At issue in both Berlin and Brussels is whether or not Africa can be allowed latitude to conduct trade, industrial and development policies for its own development or for the development of Europe.
Over the years, several universities in Southern Africa have introduced “second opportunity examinations”, which offer a blanket choice to students to either write their examinations when they are supposed to be written, or buy time and write them later on. MOSES MAGADZA examines the merits and demerits of this policy innovation.
In the past, for most universities in Southern Africa, there was provision for only two sets of university examinations.
These were the main examinations administered at the end of each semester, and supplementary examinations, which catered for students who failed marginally in the main examinations as well as for those who could not write the main examination because of a variety of problems like loss of a parent, child and doctor-certified inability to write.
Supplementary examinations were applicable to students who failed the main examinations so marginally as to warrant a re-sit.
This was meant to be a way of enabling the examiners to make a final decision as to whether or not a student could be allowed to proceed to the next level of the programme, or be asked to repeat the course.
In the worst case scenario, a student could be advised to drop the course – or entire programme – completely and re-apply after a set period of time.
These examinations were administered and their results were made available before the beginning of the next semester, so that the students involved could know whether or not they had passed.
This was a noble examination arrangement, which is applied in many internationally-recognised institutions of higher learning on the African continent and across the world.
However, some universities have started to adopt a more relaxed policy towards examinations.
In some institutions, students are now allowed to progress to the next year of study in their programmes while carrying fail(s) in some courses.
This allows students of year two, three or four to keep repeating courses that they had failed in earlier years, even in the first year of study.
The standard has been that progression to the next level is examination-based.
Welcome to the world of “second opportunity” exams.
Initially, second opportunity examinations were administered before the beginning of the next semester, so that those who had failed would know which courses to register for the following year or semester as the case may be.
Currently, second opportunity examinations and supplementary examinations in some universities are written in January of the following year for both second and supplementary examination candidates.
These examinations cover both first semester examinations written in May/June and second semester exams written in October/November.
Those students who write the main examinations in June must be feeling short-changed when they have to write their supplementary examinations in January of the following year, six months later!
Some people argue that these examinations now encourage a care-free attitude among students.
A student who was ready to write a first opportunity exam simply opts out of the exam because he/she realises that he/she stayed too long at a nightclub the previous night.
The student knows that he/she can simply write that exam later when they are better prepared.
Is this what a second opportunity chance is supposed to be for?
If so, then what is the meaning of a supplementary exam, which is for people who attempted the main examination under different circumstances and only managed to qualify for supplementary examinations?
Surely, some students are being short-changed here!
There must be the genuine hardworking students who are ready to confront first opportunity examinations under trying circumstances, without shying away from the examinations because of the availability of a second opportunity.
It can be argued that the fact that second opportunity examinations are offered indiscriminately to students in some universities, irrespective of the reasons why they cannot write the main examinations encourages laziness among students and irresponsible behaviour.
There is nothing to encourage students to study for the first opportunity exams and they can proceed with their studies at a slower pace.
This cannot be a hallmark of academic excellence, which is what institutions of higher learning are supposed to stand for.
Secondly, the knowledge that some students have that there is always a chance to write a second opportunity examination even if one has no good reason to miss the first opportunity examination encourages speculative students to wait and see what questions come in the first opportunity examination.
They then use this as a study benchmark for the second opportunity exams.
This must put lecturers in a very difficult situation.
What has been taught within a semester is in conformity with a course outline, which spells out the specific topics to be covered.
From some of these topics, it is not easy to formulate more than one question, without going beyond the topic.
Some universities’ requirements of a second opportunity paper are a case in point.
Furthermore, second opportunity examinations create the tendency among speculative students to consult those who wrote and passed the first opportunity examinations very well on how they could approach the second opportunity examinations.
This gives undue advantage to those who write second opportunity examinations.
The position I have taken is that there are policy changes, which add to the value of an academic institution, and other changes, which retard or draw an institution downwards.
Resources such as time from invigilators, lecturers in practical examinations, technicians and examination officers that second opportunity examinations consume are disproportionate to their perceived advantages, such examinations should be seriously reconsidered.
Let us retain supplementary examinations written before the next semester begins, and people who fail supplementary examinations have to repeat the modules they have failed.
This will add credibility to the standards that some universities in southern Africa claim to uphold.
Moses Magadza holds qualifications in journalism and education and is pursuing postgraduate studies. He writes in his personal capacity.