Ministers defy president over exam cheating

UGANDA

EDUCATION ministers in Uganda are refusing to set special exams for more than 12,000 pupils who cheated in last year's primary leaving exams.

Responding to public outcries, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the Uganda National Examinations Board to set fresh exam papers this year. He said the move would ensure "children's time and parents' money was not wasted". However, education ministers and officials have refused.

"We want to demonstrate that cheating does not pay," said primary education minister Betty Akech. "The best we can do is to allow the culprits to repeat (a year) and retake the primary leaving examinations with the rest of their classmates," she said.

Education and sports minister Dr Khiddu Makubuya rejected outright a recommendation from the parliamentary committee investigating the cheating, that the pupils be allowed to sit for supplementary exams in order to join secondary schools this year.

But he promised to take disciplinary action against heads, supervisors, teachers, invigilators and examining body officials implicated in the cheating. The pressure on the ministry to allow fresh exams emanated from a steep rise in annulled results. In 1999, 284,201 pupils took the leaving examination and only 70 candidates had their results cancelled.

In 2000, 118 out of 265,052 had their results nullified - a remarkable improvement from 1997, when 10,500 results out of nearly 344,200 were nullified.

But when the Uganda National Examinations Council released last year's results in February, it disclosed that 12,065 candidates out of 365,328 had cheated. The board secretary, Matthew Bukenya, accused teachers and invigilators of helping the pupils to cheat.

"They did this by either dictating the answers or writing the answers on the chalkboards," said Mr Bukenya. In several exam centres, headteachers smuggled out papers with the help of supervisors and hired people to answer questions for the candidates, Mr Bukenya told the parliamentary committee.

So far several headteachers have been suspended and suspected supervisors blacklisted. However, the situation is still volatile, with parents of the affected pupils asking Mr Museveni to streamline the ministry of education and the Uganda National Examinations Council, and possibly sack top education officials.

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