Stories by KAYODE AJIBOYE
It is no longer news that various kinds and shades of examination malpractices have become common sight in learning institutions that are regarded as sin qua non for educational advancement, respectability and personal fulfillment. Prominent among such prerequisite exams is the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
Another is the one conducted by the National Examination Council (NECO), which is generally taken for a soothing balm or a walking stick for candidates who must have been wounded by the blind bullet of merciless Baba Yaba (WAEC’s SSCE is usually adored among its candidates). There is also the commerce and technical-slanted National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB).
A good composite grade in any of the mentioned examinations or in some non competitive cases, a combination of two of them is a sacrosanct requirement for anybody who aspires to become anything respectable educationally in life.
For the fact that examinations conducted by these bodies remain the only one-way bridge that must be crossed to the destination of academic success, most candidates, even with the unfortunate cooperation of their parents and wards, have resorted to cutting corners; determined to make it at all costs.
Some stakeholders in education observe that exam malpractices are loudly pronounced among private schools and their examination centres; noting that the rage of malpractice at the Ordinary Level (`O’ Level) examinations across the country, particularly in private schools, is alarming dimension.
The reason for the worrisome rage of examination fraud in the private schools is not far-fetched. Proprietors charge blood-sapping school fees which expectedly, must be justified by the quality of results brought home by candidates to their parents who pay through their noses in assured anticipation of brilliant success in the career-determining examinations.
It has become an open secret in Nigeria that some proprietors lure candidates with promises of advantageous seating arrangements in “miracle centres’’, use of mercenaries and leakage of examination papers, among others. In some cases, schools have been noted to be in the habit of wooing candidates by producing fake continuous assessment results to meet up with the requirements of the examination bodies.
Such practices are not common in public schools. Meanwhile, it is not that administrators of public schools are saintly but for the simple fact that teachers are far less committed to the success of students given the notion usually held among the generality of public school teachers that Oga ta, oga o ta, owo alaru a pe (meaning that no matter the quality of results being obtained by students in the important examinations, it does not affect teachers’ salaries) .Such public school teachers also believe that there is no need to stress themselves over the performance of their students in the exams since after all, ‘another person’s child is not expected to kill somebody else’s mother’. This is the sorry picture of our public school teaching and administrative mentality.
However, the Examination Malpractices Act No. 33 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates a minimum punishment of N50, 000 and a maximum of five years imprisonment without the option of fine for violators of offences stipulated in the Act.
Some of the offences listed in the Act include cheating during examination, stealing question papers, impersonation, disturbances at examination, obstruction of supervision, forgery of result slip, breach of duty, conspiracy and aiding.
Observers note that in spite of the additional punitive measures against offenders put in place by public examination bodies such as WAEC, NECO and NABTEB, many private schools still appear undeterred.
However, Mr Goddy Njoku, an educationist, observed that NECO had always tried its best in terms of punitive measures against perpetrators of examination malpractice.
“In September, 2012, the then registrar of NECO announced the blacklisting of 13 secondary schools in the country for alleged involvement in malpractice in June/July examinations,’’ he said.
Njoku, however, said that such measures needed to be strengthened and enforced to yield the desired result.
He said there was need for examination bodies to strengthen their investigation; invigilation and monitoring of schools to have the desired impact.
“A situation where they appear handicapped in having the requisite number of invigilators to cover a wider area network cannot help in winning the war. I know there are relevant legislations aimed at tackling examination malpractices but the perpetrators are not deterred.
“I am of the opinion that the examination bodies should review the guidelines for approving examination centres for private schools. A situation where approval of examination centres for private schools has become all comers’ affair does not speak well for the integrity of the process,’’ he said.
But Prof. Abdulrashid Garba, Registrar of NECO, said that the council had been making efforts at sanitising the examination process by evaluating the performances of private schools in the conduct of NECO examinations.
He said overhauling the process of accrediting examination centres would eliminate the questionable ones and ensure that only those with proven integrity were retained as examination centres. According to him, the present management is working to restore public confidence in the ability of NECO to deliver on its mandate and fight examination malpractices.
“Our nation is under threat and until this cancer is addressed, tackling all other corrupt practices in other sector of the economy will not be that easy. Unfortunately some people support it because they make their living through it and therefore they see no wrong in encouraging it.
“When your children request that you should give them money to enable them pass examinations, then you should suspect malpractice,’’ he said.
Another educationist however has insisted that WAEC, NECO and NABTEB must purge themselves of corrupt officials for the war against examination malpractices to be effective; maintaining that curbing examination irregularities should go beyond mere determination to punish offender schools but the focus should also be on colluding staff.
“Any member of staff of these bodies involved in cheating should be dealt with according to extant laws. It will be very difficult for school owners, students and wards to plan examination cheating successfully if there are not accomplices in the regulatory bodies,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, , Mr Charles Eguridu, who just retired as Head of National Office of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), warned that all centres and candidates caught in malpractice would be investigated and prosecuted.
“When we discover candidates who are involved in examination malpractices, we have the power to withhold their results and carry out investigation. When we investigate and confirm that they were involved in any form of malpractices, the results of that subject could be cancelled, the entire results could be cancelled and the centre can be de-recognised,’’ he emphasised.
Eguridu said the council had introduced advanced technology which captured candidate’s biometric data at the point of registration.
“These features are uploaded into a handheld device at the centre and like the card reader does, we verify that it is the candidate that writes the examination,’’ he said.
The former WAEC top notch said that the technology would go a long way in making results of examinations conducted by the council more credible.
Chatting with Champion Scholar earlier on the state of education in the country, Eguridu had charged the government to stop paying lip service to matters concerning education.
The Delta State-born former WAEC top notch said it was high time governments at all tiers in the country sat up to their duties by giving education the right dose of priority attention which the sector deserves in all ramifications.
Speaking from the experience he had garnered over the years through his oversight role in all examinations conducted in the country as head of the Nigerian office of the Council that remains the most credible official examiner of the West African sub region, Eguridu observed that government and its relevant officials needed to do much more to create more enabling environment towards improving the standard of education in the country.
The UNILAG-trained psychologist bemoaned a situation whereby there are very few qualified teachers who are expected to build solid academic foundation for the future of children in their care.
He also observed that in many schools, there were no libraries, science laboratories, chairs and desks; adding that there were even no adequate classrooms in most schools.
“Nigerian governments, not only the federal government, should stop paying lip service to education. There are not enough qualified teachers in charge of the students whereas you can’t give what you don’t have. No library, no laboratories; no chairs and desks; not even adequate classrooms. In fact, quite a lot still needs to be done by governments to improve the standard of education in this country”; Eguridu observed.
Eguridu whose tenure as WAEC boss in Nigeria expired last week, noted that corruption which had become endemic in the blood of an average Nigerian was the main reason why parents would deliberately pay for the so-called special centre where they erroneously believe that the success of their children would be guaranteed no matter how ill-prepared such candidates could be.
He however, debunked the notion that corruption was exclusive to Nigeria; noting that it was a global phenomenon but cautioned that it should not be allowed to go continue unabated.
‘“Corruption is a global phenomenon. Even in America, Europe and other lands, there are corrupt public officials but that is not to say that we allow corruption and impunity to rage on unabated in our country. We should join hands to curb it.