Frustrated 2020 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination candidates yesterday ran riot in protest against Ministry of Education’s decision to cancel the examination due to leakage Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) owned as internal.
The sporadic protests happened in Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu cities.
In Blantyre, police fired tear gas to restore order while in Mzuzu three candidates were arrested for their alleged involvement in the demonstrations and in Lilongwe the candidates were also violent. In Zomba, on the other hand, the student protests were peaceful.
Revelations of leakage of some examination papers prompted Minister of Education Agnes NyaLonje to call for a press conference in Lilongwe yesterday where she announced the cancellation and that fresh examinations will be administered in March 2021.
The minister said: “Much as it hurts to put K4.5 billion to a task we thought we had already finished with when we could have instead built schools, hospitals and teachers houses, it is very important that we safeguard or regain the integrity of examinations in this country.”
NyaLonje assured that government will ensure the next examination process goes well, but warned masterminds of the leakage that they will face the law when traced.
While acknowledging that the cancellation will have some implications on administration of future examinations, Maneb executive director Gerald Chiunda said there is a high possibility that the leakage is an inside job.
He said: “A lot goes into administration of examinations and it pains me to think that someone can do this. On our part, we did everything right.”
Chiunda, who said for now candidates will have to wait as they prepare for the next examinations, acknowledged that some papers were yet to be dispatched despite being found on the black market.
But a former Maneb senior officer attributed the leakages of examination papers in recent years to weak security systems.
He said: “Some officials still have access to the examination papers despite the fact that there are security systems put in place. This shows that the security systems are not tight and usually, it has mostly been an inside job.”
In 2019, Maneb said there were no leakage of examination papers for both MSCE and Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE), but the board has in the past 20 years been marred by leakages.
In 2000, government was forced to cancel MSCE examinations and have them retaken after papers were found on the market. The incident led to the dismissal of then executive director Meria Nowa-Phiri.
When it was thought security had been enhanced, in 2007 Maneb was again forced to re-administer five papers—English Paper I, Biology Paper I, Chichewa Paper II, Agriculture Paper I and History Paper II—following their leakages.
And in 2013, Maneb also cancelled the school certificate following examinations leakages. The same year, Malawi Police Service was mentioned as the weakest link in ensuring tight security for exam papers following Maneb’s assessment of its operation systems and controls regarding management of examinations.
During the Blantyre protests yesterday, some candidates blocked the road at Mbayani and St Pius Secondary School in Nkolokosa. Police fired tear gas at both places to disperse the students.
Blantyre Police Station spokesperson Augustus Nkhwazi said: “So far the reports we received were that of St Pius Secondary School and some candidates who blocked the road at Mbayani. However, our officers went on the ground to calm the situation.”
In Lilongwe, some candidates attempted to block the Kamuzu Procession Road and later engaged in running battles with police.
But unlike in Blantyre and Lilongwe, candidates from Likangala Secondary School and Zomba Urban Community Day Secondary School, held peaceful protests at Zomba District Council offices.
In Mzuzu, police arrested three students from Target and Multi Career secondary schools following demonstrations which resulted in running battles between police and rioting students.
The Mzuzu protesters blocked roads and stoned vehicles. It took the intervention of police to bring law and order.
Mzuzu Police Station spokesperson Paul Tembo said while authorities are still assessing the damage, the students also damaged 32 windowpanes at the district social welfare office.
He estimated the number of demonstrating candidates at 250.
In separate interviews on the cancellation of the examinations, education rights activists said it was a welcome development following the leakage, but the decision will have far-reaching consequences.
Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe said implications of the cancellation are that fresh papers have to be formulated and retaken, which would mean taxpayers paying twice to administer the examination.
While indicating that some candidates may be psychologically affected, he said in the foregoing, an objective investigation should be done to bring the culprits to book.
With the examinations set for March next year, it means two MSCE examinations will be administered the same year.
In light of such a development, education expert Steve Sharra said it will be tough on the part of Maneb to have two cohorts of the MSCE examinations administered in the same year.
He also said such developments affect the integrity of the country’s examinations, as such problems jeopardise the entire education system.
“Institutions of higher learning and even employers don’t want to enrol or hire people whose examination results were compromised. It also makes us a laughing stock in the eyes of other countries,” Sharra said.