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Ministry must revisit localisation of exams

THE education ministry says it plans to localise the setting and the marking of the Ordinary Level examinations in 2014.
The move will mean the end of the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) as we know it.
Our examinations will no longer be set and marked in the United Kingdom as is currently the case.
The ministry says this will save Lesotho money and allow students to be tested on locally relevant issues.
We understand the motive but we strongly doubt the ministry’s capacity to run the examinations.
The 2014 target seems too ambitious if not ill conceived.
We cannot understand why the ministry has set itself such a tight timetable on such a serious project that if bungled will certainly have serious consequences on this country’s education system.
Apart from proper planning the localisation will require people with proper skills. Markers and those that set the examinations will need to be thoroughly trained.
Strong mechanisms to protect the integrity of the examinations must be implemented.
Then there is need to put in place strong systems to maintain standards.
History has clearly shown that if the localisation of examinations is fast tracked, as we suspect the ministry wants to do, there will be chaos.
Zimbabwe, a country not far from us, learnt it the hard way when it localised its examinations more than a decade ago.
Examination papers leaked, answer scripts disappeared and results were delayed.
Some senior government officials used their influence to get question papers for their children before the examinations.
People started questioning the integrity of the local examinations and well-to-do families quickly reverted back to the COSC. The poor were stuck with an examination system that no one trusted.
No parent wants their child holding an educational certificate that no one trusts.
Although those teething problems have been sorted and the examinations are now better run there are still questions about their integrity and quality.
We fear the same might happen in Lesotho if the education ministry tries to unnecessarily quicken the localisation process by cutting corners.
The way things work in this country is another strong reason why we are worried.
Let’s face it, we cannot properly run a simple old age pension scheme.
Our passport system is a disaster.
Our drivers’ testing system has been rigged to spew unqualified, reckless and dangerous drivers onto our roads.
As things stand, we have a problem of running our own institutions.
We are not saying Lesotho cannot successfully localise the examinations. No.
Our argument is that the point should not be to just localise the examinations but to do it in a way that protects the integrity of the education system.
To do that we need time, resources and skills.
At the moment we don’t seem to have either of those things yet the ministry seems to be in a stampede to localise the examinations.
We are also concerned that if the examinations are localised our students will have problems getting into international universities.
If we go ahead with the plan we would have saved money but created a bigger problem for our students because while the COSC is an internationally recognised qualification there is a likelihood that the local certificate will take time before it is accepted anywhere in the world.
The planned introduction of the Advanced Level certificate might solve this problem but we are not sure to what extent because it too will be local.
The ministry of education needs to seriously rethink this project because its failure will have far reaching consequences. The quality of our education system from primary to secondary to tertiary level is already questionable.
The focus now should be on reforming the whole education sector with a view to improving the quality of both the students and teachers.
Localisation should only come when we have addressed the issues of quality.

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