Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) has tightened compliance to its policy on examining special needs learners, a move likely to see these candidates excluded from the 2015 national examinations if schools fail to adhere.
The policy requires that separate rooms for each candidate and audio recording equipment must be availed by centres to candidates who need a scribe or reader during examinations.
Teachers have protested the move as unattainable following last week’s communication from the exams council. Last Thursday, teachers across centres with special needs learners reported that BEC’s special needs personnel were making rounds in institutions to inform them that this year these candidates have to sit for the exams in separate rooms.
Moreover, centres were obliged to buy tape recorders in order to capture learners’ responses in instances where a scriber or a reader was involved. Teachers have heavily dismissed the new arrangement as impossible given both staff and infrastructural shortages in schools.
“This is purely unattainable because we don’t have enough teachers in the centres. BEC is also calling for too much, this development will see the efforts of both learners and teachers who have spent three years preparing for the Form 3 exams for instance go to waste,” a teacher in one of the schools with special needs learners said.
A senior secondary school teacher said the move was unrealistic and meant to perpetuate the already prevailing exclusion of such learners in the local education system.
“This is a bad arrangement bound to deny the learners the right to education,” remarked the teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity.
BEC corporate communications manager, Fingile Makgalemele, said this was not a new policy. However, she could not deny or admit that lack of compliance by the centres would see learners cut off the national exams candidature.
“The policy on the candidates who need a scribe or reader and their use of separate rooms for each candidate has been in place for some time or since the guidelines for access arrangements have been in place,” she said.
According to the guidelines each of such candidates has to be invigilated by one person and it was proper and prudent for the candidates’ work to be recorded for purposes of authentication, Makgalemele added.
Though the requirement has been in place for some years now, she noted that centres with such candidates have taken efforts to comply with the requirement. Makgalemele further said the policy stated that access arrangements granted to each candidate were not intended to advantage the candidate but to improve their access to the examination to afford them the chance to demonstrate what they know and can do.
“The access arrangements applied for, once acceded to by BEC, are the responsibility of the centre and should be administered in accordance with the regulations issued to centres,” she added. Asked whether BEC was satisfied with the current administration of exams for learners with special needs as well as the quality of education these learners received, Makgalemele said these candidates were given question papers modified to suit their various needs, and as such were not the question papers for mainstream candidates.
“The administration is carried out by teachers who have been trained and have been provided with regulations that guide the conduct of the examinations. We have no doubt and have no reason to doubt the quality of assessments and examinations offered to candidates with special needs,” she said.
In addition to not providing statistics of these learners’ transition rates in the past five years, Makgalemele said the rates were satisfactory as junior certificate examinations special needs learners have transitioned to senior secondary schools and Vocational Training Institutes in the past five years.
“The fact of the matter is that in the past five years we have seen special needs students doing very well in their Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Examinations and secured places at tertiary institutions. It is also important to state that they even get into Top Achievers Categories. There is a student who is in the top achievers scholarship reading for A Levels at Maruapula School,” Makgalemele added.