[Interview] Cheating Students are reflection of a corrupt society – WAEC HNO

The poor performance of candidates in the May/June 2014 West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is still generating concerns among stakeholders in the education sector. But the Head of National Office (HNO) of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Mr Charles Eguridu, said in this interview that the development is not unexpected, as many teachers in the school system are incompetent, schools are ill-equipped and the society itself places little value on intellectual pursuits.
The May/June WASSCE results are still generating comments owing to the general poor performance of candidates. You must have done some review yourself. Is it possible that there might have been some problem with your test instrument?
Our tests are standardized tests. WAEC staff do not develop the papers. We follow standard procedures in the development of our questions. The questions are developed by accredited examiners; people who are certified competent in their areas of specialization. And these people are drawn from the school system. And even when they (questions) are developed, they are moderated to make sure that they are not ambiguous. And then, we subject these test items to ‘trial testing’; that is, they are exposed to a group we call the ‘cohort group’ (target group). If the test is designed for final year (senior secondary school) students, well ahead of when they will be used, we sample performance of this level of students on those test items. And after we get the performance, we subject them to ‘statistical procedures’ (item analysis) to make sure they are valid. So, the issue of whether the questions have issue is not there. We in WAEC are like a mirror. When you start before a good mirror, it reflects to you your image.
So where would you situate the problem?
It’s because the quality of teaching and learning in the school system is defective. I have said before and I will repeat it: many teachers are not competent. So, you don’t just blame WAEC or even the parents alone. Children live what they see. If you don’t teach them, how can you blame them? But that’s not to say that I’m blaming everything on teachers. Look at the school system: how many schools have libraries? How many schools have laboratories? How many schools have vocational centres? When children go to school and they don’t have desks, libraries or competent teachers, how do you expect them to pass? If you want to look at the social aspect of it, there are a lot of distractions in the system. Children are busy watching soap opera, AfricaMagic and European League everyday. They know the name of every European League player in all the teams, but they can’t tell you the elements in a periodic table. Then comes the issue of motivation. The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, what do you give her? You give her a car; she flies all over the place being adorned as a celebrity. But the Best Performing Candidate in WAEC examinations or other examinations, do we celebrate them? Those who play football and come with cup, what do we do? We reward them. How do we reward our children? Recognition of achievement is part of the motivation that is lacking, especially as it concerns performance in examinations.
Interestingly, the following month after the May/June WASSCE results were released, NECO released its own results. While 31% of WAEC’s candidates got credit passes in five subjects (including English and Mathematics), NECO recorded 52.29% – same candidates, same year, different results. What might be responsible?
I can only speak for WAEC; NECO should speak for itself. I’m not going to sit here and speculate that WAEC examinations are difficult and NECO examinations are simple. That is left for researchers to do. End users should go and do their own analysis.
As a regional body, you have the privilege of knowing how candidates perform in your examinations across other sister West African countries. Do they face the same problem we are experiencing here?
I do not only have the privilege as the Head of Nigeria Office, I was the Head of International Examinations at the regional headquarters of WAEC in Ghana for 16 years. So, I was privileged to observe performance across the five West African countries. I want to say that what is happening in Nigeria is what is happening in other countries. In fact, Ghana at a point had to increase the duration of its senior secondary school from three to four years. Sierra Leone is doing that; and it stemmed out of concerns over poor performance in exams. While Ghana reversed back to three years after the change of government, Sierra Leone is now doing four years. In fact, Nigeria is lucky. For example, for the May/June 2014, Nigerian candidates performed better than any other country in Mathematics. We have about 64% of our candidates obtaining credits (and above) in Mathematics.
Having observed the pitfalls over the years, is WAEC doing anything to help salvage the situation – maybe by way of workshops for teachers and so on?
It’s not part of our mandate; ours is to examine. But because we are concerned about this decline in performance (we are Nigerians; we are parents), we took it upon ourselves to ensure that any school that writes our exam, at the end of the exam, we prepare the Chief Examiner’s Reports as feedback. The Chief Examiner’s Reports have what we call general performance trend – the common mistakes, the strengths and weaknesses the candidates displayed. And we go on to proffer remedies and we issue copies of this report to every school. We didn’t even stop at that; recently. I personally wrote to every governor in Nigeria and every commissioner for education, saying that we want to help them to run a clinic to address the issue of teaching and learning; to build capacity among the teachers. We’ve done that successfully for Lagos State; but unfortunately, no other state has come out to embrace this menu we have served.
There was a time a long prison term was prescribed for examination cheats in this country. Why has it been difficult for WAEC to push for and insist on the implementation of a very strict punishment for examination fraud over the years?
