Tuesday, May 20, 2008

WAEC and exam leakage

THE alleged leakage of question papers in the on-going May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) is embarrassing. At a time when it was thought that West African Examination Council (WAEC) had devised appropriate measures to curb leakage of question papers and other forms of examination malpractice, this development only confirms the challenge that examination bodies in Nigeria face, in protecting the integrity of their examinations.

By Friday, May 2, 2008, there had been reports that some WAEC question papers had leaked. This was later confirmed to be true by the Head of National Office of the Council, Dr. Iyi Uwadiae, at a press briefing in Lagos. Announcing the nationwide cancellation of English Paper 1 (Essay), the WAEC boss said: "The action was necessitated by the inability of the examination body to guarantee the integrity of the paper, since the council had good reason to believe that the paper had leaked". It turned out that a bus conveying WAEC question papers had been waylaid by a gang of armed robbers who made away with the question papers.

Unfortunately, since then, there have been reports of leakage of other papers including Biology, Physics and Commerce. A lot has been said about the problem of examination malpractice and the implications for the country's image. It is ridiculous that since 1977 when WAEC recorded the first case of examination leakage, public examinations in the country have continued to face the crisis of malpractice. When question papers do not leak, students in examination halls try to cheat; in the current exam, WAEC has had to ban the use of cell phones at examination centres, having identified these as veritable vehicles for exam fraud. Increasingly, examinations at all levels, including the primary school, are compromised. The reason for this can be traced to the collapse of values in the society, the emphasis on paper qualification, and the desperation of students, and their parents. It is not only WAEC examinations that suffer this fate.

Virtually every examination body in the country is under pressure to protect the integrity of its own processes. Lazy students, negligent parents and outright criminals constitute part of the network of examination fraudsters. In the present case, WAEC cannot rule out the possibility of its own staff entrusted with the management of examinations, colluding with outsiders to compromise the process. It must in seeking solutions, turn its searchlight inwards, and strengthen its operations.

The Examination Council is not only under-equipped; it is over-stretched. Examination papers have to be kept sometimes in the custody of school principals, or hired invigilators. Too many persons including non-staff of WAEC gain access to question papers. Every report of examination leakage must compel WAEC to investigate whatever may have happened. In the case of English Paper 1, armed robbers were involved. But what if the robbers acted on a tip-off? And how about the other question papers that reportedly leaked?

The endemic corruption in the country is what encourages examination fraud. There is growing obsession with short-cuts and unmerited privileges. How can WAEC conduct a hitch-free examination in a country where every election is rigged and, or manipulated? There is a breakdown of order and erosion of values within the system. Adult delinquency is everywhere evident in national life. Should it then be surprising that younger Nigerians are also seeking to enjoy privileges without making any effort?

The same WAEC examinations are conducted in Ghana, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, with little or no controversy. The National Examination Council (NECO) was created a few years ago, to reduce the pressure on WAEC but this has not made much difference. In 1977, reports of a mass leakage of WAEC examination papers had shocked the nation, but these days examination malpractice has become so commonplace. When WAEC is confronted with reports of examination malpractice, it is fond of ordering mass cancellation of papers written at selected centres. This does not solve the problem; it only punishes innocent students.

The challenge before WAEC Nigeria is how to preserve its integrity, but it must respond to examination leakage more objectively. The decision that certain papers be re-written by all students across the nation is perhaps a better way of protecting the innocent from undue punishment. The essence of examination is to rate students and determine their relative ability. What matters is the integrity of whichever method is used and its guaranteed reliability. In some countries, there is greater reliance on continuous assessment.

Given the high rate of corruption and fraud in the country, which has permeated every fabric of the society, we have got to the point where schools may have to assess their students in conjunction with WAEC. In the past, schools were distinguished based on their students' academic performance. The school Mock exam was as reliable as WAEC examination. Why is it difficult for WAEC to isolate the schools and grade them accordingly? There is need for WAEC to reconfigure its examinations such that it would comprise continuous assessment and aptitude test components. It is also surprising that WAEC is unable to police its own question papers. It needs to strengthen its internal capacity. Invigilation at examination centres must also become thorough.

The police should investigate the recent theft of WAEC question papers and seek to bring the culprits to book. WAEC should conduct regular internal audits to try to identify saboteurs, if there are any, within its fold.