As principal stakeholders in examinations and other matters thereto incidental, we feel duty bound to communicate our thought about these pertinent issues to the entire nation. We further want to indicate that this would not be a watertight analysis and we are yet to engage in an in-depth analysis as it needs, and in fact demands resources such as time, money and expertise
It is extremely important that we look at the Botswana Examination Council (BEC) grading system before we attempt to analyse the results.
This is necessitated by the fact that we cannot analyse that which we do not understand. That is to say, the results are a product of the grading system and any analysis that ignores or divorces itself from the grading system is bound to fall.
According to BEC, the maximum aggregate that a candidate can score is 63. These 63 points include four compulsory core subjects, that is; Mathematics, Science, English and Setswana.
By implication, foreign students who do not take Setswana lessons would be graded in those three and any other four. It is convenient at this point to underscore that since the introduction of this system to date, Setswana has not been performing well as a subject. A further look into this system would reveal that those who are compelled to be graded in this non-performing subject would therefore be disadvantaged.
In a layman’s language, it would be very difficult or impossible to score maximally if you are graded in Setswana. Our study has in fact proved this foregoing hypothesis to be correct. Of the two merits that we obtained this year, one is of Asian origin and the other one is Zimbabwean, and they did not do Setswana! It obviously goes without mention that if we exclude Setswana in grading students, their performance would be better. At this juncture I would pose the following question:
Is this grading system fair to all?
If it is not fair, why are we stuck with it?
What do we aim to achieve with this grading system?
Some answers to this question will probably give us a proper direction on how to view this grading system. We at BOSETU subscribe to the adage that says, ‘treat what’s similar equal’.
To accord different grading to the same competitors or candidates in the same competition or examination in our eyes amounts to unfair discrimination and thus we categorize the grading to be grossly discriminatory and unfair to local students who do Setswana. Lastly, we look at the examination results against their purpose as we believe that ‘the purpose of education is education of purpose’.
Amongst all purposes of our education system, we want to produce a well-rounded product who would readily fit in the global market without difficulties. Would Setswana alone serve as the only qualification for this product? Not at all, one would reasonably expect that we grade any of the languages in which a student may score better.
After all we are teaching and testing language skills. Why do we test the skill twice in some students and test the same skill once in their counterparts? It is an open fact that Setswana is not a native or mother language of the majority of students and as such, grading it as compulsory may disadvantage many.
In our view, a student must be tested in Mathematics, Science and either Setswana or English, which ever he/she scores higher. As we shift our education system towards knowledge work, there is no doubt that Mathematics and Science must be amongst the prerequisites. Again, these latter subjects have proved to be passing subjects.
BEC’s stakeholder base is very broad. It includes the whole nation, the teaching fraternity, parents and unions. BEC has a duty to give us quality and dignified examinations. This duty is imposed by it being a signatory to International Organisation for Standardisation – ISO and the general sensitivity of examinations. I shall further continue to evaluate the quality of these examinations.
It is now a norm that every year in and year out BEC has to log horns with teachers and teacher unions over issues of payment. Mind you, teachers are involved in administration and marking of examination. They register all the candidates, do moderations, mark the internal practical examinations and the final written examinations. It is an irrefutable veracity that teachers are the ones who interact a lot with the examinations even more than BEC itself.
These foregoing facts bring us to the importance of teachers in the process of examinations and the final product, being results. It is therefore sufficient to argue that the happiness or otherwise of this group may have an impact on the credibility or otherwise of the examinations and their results.
To further the point in (a) above, the just ended marking was marred with controversies that saw some teachers being expelled at the marking centers. However, this occurred after the said group had already laid their hands on the examination papers. Again, BEC did not protect the marking centers during these controversies.
It is our humble view as BOSETU that we cannot say the examination or their marking were credible under such circumstances. Not only that, this expulsion reduced the number of markers and therefore those who remained were over worked. Would one expect to yield any plausible results from fatigued workers raising against time like those ones? Obviously not!
Over and above, the credibility and quality of any sensitive activity is determined by public trust. The more the trust earned, the more the credibility and the contrast would be correct. Our decent public would not obviously waste their trust on a body that is so determined to abuse markers through their meagre payments and continued reluctance to take expertise advise from the teachers.
