Dar es Salaam. The public education system may have been crippled by inadequate funding, lack of skilled teachers and an acute shortage of libraries and laboratories but all that did not stand in the way of rare and shocking news this week—thanks to Big Results Now.
The latest exam results mean many things to many people: For parents who took their bright children to expensive private schools, the latest sixth form exam results are exciting.
For education experts and analysts, the news that nearly 100 per cent of the candidates passed those exams was a Big Surprise.
To the government, this achievement is a victory for the Malaysian management model Big Results Now (BRN) that President Jakaya Kikwete “borrowed” in February last year in an attempt to speed up success in various sectors.
BRN, described by some as “fast-track people-centred growth” focuses on six priority areas articulated in the National Development Vision 2025—energy and natural gas, agriculture, water, education, transport and mobilisation of resources.
But education pundits believe that the jump in the Form Six national examination pass rate in the course of a year is cause for concern, given the serious problems that affect the sector.
The Form Six Class of 2014, whose results were released on Wednesday, recorded one of the highest exam pass rates in the region. School-based candidates scored 98.26 per cent while the nationwide pass rate was 95.98 per cent.
The number of those who scored Division One rose to 3,773 as opposed to 325 the previous year— more than 10-fold growth.
Division Two registered 15 per cent growth from 12 per cent last year to 27 per cent this year. The success rate here means a rise from 5,372 candidates in 2013 to 9,631 this year. Division Three marked the most significant drop—from 70 per cent in 2013 to 47 per cent. There were 30,183 candidates in this category last year compared to 16,821 this year. There was a two per cent rise in numbers for Division Four—from 4,362 candidates last year to 4,420 in 2014.
All this comes despite Necta using a new grading system that trimmed the scoring points for the top three divisions. Division One now ranks from three to seven points. In the past, it ended at nine points. Division Two now spans eight to nine points from 10 to 12 last year and beyond, while Division Three starts from 10 points and ends to where it used to begin—13 points.
Prof Issa Mcholo of the Open University of Tanzania says the country is not undergoing any long term reforms that would have triggered these results and the improvement registered this year is shocking.
He added: “In this one year, we haven’t changed the teachers that much. They did not all go for special training. The facilities are the same but the examination results have changed significantly.”
There is no absolute answer to this development, according to Prof Mcholo, and it is the subject of research and investigation. But some factors, while not scientific, might throw some light on the situation.
“This Big Results Now initiative has been over-politicised and teachers are now focusing more on making students pass exams instead of understanding the curriculum,” he said. “Teachers are told to dwell on past papers to turn this into success.”
There have also been concerns that the examinations are not up to standard and the marking is lame, according to the professor. “If there is any foul play, we are fooling no one but ourselves,” he added.
Dr Kitila Mkumbo of the University of Dar es Salaam argues that although Form Six examinations have never been a problem in the past, this year’s pass rate is hard to believe and does not reflect the situation on the ground.
“The learning environment is deteriorating year after year while the outcome is improving,” he said. “That is not realistic.”
While it is no secret that examination results have been massaged in the past two years, he added, an enquiry needs to be done to check the rise in this year’s results: He added: “What sort of standardisation did they employ this year? Were the questions too easy? There is no simple answer to this puzzle.”
The Tanzania Association of Managers and Owners of Non-Government Schools and Colleges (Tamongsco) Secretary-General Benjamin Nkonya told this paper that the system has been manipulated to portray the current pass rate.
He added: “I know what I am saying, and this is all but cosmetic. How do you convince me that the students have passed Biology and Chemistry by over 95 per cent when the majority of schools have no science laboratories? Our education is in a big mess and people are playing politics around it.”
He argues that the only credible benchmark now is to gauge how the products of the system fare on the job market locally, regionally and internationally.
“When the Chinese construct roads in universities where there are engineers up to professorial level, and when the biggest chunk of the last crackdown on illegal immigrants were teachers,” he adds, “that speaks volumes about our education system—not these pass rates.”