The Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) has denied allegations that it applied quota system in the selection of candidates to public secondary schools in the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations.
In an interview with The Nation last week, Maneb executive director Gerald Chiunda said the examinations body has always maintained professionalism by putting in place robust systems to ensure fairness in the selection of candidates.
His remarks follow demands by a group called Quota Must Fall for the nullification of the examinations on the premise that government used the quota system in selecting candidates in PSLCE whose results were released on August 5 2019.
The quota system of selecting candidates has lately been blamed for allegedly sidelining candidates from the Northern Region in favour of those from the Southern Region.
But Chiunda said the examinations body is transparent on standards, processes and systems it applies in the selection process.
He said: “It is a transparent process, starting from the identification of examination markers who are picked from each and every district of the country. In an examination marking room, we use a Conveyer Belt System [CBS] of marking, having migrated from the traditional system of marking in 2009.”
Chiunda explained that in the CBS system, a group of examiners form belts or rows where each marker marks only a set of questions and passes on the script to the next marker who is also allocated a set of questions.
He said: “In so doing, we make sure that no person can decide the fate of a candidate in that particular examination. Beyond that, what you see in the script is just examination numbers; you do not see names of anybody, the centres and districts.”
Chiunda said after that process is done, data entry is done by a pool of clerks and that in this year’s examinations, they introduced a double data entry system where scores of scripts were done by at least two clerks to ensure credibility.
“Thereafter, a computer programme compares the data to ensure that what is in the system is credible in reference to what is on the script; hence, it is not possible for candidates to be favoured,” he said.
Maneb statistics show that in the 2019 PSLCE, Phalombe District, which was position one in terms of performance, had the least number of selected candidates at 22.36 percent while Likoma, which was ranked on position 16 had the highest number of selected candidates at 100 percent.
Since 2001, Phalombe District has been on position one on three occasions in terms of performance in 2016, 2018 and 2019 while Lilongwe West and Lilongwe East have been on position one each in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
Lilongwe City has taken position one on three occasions from 2011 to 2013, while Zomba Urban has been on position one on nine occasions from 2003 to 2010 and again in 2015.
Nsanje District has been on position one once in 2003 alongside Zomba Urban while Mzuzu City has been on position one once in 2017.
In this year’s PSLCE, out of 282 428 candidates that sat the examinations, 218 756 passed, representing a pass rate of 77.46 percent.
However, a grouping calling itself Quota Must Fall, is demanding nullification of the examinations on the premise that government used the quota system in selecting candidates.
Quota Must Fall secretary general Dan Msowoya told The Nation last week quota system is a cross-cutting issue which affects other economic endeavours.
He said: “We demand an audit for the just-released results. We want to interrogate the data in case it’s not genuine, interrogate the policy, dissect the selection for the North in terms of how many have been selected to secondary schools and challenge the policy.”
However, Minister of Education, Science and Technology William Susuwele Banda said there is need for stakeholders to engage more to iron out the differences.
“In my view, there is need for us to continue dialoguing because the allegations on use of quota system are not necessarily levelled against this academic year,” said Banda.
When the system was first introduced in 1993, a group of students from the University of Malawi (Unima), led by former Attorney General Charles Mhango, successfully sued Unima Council. The court later declared that the quota system of selecting students was discriminatory and had no solid foundation.