Promoting edprs through the improvement of primary and secondary national examinations

The Rwanda National Examinations Council (RNEC) has been vigorously pursuing a path of reviewing relevant available information and documentation relating to examinations in Rwanda including the law, structure of the examination’s system and the systems of assessment and evaluation.

The Rwanda National Examinations Council (RNEC) has been vigorously pursuing a path of reviewing relevant available information and documentation relating to examinations in Rwanda including the law, structure of the examination’s system and the systems of assessment and evaluation.

It has assessed the suitability of the existing Rwandan examination systems in relation to Rwanda’s entry into the East African Community and the Commonwealth. 

The RNEC has developed strategic direction in which it clarifies goals and objectives, results, priorities, the budgeted action tracks and easy mechanisms of evaluation and their impact on its activities. In this process, the RNEC is making sure that its activities are in harmony with EDPRS.

IMPORTANCE OF NATIONAL EXAMINATIONS IN SETTING AND MAINTAINING STANDARDS

 Primary and secondary examinations are important whether they are internal or external because they perform certain functions for the benefit of different stakeholders. Internally, examinations are administered at different periods of the year such as mid-term, end of term and end of year.

In each case they serve different purposes but the major one is to find out how much of the intended objectives the student will have grasped and to find out whether the teacher’s methodology are working. But several things are accomplished in the process and these include:

Identification of strengths and weaknesses of students for building on strengths; plan  remedial sessions for weak students and adjusting the teaching methodology to improve learning in general; provide feedback to teachers and students to close the gap between the attained and desired targets.

In this way, the teacher is guided on the next course of action; providing motivation to students; estimating potential for future performance; promotion or selection to the next class and provision of statistics for internal use by the schools to find out whether they are accomplishing their objectives.

External or public examinations are important in their own way, in view of their advantages. In the upper secondary education level and in   higher education institutions where places are fewer than at the nine year basic education level, examinations serve the important role of selecting the few that have to join these institutions. However, there are other important functions performed by public examinations namely:

CERTIFICATION: This serves mostly those who are not likely to continue but also those who continue to higher levels and in the employment sector; raising standards across all the institutions which is carried out by monitoring the performance of students and keeps the schools on their toes; curriculum control, because the performance of students is used to serve as an indicator of whether the curriculum was covered or not; informing students, teachers, parents, of the progress of students; legitimizing particular forms of knowledge.

By examining a subject, it gains a high profile in the minds of many students and teachers. Since the purpose of schooling to many students is to pass the examination at all costs, any subject that is not examined stands to be neglected by both teachers; and students and encourages teachers to treat the subject thoroughly in order to cover the prescribed course of study within the given time.

This is important because the teacher does not know from which parts of the syllabus questions will be set; encourages students to read widely and make them get prepared to reach a stated degree of knowledge by a fixed date which is better training for time keeping in everyday life.

They also incite the pupil to get knowledge into a reproducible form and make the students make thorough preparations on most parts of the syllabus because they do not know where questions will be set from. This may be against the fact that the topics might be uninteresting.

A role that has become important is that of accountability. Education being a major consumer of public funds, it is fitting that the taxpayer gets an account of how the money is spent. The best way of checking on this is by examining the performance of students where results of the examinations are used to check on the effectiveness of the education system as a whole.

The results are used also in comparing schools, hence comparing their performance and even judging the effectiveness of teachers who on their part, in full view of results, have to take  stock  and appropriate action for more effective instruction, encompassing defining goals, pertinent tasks, providing relevant, understandable and timely feedback, saving the motivational learning context within and outside the classroom.

Public examinations are the best way of distributing the few available resources bearing in mind the fact that school - based assessment cannot avoid the bias, since every teacher and school would be having vested interests in the passing of their pupils and their selection to the next level.
 
ENSURING GOOD GOVERNANCE, EQUITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The RNEC introduced a convey-belt marking system where by each marker specializes in a particular question, rather than mark all the questions in the paper.

