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Leakages haunt public exam system


The indigenisation of examinations has over the past decade failed to inspire confidence among stakeholders owing to the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec)’s failure to plug leakages that haunt the distribution of examination papers to schools.


Just last week, the acting headmaster of Sijawuke Secondary School in Bubi, lost a total of 61 examination papers en-route to the examination centre, forcing the examinations board to withdraw the papers and release new sets of the particular papers.

Ever since the transfer of the running of public exams from Cambridge to Zimsec, the leakage of examination papers has become common.

Lawrence Murendo, whose son is sitting for the Ordinary Level examinations beginning this month, said he was disappointed that after over a decade, Zimsec was failing to ensure the security of examination papers.

“I am disappointed as a parent. Zimsec’s failure to ensure that these papers are secure is very worrying. We begin to wonder if the certificates that our children will get will be acceptable,” he said. It was important, he said, for the local examinations council to find ways of ensuring that examination papers were secure.

“These people need to appreciate that public examination papers must be treated as security documents,” he said. “There is need to change the mindset because we can’t have a situation whereby every year we have papers leaking.”

Another parent, Miriam Murwira, observed that it was unfair to task headmasters, who have to use public transport, to collect the papers to the examination centres.

She said that was “a weakness” which Zimsec should look at and address.

“Anything can happen when one is using public transport,” she said. “This leaves who ever is responsible for the papers unable to ensure their safety.”

Zimsec acting director Esau Nhandara last week said once the examination papers had been dispatched to the collection points, they became the responsibility of the school authority who are obliged to ensure their security.

“After collection of papers, their custody falls into the hands of the examination centre. Our regulations specify in writing that the centre must secure the papers,” he said.  But in view of the recurrence of the leakages, observers have argued that other ways of enhancing security needed to be considered.

“Zimsec or the Ministry of Education must distribute exam papers themselves to schools, not heads collecting them from their district ministry (offices),” said Tobias Kainan of Nyanga. Salanny Mhlanga of Bluff Hill described the frequency of exam paper leakage in the country as alarming and called on the examinations board to act.

“With immediate effect, Zimsec must take full responsibility for the setting, marking and distribution of papers to schools,” Mhlanga said. Schools in the country’s outlying areas are usually problematic in terms of accessibility while school officials tasked with transferring the papers to their schools use public transport, making the whole enterprise risky. The council’s public relations manager Ezekiel Pasipamire said it was standard procedure to have three sets of papers in case of a leakage. “We have an item bank where we have standby question papers. We have three different sets of question papers and when something like this happens, we pull out another one,” he said.

The process will cost $850 000. Zimsec has a total of  20  118 “O” Level centres countrywide.

This year’s November “O” Level candidature increased to 286 343 from last year’s 254 000.

The Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart said the acting headmaster would face disciplinary action.

Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said it was disturbing that while government was able to deliver ballot boxes to constituencies “with accuracy and proficiency” during election time, the same could not be said of examination papers.

“How can we have a situation where a headmaster is expected to carry examination papers 120km to the centre without a car? These papers are also collected in full view of many people and anyone can track them.”

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