By Mugove Tafirenyika
Scandal-ridden Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec)’s reputation may have been irreparably damaged after the November 2017 Ordinary Level English Paper 2 exam materials were leaked in the latest example of how the cheating epidemic is roiling the country’s education system — educationists and academics have said.
Zimsec announced last week that the overall national pass rate for the November 2017 “O” Level examinations had dropped.
The final results announced last week show that the national pass rate fell to 26,35 percent from 27,92 percent.
While the overall pass rate fell, interestingly, the results show that the quality of work on the English paper was more impressive than that of 2016, resulting in an increase of five percent.
The total number of candidates who sat for the examination was 332 473 and this is 14,25 percent higher than the November 2016 entry.
Total candidates who wrote five or more subjects were 189 684 and 49 982 obtained Grade C or better in five or more subjects, yielding a 26,35 percent pass rate.
Of the 187 606 school candidates, 162 920 wrote five subjects and above resulting in 46 755 passing five or more subjects with a Grade C or better.
Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima had ordered “O” Level students to take the English paper 2 exam again after discovering evidence of the breach but the High Court ruled that it was not feasible to reschedule the exam because it impacts innocent students who had no involvement in any kind of wrong activities.
Zimsec has responded by firing director Esau Nhandara and his deputy. Four other directors have been forced into indefinite leave pending an audit of the examinations system.
It has been described as the worst national examination leak since independence and embarrassed senior Zimsec officials who are left scratching their heads in an attempt to unmask those behind the syndicate.
So bad is the unprecedented leakage that the once nail-biting Zimsec exams have been turned into a mock exercise, a mere revision, and a goldmine for unscrupulous officials of the national exam council.
US-based Zimbabwean educationist Maxwell Shumba — who holds a Master’s degree in Chemistry Teacher Education from the J. E. Verona University in Cuba and a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati — told the Daily News that the English Language paper scandal had caused irreparable damage to the education system.
“The issue of the English paper as it played in the media did a lot of damage to the credibility of our national education system,” Shumba said.
“This is what is termed ‘educational holocaust’. The results of examinations just like those from our elections will be disputed and will always be controversial, meaning that institutions and employers will not use these results as criteria for recruiting.”
Fred Zindi, a distinguished educationist who has worked for the London School Examinations Board and is now with the University of Zimbabwe Education faculty, said Zimsec must change its way of doing business or risk losing “whatever little credibility is left in it.”
“The way forward is to tighten the whole process. In London they have what they call item banks and this is where the papers are kept, they can be there for many years.
“There is only one person with the keys to the bank and these banks differ with subjects. The person who keeps the keys will be responsible if the exams leak,” Zindi said.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said what happened with the 2017 examination results has left the Zimsec image in tatters.
“Who will respect holders of those results as genuine students who passed on the basis of their academic prowess when it was widely publicised that the examination including the mathematics paper which saw several students at Nagle House Girls High School in Marondera being arrested had been leaked?” Majongwe asked.
In January, Zimsec cancelled “O” Level results for 19 students from the school who were allegedly found in possession of prepared answers for a mathematics examination paper on November 24 last year. DailyNews