On Wednesday November 7, 2007 the national examinations for both Ordinary level (S.3) and Advanced level (S.6) students eventually came to an end.
Now several students are enjoying some breathing space after hours of sleepless nights. Many are now at home sleeping until hunger gets them out of bed!
But a closer look at the news items that filled press pages during the period of exams makes one realise that examination malpractices took the lion’s share of the media space.
Almost each day of the examination would produce a news story about a student caught cheating, or an individual impersonating another student.
Looking back in my archives I was surprised to find that one of the first pieces I wrote for this column in the month of March 2007 was also about examination malpractices.
And by the way, reports about examination cheating were not limited to newspapers in Rwanda only. Similar stories filled the pages of Uganda’s The New Vision and Daily Monitor while Daily Nation of Kenya also reported similar stories.
In the Daily Nation of November 1, 2007 it was reported that 26 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination (KCSE) candidates from Mombasa district had been arrested in connection with examination leakages.
Mombasa’s head of police Wilfred Mbithi claimed that the students were found revising two examination papers (History and Physics) that were alleged to have been leaked.
In Rwanda the main form of malpractice has been impersonation. This is usually done by having an adult who is well versed with a particular subject sitting an examination on behalf of the real candidate.
This impersonator writes the name of the real candidate on the answer scripts. After the first day of examinations, The New Times reported a case of impersonation involving a medical doctor sitting examinations for a nurse who had been working but without genuine qualifications.
This cheating is sometimes masterminded by people at the examination councils who leak papers to students. In other cases head teachers also pay lots of money (bribes) to get access to the examinations before the actual days of sitting for them.
This they do, so as to assist their students to pass highly because this gives the school a great impression as an institution that performs well.
There are indeed several solutions that can be used to address the issue of examination malpractices which I love to equate to a cancer. If not tamed earlier, cheating can reach chronic levels where you find people cheating at the University and even at job interviews.
Such people believe that they should always use a short cut to achieve any academic or professional goals. First of all teachers should always work hard to see that students do attend all their lessons, because truancy is a major reason for a student to consider cheating in the first place.
Examination supervisors need to be very strict to iron out issues like impersonation. The examination council has a tougher job of ensuring that examinations do not leak to students before the scheduled time of sitting them.
The duty of the police is to work hand in hand with the examination council to carry out extensive investigations for any cases of cheating, and heavy punishments and exposure should be given to the culprits in order to discourage anyone else from indulging in similar evils.
However, all this cheating seems to be an illustration of a structural problem of our education system, where too much importance is placed on the passing of examinations.
This compels students to do everything they can to see to it that they pass their final exams. The students and their schools are under pressure to produce wonderful results.
This scenario certainly presents cheating as a viable option for many who dread the prospect of failure and those who clamour for cheap success.
The Daily Nation of November 1, 2007 further called for a better way of testing students. In the paper it was suggested that perhaps it is time to begin thinking and debating the whole question of examinations.
Is it really wise for us to continue utilising a system that tests candidates in three hours things that they have learnt for three years?
Why not try using continuous assessment tests and other forms of examinations to determine candidates’ ability?
This may go a long way in helping to minimise the cut-throat competition that is now a trademark of final examinations.
It may seem a cumbersome idea with numerous implications for the entire education system, but then again we can have it as food for thought.
In the meantime, I wish all students the best in their holidays.