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Should UNEB marking scheme remain a secret?

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th January 2006 03:00 AM

The 2005 Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB)results are just around the corner. Parents of the candidates are anxiously waiting for the predicament of their children after the marking exercise.

The 2005 Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB)results are just around the corner. Parents of the candidates are anxiously waiting for the predicament of their children after the marking exercise.

By Moses Musingo Maena
The 2005 Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB)results are just around the corner. Parents of the candidates are anxiously waiting for the predicament of their children after the marking exercise.
UNEB examiners take an oath barring them from letting what happens known to anybody leave alone advertising themselves that they are examiners.
This sounds like a compelling point in favour of the secrecy, but that is only until you consider the facts on the ground. The following questions are important in looking at the issue.
Firstly, should the way UNEB scores students’ answers be an issue of public debate? Secondly, should UNEB examiners be known publicly or even be publicised in the media? To the first question the answer should be an unequivocal “yes.” And there is a very strong case for the affirmative to the second question as well, especially when we pose the third question. Are the identities of UNEB examiners in reality a top secret, unknown to the public?
National exams in Uganda, as in other places, are such an important process of sieving and placing people in different professions and careers. It is only fair that every Ugandan gets an equal chance at the exams. As things stand, this can hardly be said to be the case. A vast majority of students and unfortunately, teachers have only a vague idea about specific considerations in UNEB scoring.
UNEB has tried hard to be fair and professional. In the past, they have published reports on each marking session. In these reports they would give among others hints to teachers. However, how accessible are these reports, especially to far-flung schools and those with negligible budgets? In fact, I have not seen such a report in the last five or so many years. The point is that even if these reports are made, there is no efficient or equitable system of availing them to all schools and in time. This hiatus is what has made The New Vision education pullouts so popular.
The second way UNEB has tried to reach out and make materials available to students is through the compilation and publication of its past papers. While this is useful, it does not answer the most pertinent question of what examiners consider in scoring answers. What is the use of questions without guidelines to answering them, especially in a situation where even teachers are at a loss as to what is expected?

Obviously, this trend only exacerbates the already unhealthy examination-orientation of our education system. Indeed, it has sparked off a race among schools, jostling for pole position in their relationship with UNEB or the examiners. Those without the connections or means are the losers.

Commercial schools
I don’t know of any, but one can only expect that UNEB and indeed the Ministry of Education have a corrective strategy on exams given the mushrooming schools that depend on UNEB results for recruiting students and therefore profit.
Consequently, the manoeuvring to take positions in UNEB or at least establish friendly working relations with examiners is intense and is surely compromising integrity and fairness. The easy game in the hunt are the examiners. And this answers our third question as to whether the identities of these examiners can be kept secret. How possible is that when at the end of every term they go marking?

Seminars, pamphlets and
facilitators
The examiner-teacher is a hot-selling property. Schools with the means are paying millions of shillings every term to have the examiner-teachers talk to their students about what UNEB looks out for in marking.
That is not all. Students from schools that cannot afford organising exclusive seminars with examiners, get their chance in the holidays when businessmen hire venues and contract examiner-teachers, at a pay to get UNEB tips.
At these seminars, there is no vibrant intellectual discussion. Instead, examiner-teachers hand down tenets in form of question interpretations and scopes of reference in answering particular questions.
One particular incident at such a seminar sums up the disturbing development. A non-examiner-teacher disagreed with an examiner-teacher.
The examiner-teacher later stood up not to rebut, but to declare that he will have his views adopted in the marking guide and told students to decide whose interpretation to follow. No prize for guessing how the students responded.

Teacher transfer and
part-timing
But this obsession with examiner-teachers is taking a more diabolical turn, which if not checked, will make our education system more lopsided. School administrations try to influence the transfer of examiner-teachers to their schools. In some cases non-examiner-teachers have been rejected using all sorts of frustrating excuses.
Who would blame any school in this manoeuvring? Any simple check would reveal that schools with examiner-teachers in the given subject perform relatively better in those subjects as long as the teachers continue examining.
This is more so in the arts subjects, where answers to some questions are not hard or given facts, but matters of opinion, interpretation and argument. In these subjects, examiner-teachers have what are equivalent to cabals, in which each pushes for his interpretations and points of view on set questions. These subjective interpretations become the standard for determining the fate of all candidates.
Anybody who has been at discussions for drawing up marking guides for arts papers will tell you that the situation is analogous to a courtroom, with examiner-teachers as lawyers representing their client, their students. Fear for those students whose teachers are not “called to the bar.”
It is therefore not just probable but real that many students fail not because they are unable to answer the questions as they have been taught, but rather because their teachers’ interpretation of certain aspects of the topic did not tally with that of the examiner-teachers – never mind that it might have been correct.
In light of this, should UNEB promote the charade of secrecy, when all it does is to promote an unfair playing field and the monetary interests of some unscrupulous examiners, who advertise themselves anyway? I strongly believe that it is not in UNEB’s or public interest to do so. To its credit, UNEB has been ruthless with the examiner-teachers who have blatantly abused their sensitive positions. Interestingly, and in vindication of my argument, some of the new schools that were doing so well while they had teachers examining with UNEB, are still doing as well after such teachers were removed from their role.
I believe it would serve the country better if UNEB came out and demystified itself. One way of doing this is to make public the marking guides at the end of each marking session. If these are fair and standard, there is nothing to fear in having them out in the public discussion. If they are not, it is time something is done. Needless to say, these marking guides already find their way out anyway, only that they are available to a privileged and paying few. While the suggestion for openness may sound precipitate and even irresponsible to some, unless UNEB comes out with convincing alternatives, continued secrecy will only fuel conspiracy theories.
UNEB must come out, as a number of Ministry officials have done, to support and guide its own demystification. It should ferment public discussion of its processes and in this way deny the unscrupulous among its examiners the opportunity to blackmail schools and students into paying for morsels of UNEB secrets.

The writer is a teacher and HOD – Eng./Lit,
St. Mary’s College, Kisubi

Should UNEB marking scheme remain a secret?

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