So this is one of those articles that will invite angry people with daggers in their hands out for my blood. I am OK with that. I would rather see debate here than to see the nodding of heads every time. Conversations are what build strong communities and the strongest conversations are those from divergent view points.
There has been a lot of noise about Grace Mugabe’s PhD which was awarded by Zimbabwe’s oldest university, the University of Zimbabwe. The noise didn’t start now, it started when the degree was awarded but now there is action that is following the noise including the arrest of the long serving Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Levi Nyagura by the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC).
Again just a few weeks ago, we woke up to the news that Zimbabwe’s most important basic education public examination results were to be withheld and all the candidates were to re-write their English Language examinations. Reason: the English paper leaked and was widely available on WhatsApp before the exam was written. There were other reported leakages of other papers in this and previous exam sessions but they affected a handful of students and education professionals implicated. We all know it ain’t so.
Now there are calls for Zimbabwe’s basic education public examination body, the Zimbabwe School Examination Council (ZIMSEC) to be disbanded or even arrested or whatever other action.
Hold up, are we being sincere here?
I am angry. I am angry that Grace Mugabe got a post grad qualification she didn’t earn. I am angry that ZIMSEC has consistently failed to administer credible examinations. I am also angry that people are angry. The reason I was frustrated by university was that my two options to walk out with the a degree from the University of Zimbabwe were either to cram and regurgitate textbooks verbatim or I had to cheat in exams. I chose to walk out without it.
I didn’t cram because that’s not how my mind is wired, I learn from first principles. If I don’t understand the why then I won’t recall nothing. I didn’t copy because of ethics initially but eventually because my eyesight would not permit it. But that’s copying exams.
For assignments and lab reports all of us- yes everyone in my department copied scripts from students who had gone through our programme before us and the scripts we copied had been copied from scripts that had been copied… There was an unbroken inheritance system. Sad because we were studying to be scientists. Scientists who plagiarised?
Fact that the lab practicals and assignments had remained unchanged for that many years tells you the jokes we were going through really. Even our lecturers read out notes prepared by a Dr Love who had left the university ages back. The stuff they read no longer applied!
My friends in the Engineering Faculty were given past ‘projects’ by academic staff to copy and make their own when their turn to do a required project came. I am not kidding. Tell me with a straight face if this is not the order of things at universities. I expect things have become worse now. Such things spiral uncontrollably.
At one time I had a roommate who would make money from writing assignments for students who were corresponding with the popular University of South Africa (UNISA). These were working people whose idea of adding their level of skill was to get a UNISA Masters Degree they didn’t work for. How many UNISA, ZOU and even theological students attained their ‘qualification’ this way? Yes, I know someone who was ‘working’ for a theological qualification this way.
Heck, let me ask: how did you get the certificate you hung up in your home?
The price is paid somewhere, the price is always paid
I suffer for this system of broken integrity every time I interview people for a job. Some of you might have noticed every time Techzim advertises for a job we explicitly request that no respondent send their CV. Every time someone sends it anyway, we do not respond to them.
The reason is not that we don’t think there are some good folks out there who actually earned their qualifications. We don’t ask for CV’s because whether someone holds qualification x or not is moot because we have to test everyone for the skills and attitude we need. Those with qualifications may have earned them or they may have cheated into them or they may have earned them by being taught irrelevant stuff. Why bother checking qualifications? We can tell if someone is a good fit our own way.
However, this comes at a cost. If the educational institutions were doing a pre-screening for us it would save us a lot of time resources to hire. The cost is even higher for most of our fellow employers who assume that a paper that says first class means anything. Sometimes they get lucky and hire a good one who whether they earned the degree or not, are hard working and apply themselves. I contend that most of the times they are not so lucky and they don’t even know it.
Just yesterday I was interviewing a guy who wanted to be part of our engineering team. I asked him about anything he had built before and he described a programme he had built for some lady who needed it for a college project. I kept probing about this and the poor guy did not even realise the irony of talking about doing something so unethical in a job interview. He helped someone cheat in exchange for money!
That’s the biggest cost now. Our senses have been dulled and we don’t see the problem with cheating or aiding and abating a cheat. So, no, folks ain’t angry because Grace Mugabe cheated her way into being called Dr, they are angry because it is Grace Mugabe! I will call her Dr. Grace Mugabe because to be frank, she earned her PhD just the same way everyone else (the bulk, OK) earned them. If they are Dr. such and such then she is Dr. Grace Mugabe. My problem with her was the Amai part. She ain’t my mama.
What of ZIMSEC exam leaks?
Outcry is hypocritical too. How many parents would have bought any paper especially the math paper if someone from ZIMSEC had approached them selling and that parent could afford it and had a kid sitting for the exam? If you wouldn’t, I assure you, you are in the minority. Most don’t even need it to be their kid. If they come across a leaked paper they will share it on the church intercession group and they will lead with, “Praise God, I came across this paper for all of you saints who have children writing exams.’ All the saints will then say Amen with a very pure and thankful heart!
This is a terrible culture that has crept in. This is where pilferage at work starts and we come up with witty proverbs, “Mbudzi inodya payakasungirirwa (A goat cannot but graze where its leash allows).” The decreasing productivity should not be surprising. If someone only has to bat eyelashes to get a degree or to pass their O levels, we would be foolish to expect them to give their heart and soul into our businesses.
The Dr. Grace Mugabe PhD nonsense happened because it has been acceptable for a long time that all you need is to get a piece of paper that validates you regardless of how you get it. It has been accepted that students can and should use archive (as we called it) or zvitunha (as students from other places called handed down marked assignment scripts). My university tutor told me point blank that I would not pass if I didn’t get my hands on archives.
The ZIMSEC leakages keep happening because we have taught kids that they just need to pass and it doesn’t matter how so long as they are not caught. We even measure out amount of love each child receives based on how well they do in school saka ndizvozvo. It keeps happening because there is a demand for leaked papers among parents and teachers even more than the school kids who don’t have buying power really.
I don’t know how culture is changed but this one has to change. I hope we get to a generation where kids will run away from a leaked paper not because of the possible punishment if caught but because they cannot imagine themselves stooping to become a cheat.
Let’s not raise Dr. Grace Mugabe and Professor Levi Nyagura (am not a fan of his) to a standard we have not taught our kids to be. To a standard we don’t hold ourselves.