics. That would have caused problems for the country in the future,” the UZ educationist said.

Exam leakages could damage the country’s educational image and integrity at a time when Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa. It could cast some doubts on the prowess of Zimbabweans on the academic front. Social media has been the number one culprit as an instant leak could go viral in a split second. Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima singled out social media as an enabling platform for the cheating.

“All results for the November 2017 English Language Paper 2 have been nullified. This follows the widespread cheating in this paper, exacerbated by the social media, and identified during the November 2017 examination session,” he was quoted saying.

“The Zimsec board has been tasked with coming up with measures that could be implemented in order to avoid similar occurrences. They should look at the entire value chain of the examination system from the setting of the exams, printing, logistics and even the process of making sure that the exams, after being written, are delivered in a very safe and secure manner.” He said the Government was exploring strategies to curb the leakages.

“We have given them deadlines to say they should come up with recommendations that will make our system full-proof. The specifics are coming from Zimsec and we will announce once they have come up with a plan. At the appropriate time we will disclose the plan,” the Minister said. Mr Maxwell Rafomoyo, an Education Coalition of Zimbabwe activist said the ministry left it too late to apply remedial measures.

“I think it was wrongly timed because Zimsec discovered it during the examination, they should have recalled it as soon as they identified the problem instead of ordering a rewrite when students are expecting their results,” he said. The education rights lobbyist believes students are just at the end of the whole chain but there could be others involved.

“There is a lot of inconvenience, students are just pawns in this ecosystem. Who are these people with access to the examinations who were part of the leak?” queried Rafomoyo.

The decision by the ministry, if not handled well, could have far reaching implications on the country’s education system. Presently Zimbabwean students enjoy some exemption from certain aptitude tests internationally because of the country’s high educational standards.

In 2012, the examination date of a paper was moved forward after there was a leak. In the 1990s a Cabinet minister resigned after her daughter was found with a leaked paper. History is littered with isolated reports of exam leakages, but the entrance of social media in recent years has made the management of public exams complex.

And, despite the problems, all hope has not been lost about the country’s educational standards. Leakages are not only peculiar to Zimbabwe, but are also common elsewhere across the continent.

There are promises that after it is rewritten, the English Language Paper 2 script will be marked in about a week according to Zimsec officials. Zimsec may have to show intent in plugging the leaks which have haunted local examinations.

Exam leakages inconvenience students and experts say it is everyone’s duty to fight corruption to uphold the country’s educational standards. In the end, it still remains to be seen how Zimsec and the Government will deal with culprits and tighten security of public exams. Its only when all the loopholes are plugged, that parents can start believing again in Zimsec.

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