Columnists Features

High exam absenteeism rate worrying


THE announcement by the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education on January 16 that a total of 58,110 pupils were absent from the 2014 grade nine final examination, made sad reading.
Although the number of absentees reduced from 19.18 percent in 2013 to 16.23 percent last year, the figure is still alarmingly high.
The questions are: What contributed to the boys and girls who had entered to write the examination to keep away? Were they not aware of the examination time table?
It is very surprising that despite government abolishing examination fees at grade nine level, we still have thousands of candidates shunning examinations, hence denying themselves an opportunity to go to grade 10.
For the 28, 879 girls who were absent, should we assume that they were all pregnant or got into early marriages? What of the 28, 231 boys who were absent from the examination countrywide last year? Did the boys also go into early marriages?
There is need to really find the root causes of absenteeism during grade nine final examinations because it is very painful to see the future generation going to waste just like this.
There is need for concerted efforts by the relevant ministry and all its partners to sensitise grade nine pupils early enough on the need to write the final examinations.
At school level, all the teachers must be involved in educating the boys and girls on the importance of writing final examinations. Teachers should not leave the task to guidance and career teachers alone.
Class and subject teachers should take advantage of their teaching time by sparing at least 10 minutes to sensitise grade nine pupils about the importance of sitting for final examinations.
Pupils should know that they can only have the chance to proceed to grade 10 if they write and pass the examinations at the end of the year. Parents are also important players in the fight against examination absenteeism. They should always keep in touch with teachers and school authorities concerning final examinations.
It is also important for parents to report challenges that may be affecting their school-going children well in advance to school authorities so that measures can be put in place to allow the children sit for the examinations.
Apart from that, senior education officials at district, provincial and national levels can also take time to visit schools and talk to grade nine pupils and their parents on why examinations are important.
It is also cardinal for examination candidates, especially those under the afternoon arrangement, to avoid registering at more than one centre. This, in my view, adds to the number of absentees as they can be marked absent at one centre and present at another.
School authorities should also avoid sending away grade nine pupils for non-payment of user fees particularly in the third term as this discourages many pupils from sitting for examinations. Lack of stable sponsors, if one makes it to grade 10, also discourages some pupils from sitting for examinations.
The church and all well-meaning non-governmental organisations championing the cause of children should also have a role to play in ensuring that all children who enter for examinations sit for them in October/November.
During the church service on either Saturday or Sunday, time should be found for youth meetings in which pupils who are members of the church can be reminded on the importance of sitting for final examinations.
I believe if our pupils are able to get information on the importance of writing examinations from different stakeholders, they can indeed take final examinations seriously. Once this is done, we are likely to have a significant reduction in the nationwide candidate absenteeism rate.
If the current scenario is left unchecked, it will impact negatively on the future of not only the candidate who fails to write examinations but the nation at large. We don’t want to have a Zambia with a population that has no self-confidence when making certain decisions.
I am saying so because examinations provide the children with an opportunity to test their self-confidence. Let us work together and ensure that we have a cadre of educated people who will effectively contribute to the social and economic development of mother Zambia.
The future of the 58, 110 boys and girls, apart from the 16, 396 who sat and failed the grade nine final examination, is uncertain. Though some will repeat grade nine, the majority will be permanently thrown on the streets to join the army of unemployed youths out there.
In Zambia, we don’t have reputable higher institutions of learning that accept a person with a grade seven certificate at the moment. And the grade seven certificate holders are the 58,110 pupils who missed the 2014 grade nine final examination and the 16, 396 who completely failed the examination.
Lastly, I am humbled and encouraged by the comments I received concerning the four articles I wrote for the month of January, from people like Mr Wilson Siana of Zimba, Bwalya Nyenjele of Chingola, Getrude Mutate of Lumwana, Mrs Pamela Sakala of Luanshya, Steward Mwape of Chililabombwe and many others who withheld their identities.

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