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On the JCE exams

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It is said that people who do not know their history are mostly likely to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers. I remembered this observation when last week, while listening to a radio programme, I heard the voice of the Livingstonia Education Secretary. He was expressing surprise that the government had decided to abolish the Junior Certificate exam without consulting stakeholders like his synod.

A spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology defended the decision by saying that neighbouring countries do not conduct the Junior Certificate examination. Besides, he went on to say the Junior Certificate is no longer of any value because a holder cannot find a job with a mere JC. Today every student must proceed from Standard One to MSCE which is the minimum for employment, he said.

The Livingstonia Synod spokesperson was justified to express surprise at the government’s unilateral decision on the Junior Certificate exam.

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In the pas t whenever important consideration arose about the education system of this country key private provide r s we r e always consulted either by the government or visiting commissions from abroad.

The Livingstonia Synod has a unique place in the history of education in this country. It was its progenitor the Free Church of Scotland that introduced modern education in 1875 when it opened a school at Cape Maclear in Mangochi.

The success of the Free Church encouraged its sister denominations, the Church of Scotland (Blantyre Synod) and Dutch Reformed Church (Nkhoma Synod) to come here and open their own missions. By the beginning of the 20th century missions of other denominations were operating in several parts of the country except the Northern Region where the Free Church was the only one in residence.

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The systems that the mission introduced were divided into stages. Classes 1 to 4 introduced pupils to literacy. They were thoroughly taught in their mother tongue to enable them to r e a d t h e Bi b l e and sing hymns. Each year pupils were examined to determine those who should go to next class. No one would be promoted from class 1 to 2 who did not master the alphabet and could not count in English up to a hundred. The last examination on class 4 qualified pupils to start Standard One.

In Standard one, students started learning English. Every year there was an exam to determine who should be allowed to proceed to the next standard. The last exam at standard six was first conducted by the mission itself but later it was a government exam.

Those who passed standard six enrolled for vacation at courses such as teaching, medical and commercial courses. Others just picked up jobs in the government or the commercial sector.

The Ministry of Education spokesperson gave the impression that a JC school leaver is incapable of getting employed in a responsible position. History does not support that view. At the time of getting independence in 1964 there were about 30 graduates in the country out of 4 million people, most of them engaged in teaching. The first person to be promoted into principal secretary in the civil service had B.A degree. They did not last in their positions.

Three JCE administrators we r e next promoted t o principal secretaries. They all remained long in their positions. One of them did so well that President H. Kamuzu Banda made him Secretary and Cabinet alias Chief Secretary and Head of the civil service. He remained in his position for about 10 years, a rare achievement those days.

Memories are short or history is not taught in full. In abolishing the JCE exam the government is just repeating what it did about 50 years ago. The first members of the cabinet were young men with a mission to fulfill. These were Henry Chipembere, Dunduzu Chisiza and Kanyama Chiume. The first portfolio of Minister of Education was M.W Kanyama Chiume. Educated in Tanzania and Uganda it was Chiume who introduced standard one in place of substandard A and B. This is how the system of primary school started with standard one and ending with standard eight started.

At the same time he got President H. Kamuzu Banda to phase out the JCE exam. Up to about the 1970s there were no JC exams. I stand to be corrected on actual dates.

The JCE exams were reinstated when it was discovered that students were not taking their studies seriously till the approach of the MSCE exam. Many of them showed too much ignorance.

The reintroduction of the JCE exam was announced in parliament with a denunciation of the rebel Kanyama who said to have abolished the exam to gain popularity for himself. Actually he was only following East African practices.

Those who have abolished the JCE exam have been motivated mostly by the desire to minimise exam expenses. They would be advised to do research into why the exam had to be reintroduced. One reason I remember was the inconvenience felt by those who had given up at JC and had no document to show that they had gone beyond the Primary School certificate.

In the white collar job market there are petty vocations which JC people are doing quite well and at which MSCE ones would be over qualified. Those engaged in small businesses rarely need MSCE employees. For shop assistant, taxi driver or junior primary school teachers a JC will perform just as well as an MSCE and at a lower salary.

The last word is: haste slowly, learn from your own experience not just the experiences of others.

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