Zimsec: Tracing examination paper leaks

Veronica Gwaze
THE Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) has sent the bulk of its management on forced leave as the examinations board embarks on an audit, but honestly so what?

Stakeholders in the education sector feel more needs to be done to get to the bottom of the rot that has tainted the country’s examination system.

This follows the botched attempt by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to try and force the re-writing of the O-Level English Paper 2 following widespread cheating.

Information gathered by The Sunday Society revealed that item writers, a board consisting teachers and education officers who are drawn from all provinces specifically for setting exams could be the source of the current problems.

The item writers set the examinations, evaluate them, and then prepare the marking guides for all the set papers.

Examination papers are set five years in advance, ostensibly to cut costs.

Mr Sifiso Ndlovu, the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association says item writers could be the major sources of examination paper leaks.

“Problems have always emanated with these item writers but nothing was ever done. The item writers are also teachers and they often pre-empt exam content to their pupils. They will be doing so to achieve high pass rates,” Mr Ndlovu said.

Dr Takavafira Zhou, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president also blamed item writers for leaks.

He said Government had failed to keep a close eye over item writers.

“We do not know why they stopped following up on item writers because they should make sure that these are people who are still in the field and practicing. We have had instances in which some item writers are people who left the teaching field some years back.”

“This has resulted in them setting questions that do not fully conform to the curriculum and this is how many a times you hear pupils complaining that they were never taught some of the content they find in the exams,” Dr Zhou said.

After the setting and evaluation, all the papers are kept at Zimsec where they are then sent for printing as examination time draws closer.

Subject managers, who are Zimsec employees are then tasked with choosing the papers that would be written that particular year.

According to Dr Zhou, this group is another possible source of examination paper leakages.

“Each subject is allocated a manager and the manager is the one who is responsible for deciding which question papers to be sat for. They might be sources of leakages,” said Dr Zhou.

As if that is not enough, the printing of the exams itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Zimsec has no printing capacity and relies on private companies for such services.

According to Dr Zhou, the printers are given the scripts in a soft copy format. Zimsec does not make efforts to make sure that the soft copies are deleted or that they are not illegally copied.

“The problem is that after printing, Zimsec does not make follow-ups to ensure that this material is deleted or not copied elsewhere,” said Dr Zhou.

From the printers, the scripts are then taken back to Zimsec where they will be graded and packaged per subject.

Zimsec employees are responsible for this task.  From the Zimsec headquarters, the papers are then distributed to provincial offices where they are kept under the provincial managers’ guard.

The papers are then distributed to district offices. Educationist Dr Caiphas Nziramasanga said the entire problem of examination leaks could have been fueled by adoption of technology because Zimbabwe is still at infant stages as far as advanced software and security is concerned.

“With the advent of technology, leaks have become difficult to control and as such it should be best that we look at what software is used for the examination processes and adopt advanced security systems so as to ensure that even those who set the exams cannot have access into the system.

“There are chances that these same people who set, evaluate and prepare model answers for the exams are the root problem. With technology they might simply copy the exams and paste to their gadgets without anyone noticing.

“Although we cannot entirely rule out that these exams are leaking at any other level like the schools, it is highly likely that the problem is related to the administration at head office.”

Dr Nziramasanga said the setting of examinations five years in advance allows the leaking of the papers.

Concluded Dr Nziramasanga: “I suggest that Zimsec be weaned off Government and be placed under a university where there is maximum security and few people who are involved in the handling of the examinations.

“This is how Cambridge has thrived, it is because it is under London University. We need to look into their security and copy a thing or two.

“I also suggest tight control over the use of technology under examination settings because there are very high chances that these item writers and managers are the very people behind these leaks,” he said.

 

Efforts to get a comment from Zimsec Public Relations Officer Nicollette Dlamini were fruitless.

 

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