The fact that BEC deliberately, purposefully and wilfully collapsed negotiations with teachers’ unions and decided to run the examinations under such dubious conditions is indeed a proof that it is
It is conspicuously evident that these examinations were not credible as signaled by errors in the results. These are the results that had a lot Xs than any other, since the existence of BEC. X is a symbol that is given when a student did not sit for that particular paper. In the current scenario, X even appeared as a final grade.
Our telephonic interview with BEC indicated that if a particular student did not write a particular paper, then the system would not grade him/her, hence the appearance of X as final grade. The same interview revealed that a lot of these Xs were due to some fault in the registration of students. Surprisingly, some centres such as Marakanelo in Gantsi region registered a lot of Xs, more than 15, and these were from Art, a subject that was rated the best in the whole country.
The question now is, would it still be best if things were done properly? This question wants us to speculate. Would a sensitive matter like examination be left to speculations? Obviously NO. It is therefore safe to conclude that these examinations were not credible as they leaves some issues to chances and speculations.
Further, what would happen to alleviate the situation? Supposing the students are re-registered or marks are sent anew, would any independent passerby rely on these marks as credible? Obviously NO. What do we conclude? We simply say the examinations were not credible.
To indicate that indeed a lot of issues were left to chances, teachers, who do two third or more of BEC’s work do not even know how BEC grades. How then would they do a stunning job if they don’t even know what is expected of them? A general enquiry from our office revealed that even those who mark these examinations could not explain basic concepts like grades and what X meant in the results! This therefore calls for stakeholder empowerment and in-service training, otherwise we will always get half-baked cakes as we just did.
Lastly, one would posit that these examination results would have had a different pass rate if things were done correctly. If there is a possibility of getting different results in the same examinations, then it follows that it is difficult to rely on these results. We have always argued that these unbearably large class sizes contribute to reduced teacher- student contact and compromised the quality of teaching and learning.
The just-ended examinations are indeed a testimony that small sized classes perform better than the bigger ones. Mogobane had just 37 students and managed to score 70.3% pass and Baratani with 92 students scored 51.1%. These schools never performed like this in the past and their numbers were never this small or higher respectively.
Botswana as a medium economy country does not have any reasonable or plausible excuse to cry about lack of resources. The answer lies within getting our priorities right.
BOSETU through its Safety and Health Education (SHE) office has revealed that some schools’ buildings are dilapidated and thus inhabitable. To our dismay pupils and teachers are expected to carry on their daily business as though everything is fine.
This situation results in some health hazards and lower productivity, which ends up affecting the whole results. Of late a lot of schools have class sizes of well more than 50 students per class.
This is an excruciating situation to practical subjects as students have to share equipment and machinery. The SHE office has also revealed that this machinery is old and long overdue for service and the most frequent excuse that is offered is lack of resources.
The monotonous song of lack of funds exacerbate the already sinking BEC boat. BEC itself also offer the same excuse for not bettering the conditions for the contracted teachers and to sponsor its continued exploitation of the same.
BOSETU as a highly reputable and reasonable teacher trade union acknowledges the economic conditions in Botswana and indeed confirms that all these changes cannot be done at ones.
As we always advise, we shall recommend the following; BEC must recognise the role of its stakeholders and exalt the spirit unity in diversity whereby conflicting ideas would be allowed to compete equally.
This would obviously be a fertile source of an inclusive environment and collective responsibility. All these are ingredients of a formidable social structure whereby each and every one will play his/her role satisfactorily and the whole synergy will thus yield the desired results.
The government on the other side must get its priorities right and give Basic Education the recognition it deserves. Resources are not necessarily an issue, rather the issue is that we don’t find any need to procure service such as human resources.
Human resources are like any other resources need to be managed. This management can be done through proper supervision, proper welfare services in place as well as continued in-service training. We therefore implore government and BEC to seriously introspect on this area and consider some radical changes on the issue of issue of human resource management.
It is our considered view that other resources, such as vehicles, capital, infrastructure, just to mention but a few, are not well managed such that a lot of fiscal resources that could be addressing the problems in (iii) above are now shifted to cover this uncalled for and wasteful habits of poor resource management.
THOMAS UAETEHUNO KAJUU
Secretary for secondary sector, BOSETU.