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Locked dreams: Agony, distress for parents and learners over cancelled results

Uneb former chairperson Prof Mary Okwakol and her successor, Prof Celestino Obua, hand over the 2023 PLE results to the First Lady and Education minister, Janet Museveni, at State House, Nakasero recently

Uneb former chairperson Prof Mary Okwakol and her successor, Prof Celestino Obua, hand over the 2023 PLE results to the First Lady and Education minister, Janet Museveni, at State House, Nakasero recently

The agony following the withholding results by the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) cuts deep.

It’s a pain that consumes mainly the candidates and their parents who have invested heavily in their education. In Nansana municipality, the psychological toll on parents is immense after prospects of having their children advance to secondary level were cut short due to examination malpractice, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.

When Uneb released the 2023 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) results on January 25, 2024, parents eagerly awaited the outcome of the children’s hard work. As soon as the minister of Education and Sports, Janet Museveni, releases the results, it’s common practice for parents and candidates to access results via the Short Message Service (SMS) platform.

All telecom companies charge Shs 500 for the service. For some parents in Nansana municipality located in Wakiso district, there was an unsettling tension. In his living room, one parent who requested to speak on condition of anonymity said a palpable tension hung heavy.

“My child had promised to get not more than aggregate seven but I was still unsettled. When I sent a message, I got feedback; No results, contact the school. I thought we had put in the wrong index number but we got a similar message twice,” the parent said.

This raised his fears and he contacted the school authorities. He was asked to remain calm as the school denied results being withheld over suspected malpractice. Instead, the school pointed to having pending exam charges with the board that would be cleared soon. The following day [a public holiday], the parent spent the day at home flipping through newspapers without sight of his child’s school.

“It can’t be,” the parent murmured in his trembling voice. “At least, not for my child because she had assured me they didn’t cheat for them and that the exams went well except for a few questions in Mathematics,” he recalled.

He contacted several parents from the school who shared similar frustrations. Meanwhile, the school where his child completed P7 had no center number and they sat for PLE at another private school. The rumours of cheating during the examination started spreading like wildfire.

More parents contacted The Observer expressing concern but we could not help much since Uneb halted publishing schools with withheld results. in the days that followed, the affected parents found themselves grappling with a myriad of emotions – disbelief, anger, and frustration.

As days turned into weeks, the cloud of uncertainty faded away after parents received communication to appear before the board’s security committee for investigation. Parents transported their children to the respective schools who, in turn, took them to Uneb offices in Kyambogo from February 19 to 23, 2024.

“My child appeared twice before the Uneb tribunal. They played a short video clip showing someone writing on the blackboard inside the
examination room and later rubbing the content. My child said she didn’t know the person as she was busy writing,” the parent said.

Uneb also asked other candidates why they had failed working methods but wrote correct answers to some questions. Some candidates were also found with wrong answers for the first question but presented correct ones in part B of the same question. Another parent said the affected candidates were encouraged to ask any questions to the officials in the tribunal but some remained silent.

“I can’t tell whether the children were scared to ask or they realized that Uneb had overwhelming evidence against them. My child didn’t ask anything but cried after they left the tribunal,” the parent said.

MUNICIPAL PENALTIES FOR SCHOOLS

According to the Nansana municipal education officer, Henry Lwanga Ssempijja, it was unfortunate that results were withheld, a move that painted a “bad picture” on the municipality’s education office.

“This is the first time for the municipality to register malpractice cases of this magnitude at 483. We have been performing very well and, unfortunately, the numbers of affected candidates are huge. We shall ensure that this does not happen again,” Lwanga said.

After the Uneb verdict, he said some affected parents contemplated suing the schools but “we advised them that court rulings will not reward results to candidates. It was a waste of time yet they needed more money to raise fees for children again.”

Nansana Municipal Council headquarters
Nansana Municipal Council headquarters

As of last week, the municipality had also instituted disciplinary actions against the schools.

“All head teachers involved were relieved of their duties. The good thing is that some of them had already disappeared from their stations by the time we appeared before the Uneb security committee. We don’t want to see them heading any education institution in the municipality,” he said.

Asked whether they offered them a fair hearing, he said: “We relied on what transpired in the Uneb meeting. They did thorough investigations and the evidence showed to us was overwhelming.”

The affected schools are also not allowed to serve as main sitting centers for four years. This implies that these schools, even those whose centers were maintained, will take their candidates to other schools determined by the municipality to write PLE examinations. For those whose centers were cancelled, the municipality shall help them register their candidates from other schools.

“All supervisors and invigilators who served at the affected schools will be barred from PLE examinations at all levels indefinitely. We shall replace them with other people of integrity who can handle the examinations. Their names will also be posted on the municipality’s official social media sites,” Lwanga said.

To guard against future exam malpractices, directors of the affected schools will be closely monitored to ascertain their remorsefulness re- regarding the management of the crisis. If any persistent cases of “arrogance and unbecoming disposition” are reported by parents, a recommendation to have their centers indefinitely suspended will be proposed to the Uneb executive director, Dan Odongo.

Lwanga disclosed that some school administrators were proud and arrogant during what he called a “crisis” that was poorly managed in some schools. He has also tasked the municipal officer in charge of guidance and counselling to traverse the various schools and talk to learners.

