The long wait for the Junior Certificate Examination (JCE) results finally ended this Wednesday when the Botswana Examination Council (BEC) released them. Parents had become agitated and some hours before the results’ release that day, BEC had been inundated with several calls where parents expressed concern at the unusual delay.
Botswana Guardian has however established that the ministry of education had mysteriously been sitting on the results which they received from the examination body at the beginning of the month, with the marking of exam scripts having been completed last year. The nation had been accustomed to knowing that the JCE results would be out before Christmas of the examination year, but anxious parents already felt this year’s wait had gone too far. In fact, frustrated parents had taken to venting their anger at some BEC staff members, especially that the examination council had begun placing newspaper adverts about how to access the results even before they were released.
Ironically, the education ministry’s delay in sanctioning the results for release was also met with anger and frustration by employees of both the ministry and BEC, who hinted that the strange delay was sponsored by political interference. Those close to the developments had revealed earlier that the students had failed in large numbers and that government was not pleased with the grades given. It is understood that the ministry rejected the grades as presented by BEC and returned the results to the examination body on three occasions for further review.
An on-the-ground inquiry undertaken by this newspaper at both BEC and the ministry last week and this week revealed one common thing – that government was worried about the quality of results and had wanted the grades to be adjusted. This, it is speculated, was meant to ensure the quality of results does not appear so poor the nation could revolt. There was an outcry last year when parents and civil society lambasted government for poor JCE results, with some of the students who had performed badly even committing suicide out of frustration. “Government is obviously worried about the developments of last year and cannot risk a repeat. Remember how so many scripts had to be re-marked and the grades of those students actually changed? Remember cases of some students who were awarded grades belonging to others, and even more students given grades for subjects they did not write? The ministry is trying not to take chances this time around,” a source within the education ministry told Botswana Guardian last Friday.
The source suggested at the time that BEC were given back the grades to ensure such anomalies do not recur, but could neither dismiss the notion that government wanted the results’ grading to be altered for convenience.Another school of thought from within government enclave was that government is under pressure to admit several students to senior secondary schools, and that because the 2013 grades reflect a dismal performance, it will be suicidal to have the schools admit too many students with lower grades. Last year government was forced for the first time ever, to admit students with an overall Grade D because the number of students in the Merit and Grade A to C category were too few to fill up the available spaces at senior secondary schools. This year, the raw marks obtained by students were so low the grades awarded by BEC were never going to be accepted at the education ministry. Now, as the results were released on Wednesday afternoon, it is believed that either the education ministry and BEC had finally reached a compromise or BEC was no longer cooperating.
Reports say those tasked with the grading at BEC had already grown tired of the see-saw movement of the grades between themselves and the ministry. In fact, on the Wednesday morning, the grading office wrote an internal memo to other responsive BEC officers informing them they had stopped doing grades for JCE results in order to concentrate on the BGCSE ones for Form 5 leavers. It also emerged that there was no real information sharing on the results between concerned stakeholders within the examination body, leaving some in frustration.
A high ranking official within the education ministry averred that 2014 being an election year, there could have been word from political leadership to ensure results were pleasing to the nation, hence the delay. “Obviously the leadership knows the opposition parties will have a field day if the students perform badly, and everything has to be done to shift the goal posts. The delay may be because it is difficult to make the results match the desired goals,” the officer said on Monday, two days before the release. By press time, responsive personnel were not available for comment. BEC’s Corporate Communications Manager Fingile Makgalemele was reported to be out of the office while efforts to speak to the education ministry’s spokesperson Silas Sehularo were unsuccessful as both his office and mobile phones rang unanswered. Permanent Secretary in the ministry Grace Muzila could neither be reached as her phone was off air. Of the 38 944 candidates who wrote the 2013 examinations, 325 obtained Grade A compared to 590 last year.
3 788 candidates managed Grade B this year compared to 4 745 last year while those awarded Grade C are 9 626 as opposed to 10 386 last year. In all these grade categories, the results show a decline in performance from last year, confirming information this publication got from last week during the inquiry meant to unravel the delay. At 13 662, the statement from BEC further shows a 0.5 percent decline in the number of candidates who obtained Grade D, with 5 540 awarded Grade E compared to 4 889 last year. Grade U was awarded to 5 592 candidates while 412 were not awarded any grade because they did not meet minimum requirements for being awarded an overall grade. The poor performance of the candidates also shows that unlike in previous years, no candidate obtained Merit.