By Dr. Mesharch Walto Katusiimeh
Social media and social gatherings are abuzz with disappointment over last years 2018 Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results. Some parents and school administrators are even threatening to petition Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) to do a thorough audit of the marking and grading of the recently released PLE results. In fact, there is a post written by Dr. Roy Mayega, though based on false assumptions but has become popular and is being circulated and shared on social media widely. The post summarizes the frustrations of many parents, teachers and candidates who sat UNEB PLE. Briefly, the writer alleges that UNEB has a policy of under marking the top schools in Kampala like Green Hill Academy, City Parents School, Kampala Parents School, Kabojja Primary School and the like. He also alleges that UNEB has a different grading system for urban schools and village schools that disadvantages urban schools leave alone the fact that many urban schools though relatively unknown especially in Kampala, Mukono, Wakiso still performed extremely well. To beat the alleged UNEB unfair system, the writer suggests that parents will start registering their kids in village schools for better grades.
I can understand the disappointment of the writer and the stakeholders of the traditional top schools in Kampala. They are not alone. Even other top schools in Mbarara, Jinja, Gulu, Fort Portal and elsewhere under performed compared to their relatively little unknown counterparts. Those frustrated and complaining are mainly schools where parents pay high fees for the highest quality of teaching and learning. They are excellent schools with excellent facilities, teachers and administrators but why do I think the writer bases on false arguments to make a point. I have interacted with examiners who mark PLE exams. They are trained teachers from all over the country. When these teachers are marking, they cant tell which school they are handling. The grading system is also done uniformly after the completion of marking and is guided by performance of all candidates country wide. For instance, I was told this time round for one to have attained distinction 1 (D1), a candidate had to score 95 percent and that for the first time applied to all the four subjects of English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. And for distinction 2 (D2), a candidate must have scored 90 percent – 94 percent.
I am an educationist in my own right. I own one of the top primary schools in a rural setting Rwebiita Preparatory School in Sheema District and I have been a senior academic and administrator at some of our top universities in Uganda. I have fairly observed what is transpiring in our examination system and it is sickening. The main problem is cheating exams at all levels. The exam credibility in Uganda is at stake. In some schools and higher institutions of learning, cheating has been an open secret for many years. The schools in Kampala and elsewhere that are unhappy with the 2018 PLE results probably have genuine results in light of the fact they never cheated. I can imagine that they were affected by the alleged massive cheating of exams countrywide to the extent that UNEB upped their grading scale to accommodate very good marks to what many call artificial or fake grades. They should therefore not worry much and continue doing what they do right. Galatians 6: 9 says Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
For starters, it is easy scientifically to tell that cheating of many schools countrywide could be the reason why the previously top schools underperformed in relation to the recently released PLE results than the alleged discrimination of UNEB to favour rural schools as others would want us to believe. Most districts centralize mock exams done by both public and private schools as a practice for future exams especially PLE administered by UNEB. These district mock exams are done three months before UNEB exams. It is highly unlikely that schools cheat at mock because it is just a preparation for the main national and promotional exam to another educational level. A statistical comparison of the district mock results and UNEB PLE results can reveal quite a lot. In Sheema and Bushenyi, the districts that I am familiar with, my analysis show that mock grades/ results as compared to the UNEB PLE grades for a good number of schools jumped for the better three or more times in a just a space of only 3 months. This finding suggests the gains may not have been due to learning per say but through other means. This is especially so since there are other schools who maintained almost the same level of academic performance for UNEB PLE as compared to the district/municipality mock exams. It is most probable that these category of schools were not involved in exam malpractices and they are the ones casting doubt on the integrity of the 2018 PLE results. I was talking to a head teacher who was pleasantly surprised by her pupils PLE results. Any teacher worth his or her title should not be surprised by the performance of her students especially if he or she has been directly involved in preparing students for the national promotional exam. It is difficult to fathom a student who has been averaging 25 aggregates from primary six including scores from the district administered mock and P.7 promotional exams to score 9 or 10 aggregates at a UNEB set exam. There can be exceptions due to certain factors but not hundreds across different schools. These are unusual score jumps. Cheating is one of few plausible explanations for why scores would change so dramatically for so many students in a district. For why UNEB was not able to detect such, leaves many to wonder.
Not many Ugandans will come out to challenge UNEB results publicly because we are docile. Thus, we become accomplices in such illegal act. UNEB has to style and engage citizens to condemn and report cases of cheating for students, else we are doomed as a country. Examination cheating has become more sophisticated and democratized in some way. The technological revolution has come with the negative effect of easy circulation of UNEB exams from urban areas to the rural areas. I was told that PLE were all over on social media especially WhatsApp and Facebook and many school administrators accessed them except for those who didnt want. This coupled with failure for area supervisors and invigilators to be vigilant has enabled rural schools to take advantage and cheat for their schools for fun. It should also be noted that in the past, there were not so many private schools in rural areas but now there is cut throat competition for students and school directors most of them business people who are more determined than ever to have their schools recognized as the best in the districts. Even when UNEB officially bans teaching during the examination time, it is an open reality that most schools teach during the examination time up to the late hours in the morning. The supervisors and invigilators stay far away from the examination centres due to lack of suitable accommodation in rural areas and therefore are unlikely to detect these exam malpractices. The district education officers and inspectors of schools who should be able to detect the examination fraud either dont care or are not well facilitated or collude with the cheating schools.
UNEB is slowly losing credibility because of exam fraud. Already many universities have introduced pre entry exams meaning that UNEB grades cannot be relied upon. Very soon serious secondary schools shall start issuing senior one and senior five pre-entry exams and you cant blame them. If we are going to make important decisions based on UNEB results and we ought to be doing that we have to make important decisions about how we are going to ensure their trustworthiness. Otherwise we are killing our children and consequently our nation. A country is as good as her education system. This good education should include compulsory courses on combating corruption, ethics and integrity even at primary or lower levels of education. Otherwise if we maintain the status quo, we will remain in a perpetual state of underdevelopment.
The writer holds a PhD and is Director of Rwebiita Preparatory School in Sheema Municipality, Sheema District
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