Therefore, for each script, the marker focuses on only one question.  The model uses the principle of equitable distribution of responsibilities.

Markers work in small teams (team work) of 5-6 and specialize in specific question items. Emphasis is on quality of marking rather than who marks more or faster than others.  The RNEC has identified the following advantages of this examinations marking system:

(a)  There is strong mastery of content of the question in which the marker is    specialized.

(b) Markers share responsibility which eliminates or minimizes bias.

(c)  Responsibility is spread from team leaders, chief markers and script markers. It is team work in practice.

(d) Responsibility is shared and compared among and between teams, rather than individual teachers or markers.

(e)There is less fatigue and stress as work is evenly shared out. This contrasts sharply with a competitive model where each marker aims to finish as many scripts as possible each day.

(f)The system moderates faster markers and motivates slow ones. It is a “win-win” situation. It ensures mutual satisfaction and cross-checking of each others work.

(g)  Teachers / markers are arranged in small teams of 5 or 6,   which may expand   gradually. This ensures quality assurance.

(h)  Team leaders benefit from mutual control of the smaller teams. Therefore, control is spread in and between teams. This is in   line with modern management practices.

(i)Income is evenly spread as emphasis is not based on who is   faster, but who is marking more accurately. Everybody has to be accurate and all are rewarded accordingly.

Thus, the new marking system has greatly enhanced the quality of student performance, reducing margins of error and thereby boosting grades attained by individual candidates.

This in turn boosts grade classes or categories attained by candidates, enabling many to attain first and second divisions, and still many more attaining a “pass mark” (cut of points) which is determined at each level from Primary, Ordinary level and Advanced level. Each level has a “pass-mark” or cut off point.

The new grading system features harmonized marks processing and grading with the rest of the East African Community Examination Boards.

INTRODUCTION OF SCIENCE PRACTICAL EXAMINATIONS

In 2009, the ministry of education through the RNEC has introduced for the very first time, practical examinations in science   (biology, chemistry and physics) based on the new subject combinations.

The RNEC identified relevant skills and issues to learn and implement which include formulation of policies, guidelines and procedures in Science Practical Examinations,   designing criteria for decision making and problem solving in science practical examinations; how science practical examinations are planned, prepared, organized, conducted, marked,  graded and their relationship to theory papers; assessing  financial, practical and logistical considerations in science practical examinations.

The RNEC has been focusing on the analysis of the level of the examination, the syllabus content and objectives and duration of the examination. The science process skills, which are basic in practical work, are emphasized. The skills include manipulation of the equipment and apparatus, observation, measurement, recording readings, tabulation of readings, graphical presentation of results, interpretation and making conclusions. 

The RNEC noted that there was positive change in attitude towards practical examinations in science by many students and teachers. Most of the teachers adjusted to the standard setting procedures and some of the teachers expressed interest to work together as a team and see ways of carrying out practical examinations in science in their schools.

The RNEC also for the first time introduced personalized photographs on candidate diplomas. Here data includes candidates’ finger prints for evidence in case of forgery or theft, especially in cases of impersonation where candidates have been caught trying to seat on behalf of others. This security arrangement has helped deter corruption cases related to certificates and diplomas.

PROMOTING EDPRS THROUGH TECHNOLOGICAL IMPROVEMENTS

In the national examinations process, the council undertakes various massive tasks of registration of candidates, preparation of examinations, conducting of examinations, marks processing, grading and publication of results and then orientation of successful candidates to the next level of secondary and university education.

These tasks involve processing of large databases and message exchanges through internal communications; and interaction with students, parents or guardians, teachers, heads of institutions and district education officers through announcements, rules and regulations governing the conduct of examinations.

Engaging this array of stakeholders demands innovations in technology for educational marketing, in this case of national examinations reform products, such as the recently introduced ‘Conveyor – Belt’ Marking System, the new grading system based on the new curriculum, the introduction and emphasis  on  practical science examinations and  the new changes in the content and format of certificates and diplomas.

These products need relevant technology for effective and efficient marketing to various stakeholders.

