Address exam systems in EAC member states

AFTER READING your article titled “EAC rewards Rwandan essay writers”, I was impressed by the 26 students recognised on Tuesday for participating in an EAC essay writing competition.
Samuel A. Bakutana
Samuel A. Bakutana

AFTER READING your article titled “EAC rewards Rwandan essay writers”, I was impressed by the 26 students recognised on Tuesday for participating in an EAC essay writing competition.

On the same day, Uganda National Examinations Board released the 2013 Ordinary Level exam results in which 7 per cent passed in Division 1 while 8.8 per cent were labeled failures, the remaining 84.2 per cent swinging in between the two. 

I’ve always believed we can do better in examining students in education institutions at all levels – primary, post primary, tertiary and university. 

The University of Rwanda which has just been created through a merger of existing institutions needs to think about this as soon as possible. 

I strongly believe that the concerned people in the education docket in the EAC member countries should take a bold look at what exactly is being assessed and how relevant it is in the overall molding of a total citizen. 

While wholesome education includes knowledge, skills and values, a wholesome examination system must also assess those three areas.

My namesake Sam Kebongo rightly wrote in his article “University of Rwanda, partnerships and the state of higher education” that “A good doctor or lawyer, apart from learning medicine or law very well, needs to have training in business management in order to manage those under their supervision well or better still to know how to set up and run a clinic (entrepreneurship).” 

That’s why I call upon Dr Richard Sezibera, the Secretary General of EAC and the Education ministers in EAC, to consider harmonising and improving our student assessment systems which majorly assess the cognitive domain i.e. the knowledge crammed, not necessarily learnt. 

The distinctions at high school are based on mental capability to reproduce crammed knowledge. The other two domains of learning which concern the skills and values are rarely assessed. 

Many academic giants are ranked powerful in academics but their hands are functionally unproductive. They recite academic texts like cathedral creeds but are in the Intensive Care Unit in physical tasks. 

We now have academically great engineers whose broken watches are repaired by primary school dropouts, teachers of music who can’t sing, agriculturalists who have no gardens – not even a single plant in a tin, and teachers of entrepreneurship who have never run a small kiosk by the roadside. 

They’re the functionally castrated academic stars. Meanwhile, the physically capable are disadvantaged. Their area of strength is neither evaluated nor reflected in the final mark. 

We forget the many academically handicapped persons who have succeeded through their physical prowess.

They may be the 8.8 per cent who have been labeled failures in Uganda but may later employ those with photographic memories who are made icons in newspapers. 

Second, students are not tested on values and attitudes: how honest and reliable they are, their ability to persist amidst problems, interpersonal skills, truthfulness and consistency, smartness and decency, obedience to elders and respect for authority. 

Aren’t these the prerequisites for responsible and productive living in society? Why then do we celebrate academic giants who may be morally bankrupt? At this time, it’s vital to note that I’ve personally been academically very strong throughout my studies at all stages of formal education and I am not against academic stardom at all.

What I am against is the over-idolisation of academic competences at the expense of practical skills and values. In life’s battles, one would rather lack strategy than character.  

Just as an example, Rwanda’s Maurice Mwiseneza who emerged 4th overall after presenting his essay on the role of infrastructural development in the fast-tracking of EAC may be strong at cognitive competencies, but a certain Mwunvaneza in Kigali may be stronger at physical and/or vocational abilities.

That said, both Mwiseneza and Mwunvaneza need to have strong values and right attitudes around which their life shall always rotate.

So as Ms Sharon Haba (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education) encourages students to “work hard for better results,” let’s redefine what “better results” really means and refine its scope so as to have a robust and balanced EAC labour force that can steer holistic development.

Let’s have the courage to introduce radical reforms even in the examination component of our education systems in the EAC so as not to continue nurturing great minds with incapable hands and degenerated hearts. 

There’s no region that has ever developed on account of what citizens knew, but it has always been largely due to their industriousness and strong moral virtue. Pamoja tutashinda! 

The writer is an inspirational keynote speaker and a personal development author. He is also the National Coordinator, Delta Communities Uganda.

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