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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A culture of leakages in Zambia

Mwenya Chileshe examines the causes and effects of examination leakages in the Zambian education system (the practice of seeing the examination papers in advance). The historical and social perspectives are sound but the ending could have been stronger, particularly in relation to the effects. The main point to be made here is that leakages ultimately create a race to the bottom where everyone seeks to pursue purchased examinations because ultimately it is a "market for lemons". The consequence of course is that employers eventually struggle to identify with confidence quality graduates (could there be a link here as to why foreign companies prefer foreigners?). Also unfortunately the article does not suggest any solutions beyond  "need to emphatically tell our children that the means does not justify the end", which clearly wont work given the powerful incentives the author has already mentioned working in the opposite direction. 

One of my responsibility as Chief Internal Examiner is to advise, prepare, and talk to students about examination practices, rules, and penalties for defaulters and any other matters relating to examinations. I literally beg students to refrain from depending on leakages and going into examinations rooms with ‘memory aides’ or ‘pre-written’ model answers for example. Sadly, no examination session comes to an end without nullifying, suspending or expelling some students for examinations leakages and related malpractices. Most students go to the extreme end of using money, sex, bullying, extortion and blackmail or whatever tool that comes their way to obtain prior knowledge of questions. Lecturers too, in almost all tertiary institutions in Zambia, receive heat from students or relatives who want to have access to what may come in the dreaded examinations.

Widespread malpractices

It is not only Colleges and Universities suffering from examinations malpractices - it happens even with professional bodies! On 28th April 2007, the Attorney-General, Mumba Malila, stated that it was shameful that “even some learners of the legal profession at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) cheated their way into the profession by helping themselves to leaked examination papers”. There had been examinations leakages at ZIALE earlier in the year.

Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) whose mission is “to set and conduct examinations of high and comparable standards that reflect the quality of educational system in Zambia” has not been spared. In The Zambia Daily Mail of Wednesday 11th November 2009, ECZ stated that a total of 327 cases of examinations malpractices and leakages were recorded during the 2008 examination session. Of these, 5 cases were at Grade 7, 55 at Grade Nine, and 267 cases occurred at Grade twelve level. Results were nullified in all subjects and 57 people involved in these practices were convicted. All provinces recorded one or more cases of malpractice with Luapula recording 75 cases, the highest number at Grade 12.

Why is our education system haunted with examinations leakages? Why is it that most of our students, young and old alike, think, behave, act, believe, and conceptualise that having leakages is the best way of going through an education system? Do they seriously think about the damage leakages cause to society? What about themselves being expelled or contracting deadly diseases in the process of getting a leakage?

Zambia’s education system

A critical look at our general education system may help us answer the question. Zambia inherited a highly academic and segregationist education system based on race, intelligence, sex, religion, fees and ethnicity. Mention has to be made that before independence, the education offered to an average Zambian was of poor quality and not every Zambian had access to it. The idea was to give indigenous people basic education to make them efficient labourers on farms, in government offices, in industry, or as Bible readers. It has been noted that education was determined by the needs of traders, settlers, administrators and missionaries and not by the indigenous people themselves. Over the years the system evolved based on examinations as a means of selecting few Zambians to meet the demands of the settlers.

Consequently, the system began to acknowledge only those students who managed to pass in academic subjects as suitable to proceed for further training. These went on to tertiary education, got diplomas and degrees. Equipped with such papers, one was assured of employment; and the more advanced the academic qualification, the more chances of getting a lucrative job. Today, even to become a Zambian president, one may soon be required to have a degree. This shows the seriousness some Zambian people attach to academic qualification.


Education reforms after independence and to date can rightly be viewed from the “anti-colonial discourse” perspective. The anti-colonial discursive framework acknowledges the roles educational systems play in producing and reproducing racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, sexual, and class-based inequalities. In the case of Zambia, the minority elite Zambians - who have replaced the colonisers - have manipulated the education system to safeguard their interests.

Only rich Zambians can afford to send their children to well equipped, staffed, resourced, and expensive schools like Chengelo in Mkushi or Baobab in Lusaka. Many missionary schools, which where once 100% open to poor Zambians, have almost become a domain for rich Zambians. An analysis of their fee structures and their academic entry requirements favours those who have received privileged basic education rather than those coming from humble backgrounds. Schools now discriminate based on gender (Chipembi Girls or Matero Boys) or intelligence (David Livingstone) - to mention a few.