Your observation is not very correct. This administration, in all seriousness, has come out boldly to take decisive action at prescribing adequate punishment for exam cheats. There is a new (bill) before the National Assembly prescribing stiffer punishment for examination cheats. But cheating in exam is not the greatest offence in Nigeria. Children live what they see. How do we conduct elections? Are we, the parents, not involved in carrying out multiple registrations? Is that not cheating? So, when we as parents cheat – ordinary registration to vote, we go and register two, three times, are you blaming the government or INEC for that? It’s an issue of character. We cannot advocate for a character we do not possess. We cannot demand for the character from our children when we the parents don’t possess that character. Let me say this: examination malpractice is just a very small aspect of the general malaise in this society. When the policeman at the check-point, contrary to the regulations, engages in extorting of money from motorists; that is cheating. When a lecturer demands gratification from his students before passing them in examination, is that not malpractice? When a judge decides to collect money from people in order to change his ruling, that is cheating. When an electoral officer manipulates figures in order to give undue advantage to someone else, that is cheating. So, these children are just a reflection in the examination of what we do in the larger society.
So, since, as you said, a legislation is still pending at the National Assembly, what form of punishment have you been meting out to people who have been caught (either WAEC staff or students) cheating in examination?
We have our rules and regulations and we have the Nigerian Examinations Committee. It’s not made up of WAEC staff; it’s made up of representatives of the Ministry of Education (state and federal), the ANCOPSS and other stakeholders. After each examination, all reported cases of irregularities are compiled and presented to this committee that examines them one after the other. And they look at the rules and regulations. When we release the results, we announce that some results are withheld. This committee looks at each case and takes decisions as appropriate. There are situations where we cancel subject results or cancel entire results and bar the candidate for some years. And where schools have engaged in examination malpractice at a level that is unacceptable, we bar such schools or de-recognise them as centres.
What about your staff that are serially accused of connivance?
I’m happy you used the word ‘accused’. Where accusations are made and they are investigated and found to be true (we take action as appropriate). But when last did you notice leakage in examination papers? When staff of WAEC are found culpable in any act that is prejudicial to the integrity of the examination, we dismiss them.
Let’s talk about the issue of ‘special centres’. These things still thrive…
Of course…
How much success would you say you have achieved in this respect?
Our success is as good as the society would want it to be. WAEC staff are Nigerians conducting exams in Nigeria, using Nigerian personnel to conduct the exams. So, when Nigerians have accepted cheating as a way of life, then you cannot but have it at the level we are experiencing it. When people cheat, we say they are smart; for prostitutes, we call them commercial sex workers. So, what we are experiencing now is an organized examination malpractice, where the proprietors of some schools – even some public schools – partner with the candidates and even some unscrupulous supervisors to cheat in our examinations. But I want to let Nigerians know that we are professionals. I make bold to say that in our over 62 years of existence, WAEC – particularly WAEC Nigeria – is the examination body of choice in Nigeria. Our examination (the WASSCE) is not only valid and reliable; the currency of our certificate is international. And we are the only examining board in the continent of black Africa that has the technology to encrypt biometric features on our certificate. That means even if you falsify our certificate and make photocopy, it will be detected. We are the only examining board that has introduced ICT at the level we have done such that we have (a) technology that can transmit irregularity from any part of Nigeria in less than a second to our database here in Lagos.
How does this work?
When we register candidates for our exams, we capture their biometric features (you know no two people have the same fingerprints) and save them in our database. So, if you register for the exam and someone else writes it for you, no problem. You may get away with it by bribing the supervisor, but that fellow for whom you wrote can never use the certificate; because wherever he takes it to, it’s your fingerprints that will remain on that certificate – and of course your passport. And it’s possible the poor performance people are referring to could be as a result of the application of this technology. People no longer find it easy to cheat in our exams. That is why they are failing.
You also said something about a ‘customized calculator’. There was a time the use of calculator in your exams was an offence. What has happened?
What has happened is that life is not static; knowledge is moving at a rate that is phenomenal. Years back, we were using the 4-figure table. From there people moved to the use of Slide-Rule. From the slide-rule, we said people shouldn’t use the calculator. But with increase in knowledge, it became impossible to examine some subjects without the use of calculators. It’s now allowed, so long as they are not programmable. But candidates now bring in programmable calculators in which they can programme certain information to cheat in the exams. They bring in scripts, prepared answers, along with the mathematical instruments and calculators. It was at the instruction of the examinations committee that WAEC management had to source for customized calculators.
You said that WAEC tested candidates in the 39 new subjects recently injected into the secondary school syllabus by the NERDC in the May/June WASSCE. Most of these subjects require hands-on practicals, and most schools don’t have laboratories, workshops and other equipment required. Can you say that the outcome of such examination truly reflects candidates’ proficiency in those subjects?
Let me quickly correct that impression. The curriculum that was developed (I happen to be a member of the board of the NERDC) was not meant to produce wonderful craftsmen. For example, if you take air conditioning or refrigeration, the depth of the curriculum is not to produce people who after writing the WASSCE will open a workshop and begin to repair refrigerators. It was meant to give basic knowledge of these things. It is in the province of the National Board for Technical Education to test for competency in these things. The government gave us directive that we have produced a new curriculum; go and examine. I’m not in the position to say that the schools, the vocational centres are not ready. If the states say they are ready, why should WAEC not examine?
Culled from Nigerian Tribune Newspaper

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