ICT PROJECT

The Council has a number of ICT equipment including two server machines, a fully wired computer network with fibre optic back borne, and an Optical Mark Reading Machine. The RNEC has developed    an examination processing application called FAIM running on SQL server and windows 2003 server. 

This has facilitated the RNEC to develop its ICT capability in order to deliver its services to the public much more efficiently and effectively. This also is necessitated by the fact that the number of candidates increases every year, hence ICT capability to deliver and meet the long term needs and expectations of Rwandan primary and secondary schools is essential. 

As a result of this initiative, the Council is able to carry out the following functions with relative efficiency.

REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES

The ICT system captures candidate’s surname,  first name,  sex,  date of birth,  father’s name,  mother’s name,  district name, district number,  sector name,  sector number,  school  number,  subject combination,  student number, language of examination, (candidates have been allowed to write their examinations in  either English or French),  disabilities,  choices (candidates have 3 choices of schools and 3 choices of subject combinations).

These data are usually collected in MS Excel and have to be integrated in the database. Marks are entered against the candidate details already in the data base and provision for marks entry is designed into the system. 

As part of the process, lists and reports are produced which include   lists  of all registered candidates by school and by district with their full details for typing error corrections;   list of candidates by sex;  lists of  grades for each candidate based on the weights of the subjects and the raw marks obtained,  list of candidates by school and by district indicating marks in every subject and the average mark,  list of first 20 candidates by their average mark,  list of the first 20 candidates in each subject by their mark,  list of the first 20 female students in the country,  list of the first 20 female candidates in each subject by their mark,  list of the first 20 schools by the average mark of all candidates in that school,  list of the bottom  schools by the average mark of all candidates in that school,  the first 20 public schools by the average mark of all candidates in that school,  the first 20 private schools by the average mark of all candidates in that school, the best candidate overall by average mark and his/her school, the best female candidate overall by average mark and her school,  total number of candidates at registration, total number of candidates at registration by sex,  total number of candidates who attended examinations in that year, total number of candidates who attended examinations  by sex, total number of candidates who obtained a pass mark, total number of candidates who obtained a pass mark by sex, percentage of candidates who obtained a pass mark  and  percentage of candidates who obtained a pass mark by sex.

In this process, the   ability to do  selection of candidates to the  Advanced Level  of the secondary school cycle   based on the available vacancies and the candidate choices that were recorded at registration is paramount.  After this selection process, a number of lists and reports must be generated.

These include lists of selected candidates by choice and allocated school, lists of selected candidates by district of the allocated school and   lists of selected candidates by sex.

The ministry of education and other stakeholders require different kinds of statistical data and the Council must have a facility to produce such data. 

The Council’s success may be attributed in part to having generic report templates which are completed by providing input parameters and redefining   the display layout which is very important for effective service delivery.

(2)ICT PROJECT

The RNEC has developed a web -based tool to enable it to improve the coordination and management of high stake public examinations processes.

 The system is known as the ‘Rwanda Examinations Coordination and Management Information System’ (RECMIS).  The RNEC has been able to achieve the following targets in record time:

ONLINE REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES, PUBLICATION OF RESULTS AND SMS CELL PHONE BASED -   SYSTEM

A highly secure online system for checking results  was installed where students and parents or guardians can access  Council’s  databases by providing their registration number and then their results are displayed in non modifiable format through web based application or SMS.

The candidates can also register online through an interface that is linked to our data base. The council has built an online- Based- Results Information System that has been used to provide primary and secondary school leaving candidates with online access to their results through cell phones by SMS text and the Internet through the Web and provides other services such as registration verification by SMS text. The Council has installed and configured the system to enable students query its databases by SMS text for their results as well as through the Web and also to verify their registration status.

The Council has built all the necessary capacity needed to run, support and maintain the developed system.

The system   includes querying of examination timetables for all sets of examinations. We have developed a database that enables the collection of statistics on the traffic and usage of the SMS and Internet system.