The system further favours an academic approach to learning over the hands-on skills approach. Passing examinations is highly emphasised. Those who cannot score very high in this system are abandoned along the way and labelled as ‘failures’ or ‘drop-outs’. The government has not put in place policies which promote pupils with other interests not related to academics, policies such as carpentry, bricklaying, music, football, dancing or farming. For many years, such skills have been looked upon as fit for failures. Since few Zambians want to be failures, they fight main and might to do well in academics. Given this scenario, pupils and students are under pressure to perform well in academic subjects so that they may have a better future. Those who think they cannot succeed the conventional way resort to leakages!
Lack of political will and vision

Some pronouncements made by our politicians, and the manner in which they are implemented, adversely affect and exacerbate the demand for leakages and examination malpractices. Mention is made here of two former Ministers of Education, themselves former teachers and administrators before ascending to positions of political authority.

Honourable Andrew Mulenga (2002-2004) made a pronouncement that all those who failed to meet a minimum 40% pass mark in English, but managed to score a pass grade in five other subjects, should proceed to Grade 10. Good as the policy was, nothing was put in place to help these pupils reach a minimum level of language proficiency. It is difficult to predict that if a student failed at Grade 9 in English that s/he will pass next time around at Grade 12. I fear to say the obvious that such students will look for other ways of passing the subject s/he failed at Grade Nine. It is now common to find students with excellent grades in English at Grade 12 who fail to express themselves intelligibly to others in English. It is no longer strange to find students even in some of our renowned universities failing to differentiate between a verb and a noun.

Professor Geoffrey Lungwangwa, Minister of Education in 2009, decreed that as long as a pupil at Grade nine meets mere passes in six subjects, s/he should be enrolled in Grade 10. No consideration was made for pupil-teacher ratio, class space, funding to such - schools especially rural schools; no improvements to existing infrastructure were made. Little or no learning and teaching materials had been bought. The result is that some schools now have a ratio of 85 pupils per teacher. This has radically reduced the teacher-pupil contact resulting in poor delivery on the part of the teacher and poor pupil self-actualisation. Only bright learners benefit. Children will be going through an education system without receiving an equitable and quality education. Since pupils want to pass and go to colleges, many will be forced to look for leakages.

Our politicians and policy makers probably need to carry out researches before they make certain pronouncements. Additionally, they should not only busy themselves pleasing donors and voters at the expense of destroying the same future of the people voting for them.

The community

There is an increased pressure from the community on pupils to perform better in academics regardless of their abilities and academic history. Parents, guardians, teachers and friends want to see their wards get good marks during the initial years of their education in the hope that they will go to colleges or universities and get high paying job. Moral, financial and spiritual resources are dispensed in abundance to pupils so that they can achieve this golden goal with ease. Tuition centres, private tuitions, examination coaching centres, and private schools have become the order of the day. Pupils no longer break for holidays to rest but to go through yet another rigorous drilling at some coaching centre.

The objective of such help is simple - to pass examinations at any cost! Some tuition centres are actually sources of leakages. They buy examination papers which they use to drill their pupils in order to attain a 100% pass in examinations. This way, parents are duped and send more and more children to these centres thinking real teaching goes on.

Parents, guardians, friends, relatives, and teachers need to have realistic expectations from their children. They should understand that it is not a diploma or degrees which count in life. Many of us wouldn’t be around if parenting required degrees!

Effects of leakages

Simple as it may appear, leakages affect the smooth running of society. Firstly, individuals involved in leakages lose their moral direction. They no longer recognise ethics as a value. In discharging their duties, such individuals become mediocre, corrupt, bootlickers, rumour mongers, fault-finders and grossly inefficient. Their self confidence is gone as they will want others to think, talk or work for them. If they become politicians, they will want to win their way through rigging elections. Their policies will be warped and visionless. If they become medical doctors, they will wrongly diagnose their patients and send them to the grave. If they are lawyers, they would corrupt justice and promote unjust causes. As professionals, they will fail to comprehend the complex rules of business and lead a country into underdevelopment.

There is need to emphatically tell our children that the means does not justify the end - or is it the other way around!

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