The Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) conducts Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE), Junior Certificate of Education (JCE), Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations and other student teacher related examinations. The Ministry of Education uses the results of PSLCE to select pupils to secondary school, the JCE for promoting students to the senior secondary level of education, and the MSCE for graduating students to the labour market or selecting them to universities.
In 2009, Maneb migrated from the traditional marking system (TMS) to the conveyor belt system of marking (CBS). In this system, groups of examiners form belts composing of belt leaders, starters, markers and mark sheet handlers. Each marker marks only a set of questions and passes the candidates answer script to the next marker who also marks the set of questions allocated to them.
The marked scripts are then passed over to senior examiners who check through the script for any errors. Upon detecting any such errors, the scripts are returned to the marker concerned for corrections.
Finally, the chief examiner, who is also a teacher or retired teacher in some instances, samples ten percent of the scripts in an envelope to assess the consistency in marking and interpretation of the marking scheme.
CBS has been touted as a system that has brought reliability of marks, reducing substantially deviations of marks between assistant examiners and senior or chief examiners.
Trumpets have also been blown on how the system has fostered team spirit of examiners, increased security of scripts, allowed for marking speed and transparency, fairness to candidates, and maximised examiner concentration.
While this spells good news for Maneb as an examining body since its examination results may now be seen to be credible; and candidates, since the results of the examinations may reflect the efforts they invested, the teacher who works hard to make these two parties go home with a smile often gets a raw deal.
Maneb continues to pay peanuts to examiners, with a script at MSCE fetching a meagre K16 and a JCE script K13 on average. Time and again, teachers who mark examinations have called on Maneb to revise these rates but the calls have fallen on deaf ears. Those who voice their disillusionment openly often do not receive a call to mark in future. In fact, Maneb conducts its affairs in military style—do the job at break neck with no questions asked.
Some examiners have often been told to pack and leave the marking centres for simply inquiring about money. In 2013 Maneb only released the examiners’ money after they had threatened to demonstrate.
Yet, for examinations to be marked within the impossible deadlines that the national examining body sets for examiners, some wake up as early 3 am, and go to bed as late as 11 pm every day for three full weeks on average. All this effort for K16 or K13 pay per script.
Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and chest pain.
Many examiners often complain of swollen legs and feet. Common colds and coughs induced by the dusty scripts are also common. Maneb would do well to introduce a health risk allowance to examiners, but there has been no word on this from Maneb.
Often, the marking centres are secondary school premises where four to eight examiners sleep in one room and on plastic mattresses. They take cold showers, and usually stand on long queues to get food at meal times.
One would expect Maneb to notice these sacrifices and appreciate them. As teachers mark the scripts for this year’s JCE, and soon start marking the MSCE candidates’ scripts, one hopes Maneb will review allowances for teachers who mark examinations.
The author is a former Educator and Assistant Examiner.