Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima wants a five-year jail term for those who are caught leaking examination papers amid concerns the government is not doing enough to curb the rot.
Last month the government ordered the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council [Zimsec] to reset the 2017 O’Level English Paper 2 after a massive leak, but the move was blocked by the High Court.
Mavima yesterday told our senior reporter Xolisani Ncube (XN) that at least 15 000 students who were involved in the scam had their entire examination cancelled as punishment for cheating. Below are excerpts from the discussion.
XN: Honourable minister, O’Level results are now out. Are you happy with the outcome of last year’s examinations?
PM: Well, as you might recall, challenges are everywhere and as a country or a sector we have not been spared. We have had a fair share of challenges in the education sector and the standard of our education has been affected.
But let me hasten to say that we are satisfied with the results from the 2017 general examination. I say so taking into account the challenges we are faced with.
If you look at the pass rate, you will appreciate that it dropped, but the decline does not significantly affect our progress as a country.
Yes, we had leaks here and there, but we are glad we managed to contain the situation and still managed to maintain the standards of our education system above many countries in the region.
XN: Do you believe the quality of the students produced from this examination still meets the international standard synonymous with Zimbabwe in the wake of the English Paper 2 leak?
PM: Oh yes, I believe we did well. If you were to look at the statistics from Zimsec, you will realise that the performance of our students in English had improved tremendously. There are circumstances which caused this.
Yes, I have issues with the pass rate itself, it’s so low and I believe it’s not a true reflection of our education system as a country. I am of the view that we need to change the way we grade.
We cannot have 75% of our O’Level students failing to progress further just because of the way we grade them. We will need to look at that anomaly.
The education system should not be there to produce more failures than those who pass, we need to review that so that we accord people according to the skills and ability not only based on an elitist scheme which talks to Mathematics, English and Science as important subjects.
We need to review that. We have to look at the grading system so that we look at those with extraordinary skills such as farming, technical skills as opposed to focus only on those with academic ability.
The thrust of any education system should be to produce people that respond to the needs of society at any particular time. Our economy has drastically changed.
XN: But we are seeing the opposite or rather confusion in the education sector. Last week you were quoted as saying you had suspended continuous assessment, which I believe is a key component in the curriculum review process. Where are we heading to with our education system?
PM: Let me be clear and please get this right. We have not suspended the continuous assessment process. What we have done is very clear; we looked at the challenges being faced by our kids in light of the curriculum and we discovered that it was almost improper for our teachers to monitor students doing what we called tasks.
I have since scrapped that requirement. I have, however, retained what we call projects, which are done over a period of two years, I believe this can be monitored and our teachers can supervise the students.
This is part of the assessment process that is being undertaken in schools and will remain in our school system.
We are trying to build a system that can be appreciated the world over and its products graded according to talent, ability and capacity.
Let me be clear again: I have suspended the same process to examination classes because of the ambiguity that we found ourselves in at the start of the year.
So, yes, we have suspended continuous assessment for examination classes. I mean your Form 4 and Form 6. This was as a result of the crisis that we had at the start of the year. We had so many disturbances.
XN: Let us go back to the issue of examination leaks.
we understand that it is not only the English paper, which was leaked, but it seems as if you are more concerned with that subject. How about the other subjects such as Mathematics, Science and so on and so forth?
PM: From the official information I got from Zimsec, we had a massive leak in English and we did not hide that. We had to come out and face the reality.
These other subjects you are talking about I cannot comment on them because they were not brought to my attention.
XN: Again minister, we understand that Zimbabwe is a member of international examination bodies in the region and beyond. Don’t you think our failure to deal with such issues like leaks and having a subject graded partially could affect our ratings internationally?
PM: For your own information, we are regarded as the best in the region and Africa when it comes to examination management.
Yes, one would say the issue of English has an effect, but it must be understood that we did not hide it or we did not try to sweep it under the carpet.
We came out clear seeking for solutions to the challenge we had encountered.
Besides, we are not the only country to have had such a challenge; it shows the competitiveness of our education system.
Our challenge is nothing compared to what other countries such as China and the likes encounter.
We have a plus on our side because we are willing to be transparent and deal with the issue without causing chaos.
So, yes, the leaks are undesirable in any education system, but we have managed to deal with them holistically. More so, circumstances that led to the use of one paper in grading English Language are known.
It is a public secret which is not of our making. If you were to read through the statistics from Zimsec, you will realise that our students performed better in English paper 1, this is because of the stiff competition that comes with our certificate.
XN: According to our laws, anyone caught cheating has the entire examination suspended or invalidated, but it seems nothing is happening. We have over 15 000 students who cheated in the English Paper 2, what did you do to them?
PM: We have done justice. I can tell you we have withheld their certificates because we believe that they are not worth to be graded by our system.
A number of them have been visiting my office asking to be pardoned, but my response has been simple: we need to clean the mess and have our education system trustworthy again.
We don’t allow cheats, hence punishment should be there.
XN: Are you saying you have withdrawn or cancelled certificates for close to 15 000 students who were involved in the English Paper 2 leakage?
PM: I might not be so exact with the figures, but I can tell you we are punishing people. In fact, we are in the process of reviewing the examination law so that we have a jail sentence for adults who would have been caught involved in cheating and we shall definitely be pushing that we have at least five years as the minimum jail term.
This, I believe, will help us deal with adults involved in examination leaks. However, on children we might be lenient, considering the age and law.
XN: Now that results are out and we are seeing chaos in schools, what are you doing to ensure that children get A’ Level places without losing money to corrupt elements?
PM: That is the competitiveness of our education system. Give it a week and all the chaos you are trying to see which is not there will be done.
Securing a place at a good school should be competitive. I will take an example of Goromonzi High, they have 50 places for A’Level and they receive more than 1 000 applications, how do you want them to deal with such a scenario?
Obvious competition would be applied and the best get the places and those with lower grades can be accommodated at other schools. For your own information, at ‘A’Level we have a good pass rate across the country, so it’s not about being at Goromonzi but being focused.
My worry is not on students failing to get A’Level places at some schools; my worry is on government’s failure to provide teachers in rural areas that even if you go to Binga, you are assured of getting a teacher who is qualified like the one at Goromonzi.
You must go to any school and get the same service being given to those at Waddilove and so on and so forth.
Government should be able to give an incentive to a teacher who sacrifices to go and work in rural areas. This is the only way to improve our education system across the country.
– The Standard