TO MAKE SCHOOLS PUBLIC OR NOT

The issue of publicizing schools with withheld results as was in the past – to guide parents – remains a tricky situation. The Uneb spokesperson, Jennifer Kalule Musamba, insisted that such schools are merely suspects of malpractice.

“It would not be fair to make schools public at the level of suspicion. We have situations where a school was suspected but after thorough investigations, it turns out otherwise after interacting with the candidates. When the investigations are completed, Uneb will make public all schools whose results were cancelled at all levels,” Kalule said.

For a school to be suspected, there should be a report from a Uneb scout, examiners [who normally have evidence from scripts], and a whistleblower’s report. Schools with outstanding examination fee balances with Uneb also have their results withheld until the dues are settled.

If a school fails to pay on time, Kalule said: “They should come to the board and we agree on a payment plan. It is not a matter of life and death yet there are learners involved. Some schools are fined by Uneb but they don’t tell parents.”

Dickson Tumuramye, a counsellor and child advocate, disagreed with Uneb on concealing information about schools with withheld results. He believes that making schools public would prevent other schools from engaging in any form of malpractice. He also blamed schools in Nansana for keeping parents and candidates in uncertainty.

“When both parents and learners know their fate, they can make informed decisions. This can include; the child can repeat, change the school if they [candidates] did not cheat but fell victim of suspicion, they can offer incredible information, and save their future and school,” Tumuramye said.

During the Uneb investigations, he advised the board to handle candidates with respect and dignity. They should not be intimidated.

“Cheating at a school level is done by the administration, not the learners. We know schools coach affected learners on what to say but some learners may decide to speak from their mind and reveal what exactly transpired or what they know. If it’s against the school, a learner or family can be harmed. It is better even the school not to know which learner was invited for investigations,” Lwanga said.

He insisted that learners’ identities must be kept with uttermost confidentiality by the board.

WAY FORWARD

To all 2023 candidates whose results were cancelled, Tumuramye encouraged them to accept the situation and move on.

“Life is never a straight line. It is full of ups and downs. Whether you were guilty or not, at this time, repeating is the best option if you have to attain your dreams. Please receive the awful news with a positive heart and move on with your studies. Losing one year is not as bad as losing all the seven, four, and two years respectively of education,” Tumuramye said.

For now, the Uneb security committee will continue with hearing malpractice cases as it awaits feedback from the judiciary on its request to set up a special utility court that would concentrate all cases in one place and ensure a faster conclusion.

Recently, Uneb executive director, Dan Odongo, noted that there are cases from the 2022 examinations that remain unresolved in various courts across the country. He wondered what impact the rulings would make on schools, candidates, and exam officers involved if they were delivered in 2024.

“We need a speedy resolution of cases and we hope the judiciary will answer our prayer in the affirmative,” Odongo said then.

WHAT COMPELS UNEB TO CANCEL RESULTS OF A SCHOOL

Under Article 5 of the Uneb Act 2021, the board has the power to institute or commission an inquiry or investigation into a case of alleged examination malpractice.

Article 26(g) further indicates that any person who, while engaged as a supervisor, invigilator, scout, monitor, or special needs education support personnel negligently allows or fails to stop unauthorized assistance from being given to a candidate commits an offense.

The person is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one thousand currency points (Shs 20m) or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both. After facing the tribunal, some school proprietors insisted on telling parents they were innocent and the results would be released. Others declined to share with the parents whatever transpired in the meetings.

The Observer has since established that Uneb concluded the hearing of the PLE cases but received some appeals. The board officials interacted with the head teachers of the affected schools, candidates, town clerk, municipal education officer, and inspector of schools in Nansana.

At least 11,739 candidates sat for the 2023 PLE examinations in Nansana. Of these, 2,272 passed in Division One, 6,537 in Division Two, 1,543 in Division Three, and 720 in Division Four. 517 were ungraded while 150 missed the examinations.

At Precious Junior School Katooke, out of the 58 affected candidates, the board’s tribunal released the results of only six candidates and cancelled the school’s center number for one year.

Zam Zam primary school had 97 cases but the board released results of 94 candidates. The center number was also cancelled for one year.
At Uwefa Hill School, there were 92 candidates but only four candidates received their results. At Nabweru Parents primary school, out of the 27 candidates, Uneb released the results of 11 candidates.

Uwefa and Nabweru Parents maintained their center numbers. Linnet primary school with 200 candidates was more unfortunate. Uneb released the results of only 16 candidates and suspended the school’s center number indefinitely. A parent whose child’s results were among those that were cancelled had no option but to advise the child to repeat P7 at the same school.

“You can’t believe that my child reported for P7 on March 3, 2024, because we had to wait for Uneb’s verdict. The school suggested that all affected candidates will be allowed to repeat P7 free of charge but parents will be charged Uneb PLE registration fees,” a parent said.

“We consoled our child and took her for counselling before reporting back to school. She had been performing well and I don’t know how things misfired.”

Another parent whose child’s results were released after three weeks attributed exam malpractice to the growing unhealthy competition among private schools.

“If I wasn’t a prayerful person, I would have suffered a heart attack. We got the results but it was a trying moment for my family. I made every phone call to get results but in vain. It was more painful that schools were not telling us the truth about results," the parent said. 

He added that despite her child reporting four weeks later [from the official opening date], the school charged him the same fees as other students for senior one.

nangonzi@observer.ug

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