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Jul 04, 2014

First pilot of electronic marking in Africa sees growing take-up, as Zimbabwe School Examinations Council increases speed of delivery and accuracy using DRS e-Marker® technology

June 2014 - Zimbabwe School Examinations are to be increasingly marked electronically, following a successful trial in 2010. The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) launched the electronic marking scheme in June 2011, a move that saw them become the first country in Africa to use e-marking for public examinations. 80,000 O-level exam scripts were scanned for certain core subjects like Mathematics and Integrated Science in June 2011 rising to 600,000 scripts for additional subjects including accounting, physics and chemistry in November 2013. Over 1,500 trained markers have been using the new technology, provided by UK specialists DRS Data Services, to mark a growing number of papers on screen, rather than by hand  as was previously the case.

 “Before, the old conveyor belt system (of manual marking) took 12 to 14 days per subject,” said John Maramba, the Deputy Director at ZIMSEC. “With DRS e-Marker, it takes just 3 to 4 days per subject.”

ZIMSEC acknowledged that speed of delivery of exam results was one advantage for adopting electronic marking, but that raising marking standards was the primary objective.

The DRS software is designed to flag up concerns if ever a marker tries to give more or less marks than those expected and also eases the burden of adding the marks manually as it automatically adds and sends the final marks to the database within seconds, eliminating arithmetic errors as well.

“If a marker does not improve their scoring accuracy, the system closes them out,” said Esau Nhandara, Director at ZIMSEC.

Thanks to the improved accuracy of the e-Marker® system, the need for grade reviews is no longer necessary for maths and science syllabuses. Speed of delivery has also meant that November exam results are now typically being delivered in January, whereas in previous years, it sometimes wasn’t until May as was the case in 2008.

Another benefit is reducing costs. Given the significant time savings, ZIMSEC estimates savings of up to $30,000 a day from labour costs alone. Further cost savings are anticipated as the new system becomes more embedded and improvements in the IT infrastructure are realised. Markers will also eventually be able to mark scripts securely from any location and will not be limited by having to attend a centralised marking facility.

ZIMSEC is increasing the number of scripts marked electronically as it adds more and more subjects.   This year, two more large papers for both English Language and Maths will be added. This will see the number of scripts scanned in June rise to 150,000, and over a million in November, representing 50% of all the marked scripts.

The current shift towards e-marking follows widespread adoption in other countries, like the UK, where up to two-thirds of exams are being marked electronically, according to a 2013 UK government report by Ofqual.