Afghan Ministry of Education Conducts A Flawless Entrance Examination, Free of Corruption

NIMA students listening to the Orientation given by IP Experts before examination

Afghan Ministry of Education Conducts A Flawless Entrance Examination, Free of Corruption

  • Afghan technical institute eliminates manipulation in the admissions process
  • NIMA takes first step toward becoming first TVET institution to earn international accreditation
  • IP proposes an integrated administrative structure, eliminating conflict between government and World Bank project administrators
  • NIMA launches a Refresher Course to raise English language proficiency of its students

On January 17, 2014, more than 1,800 young men and women from across Afghanistan came to Kabul to stand for an examination to determine their eligibility to enter the National Institute of Management and Administration (NIMA).  They were competing for fewer than 300 seats in the entering class.  Although previous entrance examinations suffered many problems that tainted the selection process, this year’s event was universally praised for its efficiency, fairness, and integrity.   Many players contributed to the success of the examination–a model of cooperation between Afghan educators and foreign experts.

The World Bank made a grant to the Afghan Ministry of Education in 2008 to support establishment of a two-year management institute to train young people to contribute to the development of Afghanistan.  The Bank found that the private sector of the economy was hampered by the lack of skilled managers, accountants and information technology specialists.  In 2013 the Ministry of Education awarded a contract under its World Bank grant to an American institution of higher education, Ball State University, located in Muncie, Indiana, to provide consultancy services to assist NIMA in certifying its graduates as meeting international standards and in obtaining accreditation from an internationally recognized body.  On February 11, 2014, NIMA received notification from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), an international accrediting body, that NIMA’s application for candidacy status had been approved and that a certificate of candidacy will be presented to NIMA at ACBSP’s Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois, on June 28, 2014.  Candidacy status is the first stage of the accreditation process. NIMA will be the first public TVET institute to have accreditation from an international body.

One of the International Partner’s responsibilities is to improve the process by which students are admitted to NIMA.  Previous admissions were marred by lack of transparency, political interference, nepotism and allegations of corruption.  Because many unprepared high school graduates were admitted, more than half the entering class dropped out before completing their diploma and teachers were put under pressure to pass students who received failing marks.

Working closely with the institute’s Afghan administrators paid by the World Bank’s Afghanistan Skills Development Project (ASDP) and those employed by the Ministry of Education, Ball State’s team of international experts and local office staff designed an examination process of which the government could be proud.  The International Partner hired one of Ball State University’s Accounting Department professors to design the entrance examination. The 20-question test was modeled after entry level math exams given by technical institutes in the United States and other developed countries.  Also, the questions were written using terms and monetary values familiar to Afghan students.  Ball State’s Examination System Expert, decided that the questions should consist of mathematics word problems so that the exam would test the applicant’s knowledge of both English and math, skills needed to complete NIMA’s English language curriculum.

Ball State maintained strict security over the exam papers.  Only  Ball State’s examination experts saw the final form of the exam questions before the papers were shipped to Afghanistan, where they were kept under strict supervision at all times.   The government and project NIMA administrators advertised that the institute was accepting applications and distributed the registration forms to those who expressed a desire to take the entrance test.  They then delivered the completed forms to the Ball State team to develop the database for interested candidates in the institutes with their profile.

A group of designated local administrators and BSU officials orchestrated every aspect of the testing.  With the help of the Deputy Ministry for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, more than 50 invigilators were selected, mostly teachers at NIMA and other technical institutes in Kabul, to proctor the exam.  On the day training for the invigilators was also administered by the BSU officials.   Each was given a copy of the student and invigilator codes of conduct.  Because there was not enough space at NIMA to accommodate 1,800 test takers, permission was obtained to use classrooms in two nearby technical institutes.

One senior faculty member was assigned to each building.  At 9 AM these block supervisors went to Ball State’s office on campus and collected the exam papers in sealed envelopes.  They were responsible for ensuring that each invigilator distributed the exam papers at the same time and collected them from the students after exactly one hour.  The envelopes were organized in stacks of 25, with the room number indicated for each set.  To discourage cheating, two versions of the test were distributed in each classroom.  When time was up, each completed exam paper was placed back into an individual, sealed envelope.  The senior faculty collected all envelopes and returned them to BSU’s office.

During the next eight days Ball State officials opened each envelope and checked every test against the attendance sheet, Afghan national identification number and exam registration slip.  They found four abnormalities, three of which led to the paper being disqualified.  One envelope was missing and this person was allowed to retake the exam.  At the conclusion of this process, all test papers were mailed back to the United States, where they were graded by a team of experts.  Applicants were then ranked in descending order based on their score.  Because NIMA’s mandate says it should enroll students from all 34 provinces and that at least 30 percent of the student body should be female, 10-point weights were added to the scores of females and those who graduated from a high school outside Kabul.  As a result, 227 test takers achieved the minimum passing score of 60 percent and were admitted to NIMA.

This entirely transparent selection process allowed the Ministry of Education to inform the nation that it had operated an entrance examination to one of its higher education institutes completely free of manipulation and that students had been admitted to NIMA who had a reasonable chance of completing their diploma.  This remarkable achievement in a country where allegations of corrupt practices are common is a model of what is possible and a testament to the desire of Afghan government officials to build a merit-based system of selection for its educational institutions. Also add a line and two on transfer of this system building to the local administrators and faculty for continuing excellence in NIMA. And how IP is assisting in hand holding the locals in undergoing these standardized academic practices so after IP assignment ends they are able to remain accredited by the above mentioned agency.

Ball State University has recommended to DMTVET that the current parallel administrative structures, one reporting to the Ministry of Education and one to the ASDP, be replaced by a single administrative hierarchy, headed by a government employee.  The achievement of an integrated management structure will require intensive capacity building by Ball State over a one-year period and will result in significant improvements in the quality of both the academics and administration of the institute.  The International Partner further recommends that this integrated structure be implemented at all other technical and vocational institutes organized under the Ministry of Education and assisted by the World Bank project.

Ball State, further, with the support of the Bank, has succeeded in recruiting almost 20 new international and local faculty from the United States, Canada, India and Afghanistan to raise the level of instruction, reduce the student/teacher ratio to 20:1, as mandated by National Policy, and provide mentoring to up to 60 Afghan Teacher Trainees, who will be enabled to take full responsibility for instruction at NIMA by 2018.

Many of these highly qualified international and local faculty will be assigned to the new Refresher Course, which, over a one-year period, will raise the level of English proficiency among the students to the point where they can succeed in passing Grade 13 and 14 classes taught in English that meet international standards.  The net effect of these interventions is that NIMA is on its way to becoming a sustainable TVET institute that can make a major contribution to the economic and social development of Afghanistan.