Wednesday, July 24, 2024
In DepthShut out of graduation, trapped outside gates

Shut out of graduation, trapped outside gates

Joy and uncertainty hang in the air as students prepare to walk across the graduation stage.

Dressed in their finest clothes, soon-to-be graduates laugh and snap photos, savoring the moment before entering the working world. They hurry between offices, clutching documents to complete the final steps before crossing the finish line.

But amid the excitement, two accounting majors stand unsure at the school gates. Muluken Tesfaye and Metasebia Mesfin stare through St. Mary’s University gates in the capital city, worried about how they’ll fare after scoring the lowest on the nation-wide exit exam administered by the Ministry of Education.

“I don’t know what the future holds for us,” says Metasebia. While she understands the need for the exam, she questions whether it’s fair for her academic career to hinge on a single test.

As students celebrate and worry in equal measure, uncertainty and hope walk hand-in-hand across campus on this day of pomp and possibility.

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The exam results reflect the experiences of thousands of university graduates whose fates now hang in the balance.

The national exam revealed disparities between public and private institutions, with private school graduates underperforming and dragging down the average passing rate.

Of 62,000 private students, only 17.2 percent achieved a passing score. However, of the approximately 150,000 public universities’ students who took the exam, 40.6 percent passed, and 62.3 percent received passing grades.

Until last year, exit exams were only required for law and medical graduates in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Bar Exam tests legal knowledge while the Medical Licensing Exam ensures medical competency. Passing these exams allows graduates to practice their professions.

But now, following the appointment of Minister Berhanu Nega (Prof), exit exams have been expanded to all university subjects. The goal is to increase quality of Ethiopian education.

The decree has been issued: all must take the test, pass the test, and prove their worth.

Muluken sits in waiting, his future a question mark. The exam was a blur, inadequate preparation for such determinism. “All my hopes hinged on one test,” he says, “and now I must live with the result.” Doubt clouds his smile like rain.

For Kirubel, the sun shines still. “Hard work pays off,” he beams, though concern shadows his joy. “A student’s worth should not depend on one test alone.”

For the Ministry, it is a test to sift the worthy from the unworthy and determine who may move forward or who must remain behind.

Muluken’s doubt spreads, consuming his dreams. The Ministry’s decree demands results, not reasons. He watches joyful graduates move past the gates while he remains outside, beyond, his future still undefined.

Muluken is among students at St. Mary’s University who are expressing outrage after scores from the national university exit exam reveal shocking failure rates in the accounting and finance department.

While over 75 percent of students at the university passed the nationwide exam, a paltry But undisclosed percent of accounting and finance students received passing marks.

“The results are unacceptable,” said Tedela Haile, executive vice president of the university. “The department’s result is incorrect,” he told The Reporter newspaper, claiming the exam questions did not match the outlined course material.

Tedela has demanded the Ministry review the exam results, saying the discrepancies unfairly penalized students.

Students agree, claiming they were given one set of guidelines to study but faced completely different questions on the test.

“Many were forced to fill out answers randomly,” said one frustrated student.

Tedela vowed the university community won’t stand for the failures, saying “The blueprint issued before the exam and the areas covered in the questions were not similar. The Ministry needs to review the evaluation and outcomes.”

Despite student complaints about issues with the national university exit exam, Education Ministry officials defended the results and procedures, saying only a “few institutions” experienced “minor” problems.

Shut out of graduation, trapped outside gates | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

In a speech, the State Minister, Samuel Kifle (PhD), indicated students had mock exam trials to practice the system. Those who failed the test can retake it within six months, the Minister said.

Amelework Hezekiel, communications director of the Education Ministry, agreed with the Minister, stating students can retake the exam an “unlimited” number of times during the six-month period.

“Students will be offered supplementary exams due to the given period,” she said.

While offering retest chances, Amelework made it clear that those who haven’t passed the exam “will not be eligible for any form of employment.”

She insisted the Ministry will provide opportunities for improvement “without compromising the integrity of the original exam.”

In stark terms, the Ministry warned higher education institutions that granting degrees to students who failed the exam would be considered illegitimate, and legal action could follow.

“Passing the exam is mandatory for awarding degrees,” Amelework asserted.

The Ministry’s new exit exam mandate aims to ensure higher education institutions maintain quality standards by providing a benchmark for evaluating student learning outcomes across Ethiopia.

The Ministry hopes the exam will incentivize behavioral change, discouraging widespread testing dishonesty and encouraging students to do their own work.

While Metasebia recognizes the importance of exit exams, it is unclear if she will apply for a retest as a failed candidate. She blames ministry-wide exam policies for her poor results, welcoming the second chance opportunity.

“I can’t wait to get retested,” she said fiercely. “It would be a chance to prove my doubters wrong.”

For currently enrolled students sitting for the upcoming exit exam, the next testing window opens in January or February – allowing candidate’s time to strategize and adjust study tactics based on previous rounds of exams.

Despite the second chance still being available for students, experts question whether springing the test on students after four years of university study will achieve that goal.

“Applying exit exams after students spent all these years is not fair,” said Getachew Asfaw, a former national economic planner and policy expert.

Shut out of graduation, trapped outside gates | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

He argued Ethiopia’s grade 10 exam, which screened students for academic or vocational training, was more effective at determining student aptitude early on. “This system has to be revised,” Getachew insisted.

Mulatu Gemechu, an opposition politician, agreed that “one exam cannot determine four years of a student’s sweat.”

“It is a waste of resources for both the government and the students themselves,” he added.

The Ministry, however, insists the new exam is meant to ensure graduates meet the learning objectives, but both Mulatu and Getachew suggest interventions earlier in students’ academic careers – like robust grade 10 screenings – would be more effective than an “after the fact” exit exam sprung on unsuspecting final year students.

They argue earlier checks would identify struggling students sooner, allowing corrective measures to steer them on the right course over the following years, rather than hoping a single, high-stakes exam at the end of university somehow “saves” unprepared graduates.

Amidst debates regarding the application of exit exams and how national exams ought to be administered, Muluken and Metasebia wait outside the gates, unable to graduate as their futures remain undecided.

The Ministry’s directive demands outcomes, leaving no room for nuance or discussion. One thing is clear – Metasebia once pinned her hopes on a single test result. Now, she must cope with the consequences.

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