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‘UNEB exams won’t be fair to rural-based learners’

Dan Odongo UNEB Executive Secretary and Janet Museveni Minister of Education and Sports

Fairness in grading

Sewajje suggests that fairness could only be achieved during the marking process especially if UNEB asks the examiners to relax or waive the usual standards that they base on while grading students.

Sewajje said he suspects this will be one of the contentious issues that will come up during the grading process. Yet, the new system has been standardized in that whether the general performance is poor or good, a distinction, for instance, must start at 80%.

Asked whether it would be a good thing to even lower the bar for scoring grades, Nakabugo told The Independent that that would be ill-advised. “You would be cheating the system,” she said.

“If, for instance, we say that since the Math subject has been poorly done and the best has scored 50%, so we must lower the Distinction from the usual 80% to 50%, that would be cheating the system,” she said.

But Nathan Mutaka a former economics teacher at Holy Cross Lake View S.S in Jinja and UNEB examiner who now lectures at the National Teachers College, Mubende told The Independent that not even COVID-19 can force UNEB compromise on its standards.

Mutaka told The Independent that UNEB is mindful of the products they send on the market. He says students should know that UNEB examiners are actually fair when setting exams.

“They will review the syllabus and also look at the topics which appear on each syllabus,” he told The Independent.  “Unlike in the past when UNEB and schools used to have parallel syllabi, and the teachers who, for example, had access to the UNEB syllabus would put emphasis on what UNEB examines, these days, the syllabus is the same.”

Mutaka says even with the disruption that has affected students over the last 12 months, the learners should be able to pass the exams especially if the schools have covered at least 80% of what they are supposed to teach.

Mutaka disagrees with those who are in support of UNEB lowering the standards in their quest to achieve equity. He says setting easy questions to cater for upcountry learners would not help them in the long run.

“What will happen when they encounter tougher tests later on during their working life? UNEB would be doing them a disservice,” Mutaka told The Independent, “My advice to fellow teachers is that we should endeavour to cover as much as possible in order to give our learners the best chance at passing the examinations.”

Global debate on national exams

Educators around the world have noted over the last year that the abrupt cancellation of exams in countries around the world was a regrettable loss that would diminish learning and life chances for millions of young people. Some educators saw an opportunity to call time on traditional exams systems while others have been spending time calming the nerves of students and their parents.

In Kenya, George Magoha, the Education Cabinet Secretary recently assured learners preparing for their final exams that the set-up and marking of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams will factor in the time learners lost during the nine month COVID-19 shutdown.

Magoha’s announcement followed the release of a report by the Kenya National Examination Council on learning losses suffered during the pandemic. The report showed half the candidates could barely make the 50% cut-off mark in the test administered last October.

Magoha was on Feb 01 responding to a section of stakeholders who have been pushing for a revised marking system in this year’s tests to ensure candidates are not disadvantaged.

“You don’t have to be afraid because we know you were not in school for nine months. Our job as teachers is to pick what you have in your brain; not what you do not have,” Magoha said, “The children should be at peace because the government is aware that they were out of school for nine months. There is absolutely no reason to be afraid.”

In the UK, the government told students taking their GCSE and A-level exams that they would be awarded more generous grades to compensate for disruption to their schooling during the pandemic.  Among the remedies the government proposed was to give learners advance notice of some topics ahead of tests, as well as exam aids when sitting papers.

“The pandemic has exacerbated all these problems that were already there with exams,” said Bill Lucas, director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the UK-based Winchester University.

Lucas told The Financial Times recently that he believes traditional assessments unfairly standardized children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach.

How school exams were held across various countries amid COVID-19

The Netherlands

The central school-leaving examinations were cancelled last year. The Dutch students’ final marks were based on coursework and school tests. But those who failed these school tests could retake their papers.

Like Germany and France, The Netherlands recorded a higher pass rate than in previous years. Almost five times as many high schools reported a 100% pass rate. Why? Well, the education ministry says it’s because students had more time to study for their school exams.


Spain handled its school exams a little differently. Candidates for the university entrance exam only answered three out of five questions. Additionally, they were only tested on topics covered before the lockdown in March. The pass rate, however, did not differ much from the previous year exams.


France cancelled its “Baccalaureate” examination for the first time due to COVID-19. Instead, all 740,000 final-year students were awarded an average grade for each subject. Their grades were based on coursework and tests during the first two terms of the school year, then assessed and adjusted according to national averages and school records. As a result, France saw a 95% pass rate. This meant more French students qualified for university in September 2020.


The exams were held in well-aired classrooms instead of big halls. Small groups of students sat at least 1.5 metres apart from each other.


In June, around 500,000 students took the hour-long oral part of their high-school diploma exams. They had five oral exams a day with 15-minute breaks in between for classroom sanitation.

Schools were closed since early March, which prompted authorities to cancel the written papers. They are expected to open again in October, 2020.



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