Exam malpractice producing certificated illiterates

Educational Journey with EPHAT MUDENDA
WHEN I was taking my grade nine examinations in 1993 at Monze Boys Secondary School, it took one alert invigilator to catch a candidate who was getting into the exam room with papers containing already written answers.

The investigation that followed exposed about 14 pupils who were working with the culprit.
The fact that all of them were allowed to write the rest of the papers until the last day, gave them some false confidence that they would not be penalised. The rest of us thought it was unfair for school authorities to let our fellow learners who, no doubt, had leakages continue with the sessions.
It burnt deep down our hearts, but we had no platform to express our disappointment. We all carried on with our tasks, anyway. But one good thing we came to appreciate later was that the invigilators acted professionally and fairly as they had all the evidence pointing to the fact the 15 had surely gone against examination rules and regulations.
They were given appropriate punishment. Their results did not see the light of day. The cheaters were informed that they would only be eligible to sit the grade nine exams under the Zambian system after three years. Thus, each one of the 15, most of them villagers, went back home.
And for some, if not all of them, that was how their education turned into history.
Year in, year out, various stakeholders in the system have spoken loudly about the need to curb or completely end examination malpractice. Yet the problem seems to have persisted and is compromising educational standards in the country. Therefore, the National Action for Quality Education in Zambia (NAQEZ) must be commended for their efforts in urging the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) to establish how examination papers are leaked to the candidates at various levels.
NAQEZ’s concern about the continued malpractices among pupils should be the concern of everyone, including parents and teachers. Its executive director Aaron Chanda said, “Examination malpractices make pupils who pass through the school system to be mere statistics as they don’t acquire any skills or competences that should add value to national development” (‘Curb exam leakages, ECZ told’, (Zambia Daily Mail, Thursday November 2, 2017, p. 5).
Many people are aware that success in an exam has profound, immediate and long-term impact on a candidate’s life. In Zambia, like in many other countries, exam success and completing secondary education represents a channel for young people to have non-menial jobs in future. So some parents and their children may be tempted to engage in corrupt practices just to see to it that their children ‘pass’ the exams.
Some candidates’ blind desires could be to get into lucrative programmes at tertiary level, including law, medicine, and accountancy, among others. Hence they ensure to collude with anyone who can help them get the required results at all cost. However, in some instances it is just a matter of maintaining teachers’ and schools’ reputations, which depend on the ‘success’ of their learners in exams.
If learners can commit to serious studying long before examination time, and completely fight their laziness right to its root, they will surely avoid dependence on ‘foreign assistance’ written on their bodies, or smuggling unauthorised materials hidden in their pants, shoes and bras into the exam room, or passing answers among themselves through notes and scripts.
In a paper entitled ‘Examination malpractice: Causes, effects and solutions’, presented to Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Nigeria, Dr Malami Umar Tambawal says the results of exam malpractice both to education and the society are catastrophic in the long run. “Candidates who would ordinarily be working hard to pass exams begin to depend on quack arrangements… Such fraud eventually is seen as a way of academic success.”
As they grow into adulthood, eventually becoming teachers and exam officials, products of a corrupt education system will not see anything wrong with such practices as they will simply be nothing but ‘certificated illiterates’. Chances are that they will lack the required knowledge and experience to effectively perform professional duties.
Exam malpractice is a negative orientation for future leaders, who may end up being corrupt in their positions of authority. If exam leakages encourage young ones to misbehave, including engaging in prostitution, then there is a lot to worry about regarding the morality of these future adults.
While there is need to emphasise skills transfer, as opposed to the supremacy of certificates in the curriculum, special consideration should be given to exam setters, invigilators and supervisors. These should be well remunerated – and in good time – so that they do not think of taking bribes to add to their salaries.
Religious and community leaders should be encouraged to remind people in society about the evils of exam malpractices. ECZ will also do well to have its officials undertake frequent, unannounced visits to exam centres and make sure that all erring centres are punished.
The vice undermines the credibility of the education system. Though some candidates may not be caught in the ‘act’ like the 15 boys at Monze Boys Secondary School who went back home to herd cattle, they may just end up as people with low morale and unfulfilled dreams in their careers. Hence the nation’s socio-economic development may suffer greatly.

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