Former Prime Minister Dr Salim Ahmed Salim spoke at a book launch in Dar es Salaam a few years ago by arguing, much like Mwalimu J K Nyerere many years before him – in 1967, that it was not only improper but also wrong to measure people’s worth by examinations.
He recalled that Tanzania’s Founding President was against placing too much emphasis on written examinations and wanted “ambush-type” examinations expunged from the country’s education system.
Had Mwalimu had his way, examinations would have been downgraded in government and public esteem. The reason, to paraphrase him, is that they assess a person’s ability to learn facts and present them on demand within a time period but do not always succeed in assessing a person’s power to reason, character or willingness to serve.
The nature of the results of last year’s national Form Four examinations, as released in Dar es Salaam yesterday by the National Examinations Council (NECTA), makes us wonder as to the seriousness and keenness with which the nation considers the wisdom in Mwalimu’s observations.
According to NECTA executive secretary Dr Joyce Ndalichako, a number of bizarre incidents involving 3,303 candidates were witnessed during the examinations, the most salient including cases of blatant cheating by way of entering examination rooms armed with all manner of “missiles”.
The arsenals comprised things like complete counter books full of “supportive” notes, strategically kept mobile phones apparently meant to facilitate “exchanges of ideas” and unauthorised answer sheets.
There were also cases of the wrong people standing as examinees and therefore sitting for examinations on behalf of others, of several candidates submitting suspiciously identical answers, and of candidates clearly seeking assistance from their colleagues inside the examination room.
But perhaps all the more serious were cases of some examinees resorting to the writing of expletives and Bongo Flava music scripts drawing of sexually offensive cartoons where they were supposed to write answers.
With the findings announced by NECTA, there is little surprise in recent revelations that some primary school pupils “qualified” for secondary school enrolment when they were hardly literate or numerate.
Some previously reported cases of examination cheating at virtually all levels of our education system related to real and imagined leaks of question papers, mainly reaching would-be examinees or people close to them at a price. Fortunately, we are hardly hearing about incidents of this kind these days, though the new-look scenario is as bad and alarming.
Even if we were to ignore the Bongo Flava and cartoon-type incidents as symbolising decadence bordering on insanity, we still need to think very seriously about examinees or their parents, guardians, other relatives or colleagues and acquaintances should go to the odd extent of seeking to pass an examination at all costs.
Like Mwalimu and Dr Salim, we need to sit down and ask ourselves: Schooling is not important for its own sake; so what, indeed, is the purpose of education?
What kind of education do we need? Surely, not the kind that only guarantees us people with magnetic brains who can cram and regurgitate class notes with baffling ease but who would not remember a thing after an exam paper is done.