By Alfred Geri
OPINION | Every year, the National Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MOGEI), through the National Examinations Council (NEC), conducts the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) examinations for candidates of Primary Eight class across South Sudan. This is a summative assessment, primarily aimed at enabling those who perform well to access secondary education.
At the time of preparing this article, all but candidates in SPLM-IO controlled territories in Jonglei and Upper Nile states have completed their examination papers in Christian Religious Education / Islamic Religious Education, Social Studies, Science, English and Mathematics. Candidates in the affected areas, according to the Minister of General Education and Instruction, are set to begin writing their examination papers from 15th to 19th February 2021. This is welcome news after it had emerged that candidates in those areas were not going to sit for their CPE examination papers due to security concerns!
Sooner or later, examiners will have the arduous task of marking tons of examination scripts of thousands of candidates from hundreds of centres spread across the country. In the meantime, the candidates concerned will breathe a sigh of relief for having finally put the strenuous months of preparation for these examination papers behind their back. Whether or not they have satisfied the requirements of the just concluded examination, moreover amidst challenges of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), such an assessment is left up to the examiners. Learners and the general public will have to wait for some time before the CPE examination results can be released…
In this article, however, I would like to share my impressions and observations about the conduct of the South Sudan CPE examination. In 2014, I had the opportunity to “observe” the national examination that was conducted in Juba. In that year, representatives of nongovernmental organizations implementing education projects in the country had been asked to help observe the conduct of the examination papers and also to provide snacks and refreshments to the Primary Eight candidates. Since then, I have taken keen interest in closely following the conduct of these exams, including the logistics involved.
One of the important challenges appears to be the transportation of the examination papers to the different centres, most of which are located in remote and hard-to-reach locations. Although the government may find it somewhat easy to transport these materials to the main towns (headquarters) of the ten states, it is not usually easy ferrying them to the counties by either road or water. This is especially the case with many examination centres in Upper Nile and Jonglei that are difficult to access due to floods. As such, officials at the State Ministry of Education usually have to coordinate the transportation of examination papers to the different centres with UNICEF and agencies implementing education projects in the affected states. Such coordination, if not done early enough, can lead to examination papers being delivered rather late to different examination centres across the country.
Even before examination papers can be delivered to the different centres, how usually prepared are the candidates? Oftentimes, Primary Eight candidates are not fully aware beforehand about the dates on which to write their exams! One wonders why such important piece of information should be hidden from them… Is it the ministry of education in the different states responsible for “withholding” this information till late? Or, could it be the South Sudan National Examination Council that is responsible for such delay to share the CPE examination time table in reasonably good time? You may find this unbelievable, but some candidates at a centre in Upper Nile had no knowledge what subject they were going to sit for two days before the examination start date of 8th February 2021! Whatever the reason or the official / institution responsible, learners have to be provided information about examination time table well in time. This helps them to get psychologically prepared.
When one visits an examination centre, one is usually appalled seeing invigilators pacing up and down with no clear reason for doing so. Such a conduct is usually annoying to candidates, especially those who work best in quiet and peaceful environments. But what this all suggests is that invigilators don’t even seem to know what to do, most of them not having been trained or briefed about their roles and responsibilities. There is need for the South Sudan National Examination Council / Secretariat to lobby for funding to carry out such an important function.
Where possible, invigilators should not be teachers from the very schools / centres where the examination is conducted. Use of teachers of the same school / centre as invigilators can breed cases of examination malpractice such as cheating or provision of “help” by them. During our “observation” of the CPE in Juba in 2014, a colleague was so upset at the unnecessary movements of candidates in the examination hall that he asked the invigilators to restore some order. He was immediately told off: “It’s their chance, leave them alone!” thundered an invigilator, apparently blessing the malpractices that were taking place under everyone’s watch. “You are only here to serve refreshments,” he continued, forcing my colleague to move away from the examination centre that day! His conscience could not allow him to sit and watch the filthy practices before him…
Likewise, many candidates can be seen moving in and out of examination rooms with no apparently clear reason. While such disorganized movements might not be indicative of an examination malpractice, they nonetheless create a climate of restlessness among many serious candidates. It is incumbent upon school administrators and invigilators to ensure candidates are clearly briefed about dangers of such movements. They should only be allowed to move out to ease themselves under guidance of an official when it really becomes inevitably necessary to do so. Otherwise, examination candidates should learn to control themselves from such unnecessary movements for the entire duration of an examination paper.
But maybe the duration allotted to an examination paper is too much for a candidate of Primary Eight to bear. Apart from subjects that require much calculation and composition / summary writing like mathematics and English, I find that the duration of two and a half hours allotted for subjects such as Christian / Islamic Religious Education and Social Studies is more than necessary! More often than not, a cursory look at a past CPE examination paper in any subject reveals that the questions are usually not quite engaging enough. Usually, examiners focus much of their attention on “recall” questions which require candidates to list or mention their responses. Little consideration, if any, is placed on “high order” questions that require application and “reasoning.” Look, for example, many question rubrics are of the traditional type of gap fill, true or false, matching words or phrases in one column with appropriate responses in the other, etc. Do such examination questions really require a candidate of Primary Eight to spend 150 minutes? I thought two hours were just enough for each of the CPE examination papers…
I could go on and on, but in summary, there is really an urgent and serious need to institute reforms with a view to streamlining the way the South Sudan CPE is conducted. South Sudan National Examination Council (SSNEC) has to have examiners drawn from across the country who participate in setting and moderating examination questions in all the five examinable subjects, and ensuring that these exams are conducted in a professionally credible manner.
The author is a veteran journalist and an educationalist. He’s a commentator on topical social issues and can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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