The new Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) board appointed last Friday should quickly come up with measures that ensure the restoration of confidence in local exams. While the previous board tried its best under the circumstances, it was the laxity in handling of examination papers that threatened the credibility of Zimsec.
It had become a norm in the past to read about cases of examination paper leakages, a development that did not augur well with a system thriving to uphold high standards.
There was something wrong with the system used by Zimsec to handle examinations from the start. For instance, most of the cases of leakages emanated from the way the papers were collected from the district offices to the schools.
Many mishaps used to happen in-between.
We were used to reading about a headmaster, who collects the exam papers from the provincial or district office and along the way decides to pass through a relative’s place.
Some of such headmasters would feel obligated as uncles to show their cousins the next day’s question paper. Others would pass through beer halls, where they would get drunk and start telling everybody who cared to listen that they were carrying the next day’s question paper.
The result in most such cases was that the question papers were stolen or the headmaster would give one to a friend whose child was sitting for the paper. The newly appointed board should deal with the fundamental issues that have been haunting the Zimsec system, especially the issue of leakage of examination papers.
We suggest that the board should be equipped with vehicles in the provinces and districts that are dedicated to delivering the examination papers to the schools.
There should also be tight security in schools where the papers are kept, so that we do not have a repeat of cases of break-ins that have accounted for some of the leakages in the past.
We have also wondered why examination papers are kept at schools for weeks before pupils sit for the particular exam. With such vehicles as cited above, Zimsec can ensure that papers are delivered to the schools just a day before writing.
This will deny those with ulterior motives time to steal the examination papers. Another important issue to consider is the security at the examination board’s printing firm.
The examination papers should be printed under strict supervision and guard to ensure that those who do the job are not tempted to take pictures or even steal the printed copy.
The new board should also ensure that enough funds are allocated for the examination markers. Strikes by markers in the middle of the exercise have put a dent on how the local examinations have been handled.
Disgruntled markers cannot be trusted to do a perfect job and a repeat of such strikes will not do good to the local examinations system. The problems afflicting Zimsec previously left many wondering what the future of the localisation of the examination system holds, and there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Localisation of the examinations from Cambridge Examination Board was a move in the right direction, as continued reliance on the British system did not reflect the aspirations of the locals.
This is why Cabinet made a decision in 1983 to localise the Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations. The examinations were completely localised in 1995, following the passing of the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council Act in 1994.
We hope that Zimsec has learnt its lessons in the 22 years since it started handling the local examinations. These are the lessons we hope the new board appointed by Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora will review to help come up with foolproof security system.
We look forward to the new board improving the reputation and standing of the local school examinations body.