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Exclusives all the way out of Africa


Disbelief was etched on Theresa Aghaowa's face when she saw the noticeboard. It bore a list of 267 entrants in the West Africa Examination Council exams, but by her name there was a blank space. Other pupils in Benin City, Nigeria, were similarly dismayed.

Exam annulment or the non- release of exam results is blighting the lives of pupils all over Africa. It forces thousands to wait in the hope that the results will be released at a later date, or get on with repeating a year but with no guarantee that next year will be any different, wrote Adetokunbo Abiola of The Weekend Hope, a Nigerian newspaper.

Disruption by one or two exam-takers can lead to a whole exam centre's results being withheld. Malpractice, computer errors and bureaucratic incompetence are among the causes. In 2003, one Nigerian board withheld 116,900 results out of 1,039,183 entries.

Mr Abiola's article was one of 26 English-speaking finalists for the Akintola Fatoyinbo Africa Education Journalism Award, judged by journalists and educationists in Libreville, Gabon, earlier this month.

The African journalists shone a bright light on the failings ofgovernments to deal with some basic problems in education. Poor parents who work for months in schools in lieu of fees - pound;94 a year in a rural secondary school in Kenya; students who set up minibus firms to provide transport in Lagos; mobile schools set up with Norwegian aid for nomads in Namibia: these are some of the means being used to close the education gap highlighted by the journalists.

Organised by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, a UNESCO-sponsored organisation, the winners, the runners-up and their editors are invited to Paris and London for a two-week study visit, including a day at The TES.

The winning English entry, by Moshoeshoe Monare of South Africa's Sunday Times, told how the rising number of Aids orphans at Bokgoni technical high school, Pretoria, has turned teachers into social workers and the school into a charitable organisation. It is a challenge faced all over a country whose president for years denied that Aids even existed.

Khanyi Mothutsi, 15, is one of 32 orphans at the school. Her nine-month-old brother, father and mother died last year of a "mysterious illness". The disease has taken 17 more parents' lives in the past six months, and Khanyi's performance has deteriorated. "She is traumatised by what has happened in her family," said her teacher, Sithokoziso Blom.

Many orphans face teasing in the playground and often go without lunch as their aunts and uncles struggle to afford even flour for dumplings. This affects their attention in class.

Ms Blom is Bokgoni's only counsellor, though she is not qualified for that role. The school has set up a nutritional scheme which offers bread, chips, cheese and mango chutney. It gives students responsibility via a "cabinet" of 18 pupil "ministers" for preventive campaigns on health, environment, education and welfare.

The idea has revitalised the school. Enrolment has risen tenfold to 1,307 in the past 10 years and pass rates are rising. It is a model of what can be achieved.

But Ms Blom, one of 40 teachers, 23 of them on three-month contracts, admits she finds it hard to cope. "It's not easy to attend to the emotional needs of all of the orphans as I have to attend to 400 children in my classes," she said.

The author is international editor of The TES and was a member of the Akintola Fatoyinbo award jury

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