Monday, April 8, 2013

Mystery of ‘missing marks’ at universities

ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NGARI

ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NGARI  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MANYUIRA WA WANJA wilsonmanyuira@yahoo.com

It is examination season in most institutions of higher learning across Kenya. But as the potential university and college graduands work hard to ensure that they score impressive grades in their exams, a new worry lurks in their heads. They refer to it as “missing marks”.

This phrase has been coined within university circles to describe a growing trend where a student sits for an examination but does not get the results of some units in time or at all.

Is the problem extensive?

It is, according to a former student of economics and statistics at Moi University, Ms Lydiah Murage. “Cases of students missing results after exams were very rampant,” she says. “But the university always had a way of solving them.”

She was one of those affected. “I didn’t do a re-sit for any of my missing marks, but I eventually got grades for all the units,” she says. Ms Murage graduated three-and-a-half years ago.

Mr Dominic Mucheke, a Second Year veterinary medicine student, claims that a lecturer once gave his class marks randomly after misplacing the students’ examination answer sheets. He adds that several of his friends claim to have had similar experiences.

“I missed marks for three units while doing my undergraduate studies,” says Mr Charles Aketch, an English and literature teacher at Nyamira Girls High School. While he admits that he was to blame for one case after he forgot to write his registration number on the exam sheet, the lecturers, he alleges, were at fault for the other two. He was eventually awarded grades after a lot of back-and-forth with the lecturers.

“It is a very serious problem,” says Ms Anjao Eboi, a lecturer of English and journalism at Mt Kenya University, Kigali campus. “Sometimes some scripts cannot be traced, meaning that a student must re-sit the paper.”

Ms Anjao blames the problem on the high number of students and lack of proper organisation.

“In my days, universities were few and so were the students. Only those who had succeeded at Form Six level were allowed to proceed to university.

Nowadays, anyone with a C+ can enrol. Many campuses and their branches are coming up, probably still managed by the same skeleton staff.”

Mr Aketch agrees. “The huge number of students that lecturers have to contend with, especially in common units, is the major cause,” he suggests.

He also blames poor data entry methods, below-par system technologies that most universities employ to manage data, and human error.

But according to a senior mathematics lecturer at Kenyatta University, Prof S.P. Singh, missing marks are instigated by students. “Why would I fail to award the student his/her marks if I have the results?” he asks.

He gives the example of an incident where a parent came to find out why her son had not been awarded marks, only to be informed that the student had not even registered for the semester.

Recalling that she, too, was a victim, Miss Jerusha Kirigwi, a student at Maseno University, blames the problem on a whole range of factors.

“The causes include misplaced sheets for CAT or exam marks, late submission of results by lecturers for online updating (in the portal where students check results,) and some students failing to write their admission numbers on examination booklets,” she explains.

For Dr Kamau wa Maina of Technical University of Kenya (until recently Kenya Polytechnic University College), the matter is straightforward.

“If it is not the students who are at fault, it is the university’s system that is a nuisance or even lecturer’s negligence,” he says.

His sentiments are supported by Prof John Okumu, the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academics at Kenyatta University.

Scratching his trademark grey hair, Prof Okumu adds that it could be a problem connected to the concerned university’s data management systems.

In many cases, he quickly adds, all results are often ultimately relayed.

“In most cases, the lost scripts are found misplaced somewhere in the examinations office,” says Ms Anjao.

“In very rare cases is a script missing. Where that is the case, the management meets and makes a decision, even if it means a student resitting the paper. It’s a tough decision but it’s better than compromising standards. If the fault lies with a member of staff, disciplinary action is taken,” she explains.

Mr Mucheke says the University of Nairobi put in place measures to address the problem after students protested. They include follow-up forms and an office to address the issue.

An employee in the examination department at Moi University, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says there were once many complaints about missing marks and it was established that the students were to blame.

The university organised to have them educated on proper registration of units and the need to include their registration numbers on the examination sheets.

The lecturers were also advised on the value of timely submission of results. According to the official, the university’s system for relaying results to students is now more robust and secure.

Kenyatta University’s acting registrar academic, Dr Stephen Nyagah, says an internal ad hoc committee was set up to investigate the issue and reported its findings to the university senate.

The investigations found that some of the missing marks were the result of a student having sat for a paper without full registration.

There were also cases of wrong entry of units. The latter was found to have been rampant.

The committee recommended that students be educated on the issues.

“Missing marks are now a thing of the past here,” insists Dr Nyagah.

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