Tensions are high for parents with students who sat for A-Level exams last year.
This is because the Uganda National Examinations Board is set to release the 2017 results for A-Level any moment.
The release of the national exams comes with the opportunity for schools to show how they excelled with some claiming to be the “stars” in their districts even though they have only one student in first grade.
In the last few weeks, the media has been crammed with photos of pupils and parents celebrating after the candidates performed well either in PLE or UCE. During this period, some print and electronic media decided to put aside the coverage of other “important” issues and emphasised reporting on schools that excelled.
According to Dr William Tayebwa, a Journalism lecturer at Makerere University, this clearly fits into the political economy theory of the media which emphasises the need to publish information that easily attracts buyers for economic gains. But on a larger perspective, the media needs to review how they cover schools that claim to have excelled in national exams.
Unlike in the past where Uneb would apply its authority to highlight the performance of each school, the role has now been left to schools to make their own assessment with the help of the media.
With this phobia, it’s not surprising to find a school with most students passing in second and third grade organising a press conference to tell the world how it performed well. Unfortunately, such schools happen to be in areas surrounding Kampala, Mukono and Wakiso districts.
In 2014, I came across a school in Wakiso District which had been duping parents that it was one of the best performing schools in the district. This was done in collaboration with the head teacher, his trusted teachers and a group of journalists from three media houses.
The head teacher would get a student who obtained Aggregate 29 from Uneb, but pause before cameras as having got Aggregate 9 to show how powerful the school is. And the failure by reporters to verify the results meant that a student with Aggregate 29 would appear in the media as having got Aggregate 9.
This was done for a number of years and the school yielded fruits since most parents took information in the media as the gospel truth. A number of parents were misled to think that the school was among the academic giants in the country, whereas it was not.
This trick was unfortunately reported after the head teacher got misunderstandings with some of his hitherto trusted friends who left the school to start their own. The aggrieved teachers, however, started spilling the beans before parents. They produced newspaper cuttings showing how a student purported to have been the best performer in the district had actually performed dismally. If Uneb was interested, it would open up a case of forgery against such a school.
Since most schools are run as businesses, the proprietors have devised means of beating off competition, even if it calls for survival for the fittest strategy. This, however, involves use of the media which sometimes does not verify the information provided by these schools.
When one looks at the advertisements made by schools ahead of the new term, most of these urban schools publicise only newly rehabilitated office and classroom blocks without showing the parent the toilets and the kitchen, which factors are also important for the good health of the pupils while at school.
As the former Uneb chairperson Fagil Mandy once said, the exams board needs to come up with a strategy to save parents from being hoodwinked by schools that connive with the media to stage-manage good performance every after the release of national exams.
The writer is a journalist and MA Journalism and Communication’s student