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Perspective: Exam leakages, Criminals to the rescue?

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By Our Special Correspondent

The single most important development that may positively impact the long running problem of leakages of examination papers could well turn out to be this new phenomenon of the fake examination paper sold as the real thing. It may be the game changer.

Until now there has been no publicly disclosed case of fake examination paper(s) circulating. There could have been some but not on this year’s scale. Most of the episodes in the past have involved the real thing. It used to be that with some help, those involved would have the actual paper or the actual answers.

That is clearly no longer the case effective this year. Only the fake paper could be available as some have recently discovered to their extreme annoyance and even when it is the real thing, there is just no way of telling as the counterfeit could as good. So, henceforth even when the real thing is available there can be telling for sure. Something has changed in this matrix and it looks to be a significant change.

The area has become more unpredictable, murky and fraught. It is swarming with all sorts of characters with different agendas. There can be no longer the assurance of success for those who must try. This year some pupils at three Kitwe secondary Schools- Mukuba, Helen Kaunda and Kitwe Boys- and perhaps elsewhere, tried and came out of the exam room fighting. They were cheated.

The confidence men apparently sold them a “dud.” They had it seems bought some material said to be examination papers for the Grade 12 final exam. They studied and memorized hard the answers. But a nasty surprise awaited them in the exam room when the actual paper was unveiled. It is not what they had bought or rented!

The question papersthey had obtained turned out to be fakes. The paper (s) set by the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ)had different questions requiring answers other than what they memorized. The paper was not what they were made to anticipate. Their disappointment was palpable. Incensed, they went on an orgy of frustrated violence!

The development came as both the Ministry of Education and the ECZ were effusively talking up their new tighter security measures for this year. If they are to be believed nothing of the sort can possibly happen this turn around –well perhaps. However that has been their refrain for some years now but it has been the same thing all over again and again. Even the recent assurances cannot be taken for certain. There are in fact reports circulating of pupils in possession of genuine copies of the exam papers! So, whether or not there will be leakages remains to be seen.

The fact is examination paper leakages did not happen in Zambia until recently. Perhaps what has come to be the tradition in recent years -leakages- is a consequence of the papers for the more significant school leaving examinations being as they should be set locally. When they were still set in the UK there was no chicanery.

The leakages of necessity reflect a deeper malaise not only in education but in society as a whole. Instead of being a restraining influence, parents and teachers have sometimes taken the lead in obtaining them.

Their net effect has been to discredit the whole educational system and the certification system in particular. It damages the country in a fundamental way especially it does not happen at the level of the school only. It has extended to even tertiary institutions whereas the case of the former Mufumbwe MP Steven Masumba hasillustrated, it is possible to obtain a certificate even when one has failed!

This is serious fraud which affects the country as a whole. People with fake bona-fides are all over after having successfully cheated their way ahead of and blocking the way for the deservingcandidates. The examination authorities have long been concerned about the trend and have instituted a plethora of measures -security committees, the active involvement of the police and the like. But still the leakages have persisted and it came to be speculated in fact that they actually occurred at the time the papers were set!

Some candidates had “advance” copies even before the papers were delivered to their areas!It now seems as though the solution will come from the most unlikely of sources-criminals! Even though the exam paper conmen deserve condemnation for their nefarious activities, this is one area where it seems that they may produce the solution or at least be part of it!

For, once the pupils discover as they have this year that it is possible to obtain fake papers they may not bother trying to get any at all and instead study hard as expected of them. Most of the leakages in the past have been facilitated by money changing hands. But now it is at the point where even that is no guarantee of getting the real thing. Something fundamental has changed!

There has been an upheaval in the “market” and the market for “leaked” papers may no longer exist going by the anger and frustration displayed by those who were fleeced. They have learned a bitter lesson and once bitten, twice shy! Even if the market continues to exist it will be a risky one with no assurances of obtaining the real thing. The criminals have introduced a damaging uncertainty that could end all attraction to the option. Perhaps this is the development that was needed or is part of what it required to end this perennial problem.

Certainly, it removes the possibility of the practice-dealing in real exam papers- going commercial because of the uncertainty and it may not have been a bad thing that those who were cheated vented their anger and frustration so publicly and openly.It sent a message about the new perils in the practice that could not have been lost on the junior classes. They took note.

It still does not eliminate though the possibility of a “lone leaker” doing it to ensure the success of a sibling or off spring and there has been some of that already and the risk remains for as long as the system remains as porous as it has been until now.

But behind all this desperation is really the failure to create opportunities for young people. The only employment available is as some kind of usher at the bus stop for about K1 per bus. The function is carried to absurdity at times. But that is mainly what is readily available to the out of school male youth in urban areas. So, there is a strong motivation to stay in school for as long as possible to escape the drop into the abyss.

Still, regardless of the motivation, the final effect of exam leakages is corrosive and bad for everybody. Educational standards have to be kept intact for the ultimate salvation of the country. Real merit must thus remain the only basis for progression and not that one managed to buy the question paper in the market the day before!

The entry of the criminal element will ensure at least the short and medium term that there is no certainty and lead to increased risk aversion by would-be perpetrators.

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31