As we wind up the year and prepare for the end of year exams, parents and students are in a frenzy as the final grade determines whether the student will be promoted or not. For the final year candidates the situation is even worse.

Private schools are business entities whose first mandate is to turn a profit. This requires the highest possible pass rate of the students, and leads to many underhand tricks by the time the national exams are done.

A pass rate of over 90 per cent in a school increases demand from parents seeking good quality education for their offspring. It also enables the school to charge the equivalent cost of a kidney transplant in school fees. This pressure causes parents and teachers to engage in all sorts of crazy antics to keep the grades up.

First, we have teachers who, in cahoots with parents, manipulate students’ marks throughout the academic year. There are those who started the habit in university, exchanging sex for marks, others simply pay off the teacher. Throughout the year, students are given continuous assessment tests (CATs), which help determine the stream the student will be placed in depending on their performance.

Low grades can cause a student to be held back a year or to be placed in the ‘slow learners’ class. There are those parents who have a word with the teacher and some money changes hands, such that the student’s marks are changed to reflect a first-grade pass.

The ones who amuse me are the fathers who specialise in offering the teachers “away games” during school hours, so that their children get good pass marks regardless of performance.

Shady practices

These antics cause both students and parents to slumber throughout the year, deluding themselves that a first-grade pass is in the offing come the national exams. This delusion comes to a crashing end when the national exam results are released and the student has a less than average score.

For the rest who are unable to participate in this circus, the headmaster steps in as the ring master at the final play. On briefing day, the student is given a new school identity card with his picture, a new index number and a different school name. On exam day, he will be driven to another school to sit for his papers.

When the bewildered student complains to his parents about his ordeal, the unapologetic headmaster is quick to point out that the school is a private business where education is seen as competition.

The parent is reminded that this means they only accept students who will get a DIV I or II to use their real names on the examination papers.

There is another crop of parents who have a bright child in a low-standard school, this child is poached in his final year and offered free school fees if he will sit his exams at the private school that needs to boost their grades.

The Ministry of Education and Sports is aware of these shady practices, but simply turn a blind eye as they cannot control how a private entity conducts its business.