Government officers and executives have to take personal pride in finding solutions to problems just the same way as corporate executives should feel pride when they solve market or operational problems strictly through hard thinking.
Even if there is no market incentive in government, the incentive of simply becoming more efficient at exercising one’s brain should inspire someone to think hard about cracking the problems faced by their institutions, no matter what kind it is. Humans are simply designed to derive the highest satisfaction and pleasure from this process, perhaps because they are the only animal with a thinking capacity.
In this article, I want to give another practical example of a problem that I think could be solved creatively. My aim in demonstrating this is simply to show those who are willing to change their way of work that this process is easier than they think — if they can simply practice it habitually. I should also warn that my suggestions here may be very wrong — it is sometimes much easier to give solutions from outside because one doesn’t know some of the obstacles faced by those inside. But even if I am very wrong, I hope that the point will be made that solutions to apparently intractable problems can always be found by taking a different approach to work — from simply going through the usual routines to breaking into new answers.
There has been a lot of talk in Zambia about the huge problem of examination leakages in our secondary schools and how this problem has apparently escaped government efforts to combat it. Officials in the ministry of education concerned with this have been sending many messages to the public and to school kids to try to convince them that such dishonest practices are bad for the country.
But the problem has not been reducing; in some places it is even getting worse. There are now many kids with very good grade twelve results (including the famous “six points”) which was almost unheard of some years ago. Many of these good results are clearly a result of cheating through the same leaked exam questions, but it is difficult to prove in any particular case. And when these kids go to the university, they simply get into those courses in the humanities which are easy to sail through because of their highly subjective nature (the sort of subjects in which the lecturer says there is no right answer!); or they continue with their habit of cheating by just bribing some lecturers (that’s the rumour anyway). The big social cost comes when such kids graduate from the university and are unleashed on the Zambian workforce — they have to start making important decisions in government or other organizations.
Some of the kids who were smarter but too honest (or too poor) to buy the leaked examination papers have to just helplessly watch as they see their dumb friends take their places at the university of Zambia and other institutions of higher learning.
So, why aren’t the messages about “the dangers of cheating” being sent out by government not working? Should they continue sending the same messages every year in the hope that one day the kids will listen and stop buying these leaked papers?
When an organization has not cultivated a system of innovative thinking, the only choice they have is to continue doing the same thing over and over again, to continue thinking in a linear way and to just throw more money at the problem.
But what if they tried to think just a little differently?
What would happen if, for example, the Ministry of Education told the University of Zambia to have special entry tests for all the first years? These could just be high school level tests in all the general subjects taken by all the students in high school. If someone fails these tests, they are simply rejected and someone on the waiting list is called to try (a different set of similar level tests).
What this means is that the pupils in the twelfth grade will have no incentive for cheating their way past the grade 12 exams. They will know that even if they pass well at grade 12, they will still have to write some other test which they know nothing about before they could be accepted into the university.
The main advantage of this entry exam is that it is almost possible for it to be leaked, because it’s much easier to manage the tests in one institution compared to tests going all over the country.
The administration can sit down to discuss what sorts of questions should be in there. To make it easier for them (since they have to do this every year), they could probably just compile random questions from different grade 12 papers over the last twenty years or so. Even a computer program can easily compile such questions through a random algorithm, selecting the questions from a huge database of questions going back over many years.
I am sure that the kids would have no incentive to cheat in grade 12 especially given the shame they would feel if they fail to be accepted into UNZA after getting six points! But even if there were kids who would still cheat, it won’t matter because this won’t take them anywhere: the university places will be taken up by the best kids.