Teachers in some examination centres had a rude awakening on Tuesday to discover that the first paper in the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination, Agriculture Paper II, needed agricultural lime which was omitted on the confidential instructions list provided prior to examinations by Maneb.
The affected schools were forced to use lime for painting while others are reported to have pounded chalk to use the powder as an alternative.
In an interview on Tuesday Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) acting chief executive officer Dorothy Nampota admitted that a lime chemical was missing on the list of items schools were supposed to have purchased prior to the examination.
But she said the problem was quickly rectified and that there was no major disturbance or complaint.
Said Nampota: “What happens in our process is that each examination officer makes a list of chemicals that need to be purchased in advance. The list for different subjects is consolidated in one list. But one chemical was missed at the point of consolidation, and some schools did not prepare in advance.
“When we noted this challenge this [on Tuesday] morning, we availed the regional stock and made it available to schools. Such chemicals were readily available in most of the schools, but we supplied them to schools which did not have any. We are confident to say that the timetable has not been seriously disrupted.”
Spot-checks The Nation conducted on Tuesday in Chikwawa, Blantyre, Nkhotakota, Lilongwe and Likoma, found that some schools, particularly in hard-to-reach areas, failed to access agricultural lime causing delays in the administering of the Agriculture Paper II examination which was scheduled to start at 10am.
At Limphangwi and Chileka community day secondary schools (CDSS) in Chikwawa East Bank and Lilongwe, respectively, teachers failed to access agricultural lime and replaced it with lime wash, while at Lungwena CDSS in Mangochi, which is about 25 kilometres from the Boma, along the Mangochi-Makanjira Road, the school is reported to have pounded chalk as an alternative for the agricultural lime.
“The school had lime leftovers which were used to paint some of the schools classroom blocks and some nearby schools also benefited from us,” said Isaac Phiri, a teacher at Limphangwi.
However, at Livunzu CDSS, also in Chikwawa, teachers used calcium carbonate which the school was keeping.
But in an interview, a soil scientist who spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity said agricultural lime is different from ordinary lime and feared that some of the alternatives would not yield the desired experimental results because agricultural lime has higher calcium carbonate content of about 90 percent.
Civil Society Education Coalition executive director BenedictoKondowe in an interview on Tuesday said his institution did not find any serious anomaly with the missing of the sample in some selected schools.
He said: “We can confirm that this was a nationwide case but we have been told that the problem was quickly addressed. We visited Chigoneka Secondary School (in Lilongwe) and we found that there was not much delay and the problem was not significant.
“In cities, it was easy to remedy and we are still trying to gather information as to what might have happened in remote areas.”
But reacting to the omission of agricultural lime, educationist Dr. Steve Sharra said what is important is that Maneb is aware and has acknowledged the anomaly.
He said: “I am hoping that the schools will take up those cases and make sure that the students are not penalised because it wasn’t their fault.”
The 2020 MSCE exams were cancelled on November 4 2020 following widespread leakage of some papers.
During the 2020 cancelled MSCE examination, 154 147 candidates were expected to sit the examination, out of whom 72 641 were female and 81 506 were male.