As we have always observed in the past, one of the talents our managers of states affairs are blessed with is the ability to create and stimulate controversy in society, by making unexpected decisions.
The latest move of introducing a system of marking primary school final examinations by computer may be cited as one of the best examples. Those who keep abreast of current affairs might have already noted that a lively unofficial debate on this “a wonderful’’ idea is in the air. It is likely to keep our minds busy for a while.
Apparently the introduced innovation is not all that complicated. It is based on setting multiple choice questions and requiring the examinee to shade what he/she considers a correct answer by using the HB pencil.
Once this procedure is observed to the letter, then a computerized optical mark reader mechanically gets to work and comes up with the candidate’s total mark score. We are told it is ‘smart” enough to punish those who attempt to play tricks with technology by, for example, shading two answer options while the instructions require shading one answer.
Parents and some education experts have shown eagerness to know why the ministry of education has made a shift to primary school exams computer marking system, and the brains behind it seem to have the answers on their fingers tips. Computer marking is faster, they say, and will enable the relevant examinations management body to announce the results within a short time.
Another reason mentioned is that the Examination Council will no longer need thousands of examination markers, as a single computer is capable of replacing tens of teachers. It is argued that this will reduce the examination marking costs, and thus the government will make substantial savings.
Ministry officials further emphasise that given the rate at which the number of primary school leavers in the country is increasing, costs of marking the exams were expected to rise correspondingly, had it not been for this technological intervention.
The other day a friend of mine who enjoys humour jokingly remarked that probably another advantage of examination computer marking , which is not being highlighted by officials, is the fact computers have no word “bias” in their vocabulary, and take no bribes, under any circumstances.
Ministry officials are aware that there are parents and other members of the public who have reservations on the above - mentioned approach to marking primary school examinations. The former, however, assure the latter that the system works, and a few other African countries, including Kenya and Botswana, have already adopted it. Skeptics are advised not to be scared of new technology but to embrace it.
What is the main argument advanced by those who question the rationale and impact of the new development? Well, they question the multiple questions format as a methodology of testing the student’s ability to demonstrate understanding of issues and facts, and communicate what he/she understands effectively.
Others rightly note that multiple choice questions may, at times, give an opportunity to students who are good at guess work to fluke and get good grades they don’t deserve. It is argued as well, that in a situation where it has been revealed that some primary school leavers do not know how to write competently, multiple choice questions are likely to enable them to pass and qualify for Form One entry, only to fail to cope with secondary school studies, or proceed and join the army of Form Four mass failures.
While all this is being debated, there is one disturbing issue raised by critics. Is it proper for the ministry of education, or rather the government, to introduce a change of this kind without consulting key stakeholders? This is not an academic question.
There is time the ministry decided to remove sports activities from both primary and secondary school’s programmes without consulting stakeholders. Agriculture and commercial subjects were also at one time unilaterally removed from the secondary school syllabus. We have had half-baked teachers employed to “cheat” students in our education system.
For heavens sake, it is high time the government involve key stakeholders before making changes in the vital education sector.
The decisions made by bureaucrats affect the future of our childre, and parents have a right to have a say in such matters. Do we necessarily need to have this issue well spelt out in the envisaged new constitution to avoid taking education key stakeholders for granted?
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant(firstname.lastname@example.org)