The Council has trained staff to develop a strategy of implementation for the marketing and public awareness of the system to ensure sustainability.

One of the important features of the system is to conduct system requirements analysis, design and development, deployment, testing and providing a clear maintenance plan of the system comprising of both client and server system components and staff have been trained on its use.

No effort has been spared to ensure effective and efficient server configurations including the implementation of SMS and Internet interfaces (gateway configuration) between the system and the selected mobile telecommunications operator.

We have established a central database and server software for storage and retrieval of examination results information. This information has been correlated and aggregated in the manner required by the Council and its stakeholders.

An enhanced website has been in place for use to publish examination results and student registration details and additional promotional information about the system including but not limited to basic information about the Council. There exist built-in reporting mechanisms to support statistical analysis of examination results data. Data collected are summarized and made available through the website and other media formats (Tables, Graphic Charts, PDF, Spread sheets, GIS Maps, etc).

Candidates are able to query the database using specific student codes such as registration numbers or other pin numbers to be determined in order to retrieve examination results either by SMS or directly from the website.  Users, who use SMS to receive examination results, are charged a premium rate for the SMS messages by the service provider and the fee is shared with the Council equally. 

Queries are also made directly into the database through a web interface.  Information retrieved from the website is also available for downloading.

The system has the ability to create historical trend reports (annual reports on primary and secondary schools examination results) using the electronically stored data, to use in planning and reporting on the activities of the sector.

Collaboration tool

The RNEC has developed a collaborative tool to enhance marketing and communication amongst stakeholders. Below are some of the data/message elements collected by the RNEC which is utilized by this application.

They include  list of registered students,  list of withdrawals from examinations,  rules, regulations and guidelines to conducting examinations  in centers  and  districts,  announcements,  reports on administration of  examinations,  lists of students selected for the next level of study, list of transferred candidates, urgent messages to centers and districts,  internal messages by Examinations Council  staff,  where possible  voice and video chats for virtual meetings and video conferencing and  general chat.

The content format  is designed in such a way that the lists  are  either  word processing documents or spread sheets,  reports, rules, regulations and guidelines  are  word processing documents; announcements, urgent messages and live text chat are in text or html formats; and there is also some voiceXML and MPEG or Avi for video chats.

The user categories include systems administrator, regular user and moderator. Every district officer, Head of department and Chief Executive Officers can be upgraded to moderate their  group chats.

In addition a user may access the application by providing a user name and password that was previously set at registration by the system administrator.

Then users are authenticated and only information related to their duties is made available to them. This means that 

(a) officers who head examination centers are now able to upload or download their own lists of students and reports, view rules and regulations, announcements, urgent messages, district and the Council’s  reports and also join chat sessions of their group or the general chat;  (b) District officers are now able to upload or download their own lists of students and reports, view rules and regulations, announcements, urgent messages, district and  the Council’s  reports and also join chat sessions of their group or the general chat and posting announcements and urgent messages; and  the Council  staff  are now able to upload/download rules and regulations, lists of students and reports, view rules and regulations, announcements, urgent messages, also join chat sessions of their group or the general chat.
 
Selection process

This module enables the Council to gather important statistics as indicated below. Schools or institutions can now submit these vacancies online into the server indicating  number of places available at Ordinary (lower secondary) and Advanced  (upper secondary) school levels and at the University level; and the number of places available at A’ level by option for candidates completing O’ level. Very high degree of security and privacy is required.

 EXAMINERS TRACKING SYSTEM

This module covers the following items using online interfaces that are well designed  which  make  use of appropriate technology concepts: Registration of examiners, giving their personal details; the examinations an examiner sets and also the examination  he/she marks; examiner/teacher’s qualifications; the class a teacher teaches  and the subject that he/she teaches including  the team leader’s comments. Very high degree of security and privacy is required

 SCHOOL PERFORMANCE

The Council is now able to track the results and examine the performance of schools. This system generates statistical data on performance of each school.

By JOHN RUTAYISIRE,
THE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
RWANDA NATIONAL EXAMINATIONS COUNCIL