SECOND AND FINAL PART OF THE INTERVIEW WITH HEAD OF WAEC OFFICE IN NIGERIA
What is WAEC’s position on how to tackle the high failure rate in public examinations, especially in the WASSCE?
After each examination, WAEC invites the Chief Examiners to a meeting and this is supposed to provide feedback reports on the conduct of the examinations. Our contributions are well encapsulated in the Chief Examiner’s Reports. In these reports, we state all the issues as we observe them in the course of marking the scripts, and the schools are supposed to have copies of that report. We give model answers to the questions and analyse how the students performed in each of these questions.
In addition, the Chief Examiner goes the extra mile to bring out what we call remedies and these reports are made available to the schools. But what do we see? These reports are kept on the shelves in the principal’s office and they are not even made available to the teachers who should actually use them to improve on their skills.
We have stated that the schools need to be properly equipped. How many schools, especially the public schools, have libraries? How many of them have laboratories or vocational centres where the students can do practicals? How many of the teachers, themselves, are competent or familiar with the contents of the curricular?
When you have somebody, who qualifies as an engineer teaching an art subject, how do you expect to get the best performance? We need to have a paradigm shift in our values. The love and the quest for material wealth should be de-emphasised. The quest for paper qualification should be de-emphasised. That is why we go the extra mile to ensure that, in each of the papers, we do not rely on the judgment based on one paper, like the theoretical or essay paper. We also complement it with the practical papers, particularly in the sciences. So, our test covers the various domains of learning outcomes.
Do you think the students are, indeed, being saddled with too many things in the curricula?
I don’t think so. The challenge about the teachers is a societal one. WAEC cannot go and manufacture teachers for the schools. That is outside our mandate.
Few weeks ago, some people were asking me if I subscribe to the view that the standard of education has fallen and I asked, which standard are we talking about? Years back, when we were under the British colonial administration, the type of education we received was the one that would prepare our people to be good court clerks, who would go and count the number of cocoa beans that were being exported. The school system did not prepare us to be good engineers and good doctors. People were able to speak Queen’s English and that was seen to be qualitative education. They were good at writing good letters and very few people had access to the schools.
But today, we have over 100 universities and there are schools everywhere. We have graduates who are competent. Nigeria, actually, is over resourced. The products of our universities are out there. Go to Ghana. Doctors from Nigeria, trained in Nigeria, are manning the University of Ghana Medical School. So, why do we keep on hammering about standards?
We have graduates who are 21 years old, who are medical doctors and who are able to carry out complex operations. So, when you say standard, what standard are we measuring? I think the standard has improved, except that with a larger population, the tendency is to have a greater number of failures.
We shouldn’t concentrate only on those people that are not making it, but we should also look at the number of people that are making it. In a population, there is what we call the normal curve; 62.4 per cent of the population is normal. It’s an assumption in statistics. So, if 62.4 per cent of our population passes, how then can we say that the standard has fallen?
Years back, it was the British authority that was examining our people. We had Cambridge examination syndicates coming to conduct examinations. Now, Nigerians are conducting examinations for Nigerians. Nigerians develop the papers, print and mark the scripts and issue out the certificates. So, what standard are we talking about?
WAEC also cancel results en masse when a significant number of candidates cheat in an examination. But there is always a possibility that one, two or three candidates in the affected centre did not cheat; yet their results are cancelled with the culprits’. Is this really fair to such candidates?
That is a human issue. In an examination where you have 50 candidates and 45 of them were involved in mass cheating, any reasonable examination body would not validate that result. You will agree with me that the authenticity of our certificates is something that we should not toy with. We must act appropriately, to ensure that the credibility of our examination is not questioned. In such a situation, we will cancel the entire results, because these rules were made known to the candidates before the examination, that in the event of mass cheating, the entire result would be cancelled. If you choose to ignore the rules, then you should also expect to be punished appropriately.
Most parents would never tell you that their children could cheat. But let’s ask ourselves: the market woman who gives a half measure of garri for a full measure and collects the money, is she not a cheat? Of course, she is. If that kind of woman has a child, who copies that character from her, and goes to the examination hall to cheat and the same woman comes to say, ‘I know my child doesn’t cheat,’ is that logical?
Is WAEC ready to conduct examinations in the new trade subjects introduced recently by the Nigerian Educational and Research Development Council (NERDC)?
The Minister of Education brought up the issue when we met a few months back and it was discussed with all the States’ Commissioners of Education. The states openly expressed their unreadiness to take the necessary steps towards facilitating the conduct of the examination, except a few states, which said they were partially ready.
The position of the examination bodies in Nigeria was simple: we are ready to conduct the examinations even if they want it tomorrow, with the proviso that the states must provide for us, the continuous assessment marks for these subjects, because the new Policy on Education insists that 70 per cent of the final exit examination should be based on the terminal examinations conducted by the examining bodies, then 30 percent must be based on the schools’ continuous assessment marks.
How long, precisely, does it take WAEC to release withheld results?
It depends on the complexities of the case behind that result. Some results are withheld, either because the candidates did not shade their names or index numbers properly, and we now have to resolve the issues manually to get the required information, or because the scripts didn’t carry the correct index number. You can have a situation where two people put the same number, so we have to find out the differences.
But I want to state here that WAEC does not intentionally withhold any result. In fact WAEC, today, has released certificates of candidates that wrote even the May/June 2012 and Nov/ Dec 2012 WASSCE. We have released certificates and we are making publications in the papers to say people should come and collect their certificates because our warehouses are filled with certificates.
Can a third party demand for a candidate’s WASCCE result from WAEC, especially of those who hold public offices?
The contract that we have is with the individual who registers with us for the examination. It is between WAEC and that individual. There is a level of confidentiality between our clients and us.
If you are a third party and you want to obtain the result of another person, you would have to go to court and let the court make a declaration compelling WAEC to release the result. It would be unfair to expect WAEC to be releasing results to third parties. We can only do that at the request of the candidate, for example, if you wrote our examination about five years ago and maybe you are seeking for a job somewhere and you give authority to the organization or you inform us to make available your result to so and so organization, then we would do that. But not just somebody walking up to us and saying they want the results of an individual.
I have received some letters from some lawyers to that effect and I am stating emphatically that they are not empowered by law to demand on notice the result of another person. I won’t release any result to a third party unless I have the directive of the court of competent jurisdiction.
What is WAEC is doing for families of its staff members who lost their lives while on official duties?
We have employed wives of fallen colleagues and in addition, we have taken steps to pay their insurance premiums, because when they were on duty, they were covered by an insurance policy, aside from the death entitlements and other things that the families are entitled to.
Then, their death entitlements would be completed any time from now. And this is aside from the funds we made available to the spouses at the time of the incident
BY ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI/THE GUARDIAN