After years of being buffeted by numerous examination leakages, embarrassing boobs, and corruption scandals, the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) is desperately pinning its hopes on the electronic seals which it hopes will redeem its dented image and restore public confidence.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Zimbabwe has a history of examination leakages and what has been glaringly missing is the initiative to plug the loopholes that have been taken advantage of by some greedy headmasters or teachers out to make a quick buck.
But now Zimsec is making frantic firefighting efforts to defend its existence and relevance and that has come in the form of the electronic seals.
The software, which is called gridlock technology, consists of a box the size of a briefcase in which all the papers are stored. Once locked the case will only be opened via a remote system which will be operated at Zimsec offices in Harare.
Early this year Zimsec director Esau Nhandara said if anyone tampered with the lock, they would be able to pick that up.
The eagerly-anticipated technology will be piloted this year and will be used for the O’Level examinations, which have been the worst affected.
But concerns are abound that the corrupt practices and the gaps remain, and for as long as they are not addressed, similar incidents would recur, costing government millions of dollars in examination retakes and investigations.
“They have taken a better route but there is need to close all the possible gaps,” said former minister of education David Coltart.
Last year four O’ Level papers — English 1 and 2, Maths 1 and 2 — had to be rewritten after it emerged that there had been a leakage at Whata School in Midlands. This was not the first, second or third time either that examination papers had been leaked, or that there was some sort of bungling in the handling of the whole exercise.
Another embarrassing incident that had the nation in a big uproar was the botched Grade Seven Ndebele paper of 2013 which had some serious misinterpretation of the language.
Defending the blunder, Nhandara issued a statement in which he alluded to the fact that a team of experts had approved the paper and that it was above board.
“The paper is set by 10 experts from Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Bulawayo. These experts include college Ndebele lecturers both at Primary and Secondary level who train teachers, education experts from the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) and practising primary classroom teachers,” he wrote.
He argued that some terms which the generality of the people may find to be derogatory were Ndebele words which, when used, should not be taken out of context.
“Zimsec has no desire to undermine the integrity and heritage of any language in Zimbabwe. It endeavours to examine all the 16 indigenous languages identified in the constitution of Zimbabwe without any prejudice,” he said.
Legislators have also called for a complete overhaul of Zimsec which they say has failed an already ailing education system.
During one of their heated debates last year, members of parliament said that the repeated leakages were costing the body its reputation and credibility in delivering top examinations.
Hurungwe West MP Temba Mliswa even suggested that Zimsec be capacitated enough to own facilities to print exam papers so they would have control over the process.
The legislators said they now doubted the results because they may not be a true reflection of the pupils’ capabilities.
They were also not happy that headmasters used public transport when carrying examination papers. This followed a 2012 incident in which acting headmaster from some school in Bubi lost the papers while travelling from Bulawayo to his school.
Coltart said the solution was hinged on how the papers were delivered and secured thereafter.
“What was lacking was the safe reliable means of transporting the papers. We read about headmaster using public transport, that am hopeful will be addressed by the new electronic seals,” he said.
Commenting on the tattered image of Zimsec, Coltart said every time there was a leak, it reflected badly on the body.
However, the Zimsec spokesperson Nicolette Dhlamini said their integrity was still intact and they were still the best at what they do.
“Examination leakages are not peculiar to Zimbabwe, it’s everywhere in the region,” she said.