Minister Jessica Alupo recieves PLE results from Matthew Bukenya.

The announcement of examination results signals a period of joy as images of candidates and their parents jubilating fill the media.

However, there is another sad side that comes with the release of examination results which the public eye never gets to see, of disheartened candidates who did not excel. Then there is this other group of unfortunate candidates whose results are withheld or in worst case scenarios, cancelled. What happens to such candidates?

Last week, the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), announced that it had withheld results of 1,040 candidates in the 2011 Primary Leaving Examinations. The board’s executive secretary, Matthew Bukenya, said the results were withheld because of suspected involvement in examination malpractice.

It is a trying time for parents of over 1,000 candidates whose results were withheld pending investigations. The parents have to battle with the uncertainty of not knowing how their children have performed or whether their results will be released.

Nyantungo Primary School in Kyenjojo district is one of the 64 schools whose results were withheld. Unlike its counterparts that have only partial results withheld, all the results from Nyantungo were withheld.

“I do not know why this has happened to my school. We have always had a clean record. In fact last year we were among the best performing schools in the district,” the disturbed headteacher told the New Vision.

“I cannot see any possible reason why we were suspected of malpractices. All we can do is work on assumptions and wait for the results from the UNEB investigations so that we are cleared and our candidates can continue with school,” the headteacher, Robert Sanyu, said.

An official from UNEB, who preferred anonymity, said there are various scenarios that can make a school become a suspect of malpractice.

One of the scenarios is when a school that has always been performing poorly, performs very well out of the blue. Or when there is a wide gap between children from the same school who passed very highly and those who failed. Another scenario is when the people who mark at UNEB notice variations in handwriting and a similarity with the answer given by several candidates.

Why arethe rural schools most affected?

It is becoming a trend for the rural schools to have their results withheld. Out of the 64 schools this year, two were from Kampala. It was a similar scenario last year. In 2011, 1,227 results were withheld from 62 schools and most of the affected schools were from the rural areas.

In 2010, still 1,450 results were withheld from 73 schools and only three of these were urban schools.  Prof. Bbosa Lutalo, an educationist, attributes this trend to high rates of teacher absenteeism in rural schools. He argues that the upcountry teachers use exam malpractice as a short cut to good grades because they do not teach.

“There is a lot of absenteeism in upcountry schools because teachers are trying to make ends meet by engaging in other activities such as farm work. When the exams come, they want to produce results because they know they have not been teaching,” Lutalo explains.

Lutalo notes that the children are the victims who are dragged into the whole mess. He argues that it is the teachers and invigilators who involve the children yet it is the future of the children which is put into jeopardy.

Lutalo says there is a need for the Government to monitor schools through the district inspector of schools.

“The Government should increase vigilance on inspection of upcountry schools,” Lutalo says.

Addressing journalists at the release of the results, Jessica Alupo, the Minister for Education and Sports, echoed similar views.

Blaming local leaders, school heads and invigilators, Alupo said examinations no longer leaked from UNEB offices but only when they changed hands to the Police and other stakeholders. Alupo said the ministry was going to guard against the money sent to various districts so that the inspection is heightened.

However, some educationists say the problem is more than the poor inspection in districts. “This has to do with particular candidates who get involved in malpractice. Why is it that we have some results released in a particular school and others are withheld? Or, why is it that you find in a district other schools are not culprits?”

Patrick Kaboyo, an educationist, blames it on the general attitude of the authorities and the community around them.

“These are young children who will always tell their parents what is going on at school. Schools and parents are aware of what’s going on but turn a blind eye and only complain after the results have been withheld,” Kaboyo says.

How pupils are affected Gaston Byamugisha, a counsellor in the Ministry of Education department, says withholding results leaves the candidates in a state of anxiety.

“Most times, these children are not part of the malpractice and so wait anxiously for results. When the results are withheld, they are left in a state of confusion yet they still have to go through the process of waiting for UNEB to release their results,” Byamugisha adds.

“It does not get easier when people around them keep asking for their results. And the moment they say their results were withheld, they will be asked whether they cheated in their exams. In the end these children will start feeling like thieves,” Byamugisha adds.

He warns that even if they eventually get cleared, the children may not get the schools of their choice and this will affect their morale.

UNEB assures affected schools of fairness

UNEB has assured all the affected pupils from the 64 schools of a fair hearing by the Board’s examinations security committee before their results are released. “Let us be clear. These schools are suspected of malpractice.

We are not saying they were actually involved in malpractice. That is why the results are withheld and not cancelled,” Bukenya explains.

“Candidates who will be cleared will have their results released,” he adds. But this is no consolation for the affected candidates who live in fear of their results being cancelled.  What next for the affected pupils Primary Seven leavers are expected to report for Senior One by February 13, this is after the selection exercise for Senior One scheduled for next week ends.

With no specific time line on when the investigations of affected schools will be concluded, this leaves the future of waiting candidates in balance.

For the affected schools to be part of the senior one selection exercise, it means UNEB has a few days to release the findings.  Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, says UNEB is supposed to conclude investigations within a month after the release of the results.

“We learnt a lot from last year’s experience.To avoid anxiety and confusion, we have tasked UNEB to carry out investigations within a month and clear those who are not guilty,” Kibenge says.

“The selection committee is aware of the number of candidates under investigation so they will be able to reserve places for future placements once the candidates are cleared.”

By Angela Ndagano, The New Vision

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