We should break the cycle of cheating national exams

Monday October 14 2019



Bishop Sheldon Mwesigwa

Bishop Sheldon Mwesigwa  

By Bishop Sheldon Mwesigwa

With the start of the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) exams, there is renewed perennial anxiety as to whether the exams will not be leaked or cheated as was the case with 2018 Primary Leaving Exams (PLE) and UCE 2017.
There is ample evidence to prove malpractices in the 2018 PLE, as I was able to illustrate in a full page (Daily Monitor February 18) article. Further proof of the leakage and cheating of exams has been the apprehension and trial of about 50 people including teachers and a police officer (Daily Monitor July 1).

To compound the issue, the chairman of Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu), Mr Zadoch Tumuhimbise, was quoted as saying, ‘leaking and cheating of examinations has been aided at school level, Uneb (Uganda National Examinations Board) and district.’

He reportedly said: “Invigilators connive with scouts and schools to release examination contents ahead of scheduled time, while at Uneb level, officials within the system who are involved in setting and packing the examinations are key in leaking the examinations.”
It is, therefore, imperative that a red flag is raised and effort made to plug the holes that could exist, especially at the police stations where storage of exam scripts is, but also be mindful of the transportation process and, not in the least, Uneb premises and personnel involved.

A recent media investigation revealed exam scripts are leaked through food suppliers contracted by Uneb officials during exam setting period and men of God who offer spiritual nourishment during the period.
While Uneb executive secretary Dan Odongo has vehemently brushed off the investigations, dubbing them baseless imaginations by current and former employees hell bent on tarnishing the image of Uneb, there is some explaining he needs to do.

While I may not be competent in discussing food vendors, I am in a position to probe the men of God who were ‘contracted’ to pray for Uneb officers during the sensitive exam season. My enquiries on this subject have shown that there is a need to mainstream and stream-line provision of spiritual services.
The person who has been leading prayers on behalf of the Church of Uganda, while being a man of integrity and Godly devotion, was a lay person, and not a priest!

The Province of Church of Uganda, education office, was not even aware of whom Uneb was resourcing.
Who are the other religious leaders who have been leading prayers and representing their religious denominations or it was ad hoc arrangement? If ad hoc, isn’t there possible grounds of abuse of this privilege? At the tail end of the exam script circuit is the centres where matters can get out of hand either from corrupted headteachers, teachers or even parents.

The minister of Education and Sports, Ms Janet Museveni, is quoted to have said the army and police were deployed to guard the 2018 Uneb exam papers after teachers and head-teachers became dishonest.
It is regrettable that some headteachers, teachers and parents have been greatly involved in seeking leaked exams or conniving with wrong elements among police, scouts and other people in the ‘supply chain’.
The biggest indicator of weaknesses in the examination system is the discrepancy between results posted by pupils in local and national exams. As I have posited before, any professional teacher will agree that there is a correlation between mock exams and PLE, UCE or Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) results.
The schools that excel in joint mocks, which are in fact, the more genuine, well set and marked without undue external influence, end up performing relatively poorer in national exams. On the contrary, some schools which perform poorly in joint mocks, often excel in national exams.

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While Mbarara Preparatory was ranked the best in mocks 2018, it emerged 13th in PLE. Similarly during mocks 2019, Mbarara Preparatory emerged the best and surely as night follows day, scientifically I do not see how they would fail to emerge the best in 2019 PLE or, at worst, among the best five! Another case study is Mbarara Junior Primary School which emerged 6th in Municipality joint mocks 2018 while it was ranked 16th in 2018 PLE!
Apart from the first three schools ranked in 2018 PLE, the other top seven schools, mainly little known private primary schools, did not appear among the top 10 in this year’s mocks.

It gets worse when you trace particular schools and see the discrepancy in performance. The correlation between 2018 PLE and Senior One exams 2019 presents even more interesting results and buttresses the argument that some schools cheat.
Data from one of the top performing girls secondary school in the western region shows that during the end of the first term Senior One 2019, the best student who scored an average of 95 per cent, had scored aggregate 7 in PLE.
The first student in class up to the 12th, who had scored between averages of 89.9 per cent to 87per cent, had between Aggregate 7 and 9 in PLE! Only one student who had scored aggregate 6 appeared among the first 12, yet the school admitted three students who scored maximum Aggregate 4 in PLE, six students who scored Aggregate 5 and 13 students who had scored Aggregate 6.

It may not be far-fetched to say there is a problem and it needs to be solved, if hard work is to be rewarded. It may sound utopian but with the assured upholding of Christian moral values by the First Lady and her projected influence on the examination system, the concerted effort of all God-fearing key stake-holders, I can visualise a corruption-free 2019 Uneb Exam season.

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