CPE report ‘spills the beans’ on South Sudan’s ailing education sector

CPE report ‘spills the beans’ on South Sudan’s ailing education sector
Minister of Education Awut Deng Acuil. Photo: Presidential Press]

The 2021 Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) Report has painted a picture of an ailing education sector in the country that will require intense intervention by the government and non-state actors.

From outright exam malpractices in some examination centres, questions set from text books not used in South Sudanese education syllabus, to primary eight teachers who lack basic concepts like composition writing and ‘unqualified’ teachers engaged in the examinations marking exercise – the report paints a picture of a sector that need urgent resuscitation for posterity.

On Friday, education stakeholders met at the Crown Hotel to receive the 2021 Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) Report. In his opening statement, the National Examinations Council (NEC) Secretary General Simon Nyok Ndeng admitted that the passage through the demanding stages of examinations management had not been easy.

“However, due to the determination and commitment of the team at the Secretariat, coupled with your (Chairman’s) decisive leadership… we have made it possible,” read Deng’s report.

He went ahead to enumerate some of the challenges that the Secretariat encountered during the critical stages of examination management such as mobility and delay in releasing funds from the Finance and Planning ministry.

“Due to the security situation in the country coupled with floods in most areas, the Secretariat still transports examination materials to the states by air which is very costly. Other than that, there is low capacity of examinations personnel. The Secretariat has inadequate number of technical staff and the general manpower to perform the duties of the Secretariat,” read his statement in part.

Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room no doubt is the quality of education the present infrastructure supports, particularly with focus on public schools.

In the Examinations Analysis Reports – 2021 seen by The City Review, in English scripts for instance, teachers in the field were not involved in the setting of examinations. What is most strange is that most wrong answers in English were marked correct and correct answers marked wrong.

“Also (English) teachers should be given responsibility of checking papers after marking because they know what to check,” reads the recommendations in part.

The report also recommends that primary eight teachers undergo refresher courses or workshops because most lack some basic concepts like composition writing, summary writing and reading skills.

“Most of the questions were not set from the South Sudanese syllabus books,” reads the report.

Regarding Christian Religious Education (CRE), the panel discovered that some centers seem to have cheated the examinations because in some scripts the candidates were failing the same questions while passing the same questions all through the paper.

“Most candidates had very low capacities in providing explanations. So it is important for the teachers to encourage essay writing other than providing objectives during class lessons. Examiners should select questions from wider range of topics. In this paper, the examiners concentrated mainly on two topics: Jesus Christ and The Creation,” the report reads in part.

Social studies passed

Findings in the administration of Mathematics were dumfounding. For instance, most of the candidates were unable to recall the formula of Pi (π). They were only cramming it, therefore 52.3% failed. Teachers were encouraged to have fortnight revision tests to make learners get used to the formulae of specific topics.

The panel noted in its report that it was not all gloom with regards to performance in 2021 CPE. The Social Studies paper was successfully passed, and there were no indications that the learners experienced difficulties in answering the questions.

Despites this remarkable achievement which defies all the odds because they needed to answer the questions in English which had serious performance issues, the panel notes in the report that examiners should use wider range of examination items for setting questions especially the syllabus of lower classes.

“The supervisors should be keen enough during examination supervision to avoid candidates helping each other in examination room. The markers should be briefed and supervised on marking criteria such as shaping of good and wrong, use of answer sheets or marking guide,” the report reads in part.

Marking skipped by markers

The panel observed that most of the questions containing diagrams were not answered properly by the candidates. Many candidates failed due to skipping of classes (absenteeism) as well as Covid-19 pandemic, while some markers skipped marking some questions and messing in awarding marks obtained by the candidate.

“The school administrations should stem absenteeism to avoid dismal performance in the examination. The national examination should bring qualified teachers from the field for marking to avoid messing during marking,” read the report.

The 2021 CPE Examinations were conducted between February 14, 2022 and February 18, 2022. A total of 54,361 candidates registered for the examinations. However, only 49,541 candidates (29,173 boys and 20,398 girls) sat for the examinations.

NEC Secretary General however says that it should not be all gloom, as 2021 CPE examinations registered quite a number of significant achievements including successful setting, typesetting, moderation, printing, transportation and administration of the examinations.

Examinations security

“We successfully outsourced printing of exams, which greatly enhanced examination security and quality control. Other than that, we also managed to conduct the exams on the schedule despite Covid-19 health crisis and economic hardship in the country,” he said.

He further added that the Secretariat stationed monitors to oversee the conduct of examinations in the states and administrative areas successfully.