By Our Reporter
10 suspects accused of engaging in examination malpractice approached the Uganda National Examinations Board- UNEB offices on Saturday, 11th November, 2023 demanding resolution from the management.
The suspects, whose names have been withheld as the matter is still under investigation, reportedly include Headteachers of several schools, the Director of a sitting center in Kanyanya, an invigilator, and a scout.
Annet Kamaali, UNEB senior legal officer, said that the board is in possession of information indicating that the suspects interfered with the security envelope holding Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) papers on the initial day of the examination.
According to Kamali, the illegal activities involved cutting open the security envelope, taking photographs of the contents, and disseminating them through various social media platforms.
The established procedure for distributing examinations involves the distributor being escorted by a security officer, often police personnel. The exams are then delivered to schools and handed over to the scout and chief invigilator, in the presence of the headteacher. The sealed papers are taken directly to the examination room and are opened only after the prescribed start time, typically 9:00 am for morning exams.
To initiate the opening process, candidates must first confirm the integrity of the parcel. To ensure this, one of them is selected to thoroughly examine the package in the presence of the invigilator. Only after this scrutiny can the parcel be unsealed and the papers distributed.
However, based on the available information, discrepancies emerged in this case when the examinations designated for an undisclosed school, currently under investigation, were delivered and received. Contrary to the established protocol, the scout, chief invigilator, and headteacher allegedly conspired to redirect the exams to the headteacher’s office.
It is claimed that within this setting, the contents were illicitly photographed. Moreover, allegations suggest that in the school headteacher’s room, other headteachers and teachers from different schools were present, actively participating in the unauthorized actions of photographing and sharing the exam papers.
Kamaali says that those involved in these activities were caught in the act, leading to the apprehension of some suspects who were found with incriminating content on their phones.
While at UNEB, the suspects managed to meet with the Executive Director, Dan Odongo as they had hoped. Upon their arrival, Odongo expressed bewilderment about their presence at UNEB, stating, “This is a bad move,” as captured in a video recorded by the UNEB public relations team.
During the meeting, the suspects, in the presence of the Executive Director, insisted that they had not participated in malpractice. However, Odongo continued to question how the examination parcel had been opened or discovered in their possession. He pondered, “It moved by a spirit?” before reproaching them for engaging in criminal activities and undermining the education system.
Odongo also expressed frustration with UNEB officials (the scout and invigilator) who denied the events of the day despite being employed by the board.
He informed them that UNEB is not in the business of making “resolutions” and advised them that the matter would follow legal procedures. UNEB would await the court’s verdict on the issue.
According to the UNEB Act, the suspects involved in damaging examination materials, taking photos, and sharing them on social media, as well as attempting to provide external assistance to students, are subject to offenses that carry significant consequences. If convicted, individuals found guilty of these offenses may face a fine of 20 million Ugandan Shillings, a five-year jail term, or both, as stipulated by the provisions of the Act.
Despite UNEB’s ongoing efforts over the past years to curb malpractice through measures such as controlling internal leakages and introducing random numbers, it has been reported that the distribution chain remains a significant loophole exploited by those involved in malpractice. The diversion of examinations from established protocols is a pervasive issue, with similar incidents reported even in the previous year.
Jeniffer Kalule, the UNEB spokesperson, recently highlighted other common forms of malpractice, including impersonation, where schools hire mercenaries to take exams on behalf of registered candidates, and the solicitation of external support.
On Friday, Kalule disclosed that the PLE monitoring team discovered several attempts by headteachers and school directors to bribe UNEB scouts and invigilators, seeking permission for external assistance to candidates.
“Many of the UNEB field personnel refused the bribes, and consequently guarded against external assistance at their examination centers, thus upholding the value of integrity and security of examinations. We highly commend them,” she added.
The introduction of the new UNEB Act, coupled with increased resources, exemplifies the organization’s dedication to addressing the issue of exam malpractice. This concerted effort has instilled optimism among experts who believe that stringent penalties and robust enforcement mechanisms have the potential to eventually eradicate this problem. The hope is that the combination of legal reforms and resource allocation will significantly enhance UNEB’s ability to curb malpractice.
However, critics argue that the persistent prevalence of malpractice is rooted in the high stakes associated with national exams. These critics advocate for the exploration of alternative assessment methods, such as formative assessments, to alleviate the intense pressure on students and, in turn, discourage malpractice.
The current discussion on exam malpractice has been presented to the Education Policy Review Commission, which is currently scrutinizing the education sector to formulate a comprehensive white paper.
This document is expected to serve as a blueprint for the future of education in Uganda. Notably, there are suggestions from certain quarters advocating for the complete elimination of some national exams, such as PLE.