By Uche Amunike
Back in the days, the West African Examinations Council conducted the School Certificate Exams in West African countries once every year. It was an exam that marked the end of every student’s stay in secondary school as it was actually a general test that assessed their performance in their six years of schooling. What it meant was that it was a very important examination and every student was expected to take it seriously as it determined if the student would move on to the next level of their academic life almost immediately or if they would spend an extra year trying to qualify for that next level. The next level I write about is the Joint Admissions Matriculations Board (JAMB) examination and without first passing the WAEC examination and being given the certificate, then JAMB is out of the question for the student.
In our own time, students were made to understand the gravity of failing this very important examination. As a matter of fact, we were always told that it was better for us to pass the WAEC Examination and fail JAMB than the other way round. Of course we really understood the implications and we devotedly studied hard for it. I remember that once our subject teachers completed teaching us all that was in the syllabus, they told us to go and read for our exams as they had played their own parts. What we did was to leave the classrooms and head home. Thenceforth, every day, we read our books back to back. We visited the libraries and read extensively. Remember, there were no computers for us to browse or anything. We studied hard and ensured that we were really prepared for the exam. When the time came, we passed out in flying colours. The students were happy, the teachers were very happy and the parents were even happier. When it was time for JAMB, we marched into our exam halls confidently, knowing that there was no cause for alarm. That was the way things were structured. There were no short cuts. You either studied to pass or you failed if you neglected your studies.
I also remember there was the General Certificate Examination (GCE) which was usually taken shortly after the WAEC exams. If you didn’t pass your WAEC exams, then you had the option of taking the GCE. Both exams were equally important, so we took them seriously. The advantage of the GCE was that if, for instance, you failed Mathematics in your WAEC exam, but passed it in the GCE, you will be qualified to sit for the JAMB exams. What this entails is that both results could be merged into one. Therefore, back then we took both examinations equally seriously. None was more important than the other. I remember also that when my WAEC result was released, my parents told me there was no need to take the GCE. A lot of us who passed the WAEC examination ended up not taking the GCE examination because we felt that there was no need to do so.
Education rules the world today. Education has always ruled the world. In fact, even back then in the pre colonial days, the few people who were educated, commanded a lot of respect and stood out. My question then is, what went wrong? Where did we get things this twisted in that sector? At what point did the education sector become so relegated to the back seat? At what point did the system become too weak to put education back to the fore front were it belonged? These are questions begging for answers.
The WAEC examinations are still ongoing for the year 2019 and our children are fighting so hard to ensure that they are not left behind when results are finally released. When I say ‘fighting so hard’, it connotes a whole lot of meanings. There are so many students who are fighting so hard to read, gain knowledge and pass with flying colours. There are also many students who are fighting so hard to see that they pass without opening their books to read. This fight for pass marks is a major menace that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our education system. Another question now remains, why would any child believe that it was possible to pass examinations without studying their books? And the only answer that stares me in the face is ‘because they know that the system has failed and anything was possible in the sector’.
What am I driving at? The school system has given a large playing field for students, teachers, school proprietors and WAEC Examination supervisors to toss and kick and throw education around like players kick and throw football around during soccer games. It is indeed sad. Let me tell you why I say so. The WAEC Examinations are ongoing and every principal wants their school to come tops on the chart. No school wants to be outshone. No principal wants to be seen as the principal whose school didn’t do well in the examination. What then happens? While serious minded and focused principals are busy adding value to the sector by investing in education through getting quality teachers to drill these students and provide innovative learning devices that will make students outsmart their counterparts globally, unserious ones are busy chasing shadows and thinking up ways to create shortcuts to quality education and obtaining good results.
I was shocked to find out that teachers bargain with students in the exam hall for a fixed amount to be paid them so as to grant them access to their handsets for browsing in exam halls and other malpractice materials they may have on them. Some come in with their notebooks or textbooks or materials to aid them in obtaining answers to questions on their question papers. It is a menace that needs to be checked as it is indeed causing us a lot of damages in society. Invigilators used to be feared in our time. If an invigilator is not feared, then there is a problem. If an invigilator is so approachable as to be in an examination hall with students in a bargaining conversation about how much they would pay to be allowed to make use of their malpractice materials, then education has failed us. It is truly sad. I have tried deducing reasons as to why this should be our lot and have not been able to get an answer. Who and who is involved in all these? I also tried answering this question too and my only deduction is that there is a cartel involved in all this. The school proprietors, principals, teachers and students make up this cartel. What a system!
I am particularly shocked because after talking to some of these students, I realized that a lot of them have their parents also involved. One of them asked me, ‘ma, how do you think we are able to afford paying these invigilators?’ I was truly disturbed when I got the whiff of this information. Now, I hope you understand why I said that there is a cartel working close knit in this very shameful situation. It’s a cartel that also includes parents as well!
Now, here’s what happens: the school principal wants her school to maintain an undeserved record of impressive WAEC results. How is that result gotten? She encourages the invigilators to allow the students some slack so that they would be able to cheat during the examinations without being disturbed. It would go for an agreed fee which is where the parents come in. As soon as the invigilator enters the classroom or examination hall, the student or students in charge of bargaining would approach the invigilator and quickly discuss how much they are willing to pay per student. The amount varies from one thousand naira per head to 500naira per head. I gathered that subjects like Mathematics or other ‘tough’ science subjects might go for two thousand naira per student. Most times the invigilator goes home with about N50,000 or more depending on how many students are in the hall.
One thing must be made clear, though. Some schools stand out and refused to be a part of this show of shame. Those are the kinds of schools where these invigilators pray not to be posted to. They walk into such examination halls and sit, expecting the students to approach their desks for the usual bargain. Instead, they see them seated confidently in their seat, awaiting their question papers to be shared. Those are the kinds of schools that this state and indeed, this country should fish out and encourage to keep flying the flag of quality education high.
I refuse to mention names of both erring schools and commendable schools but one thing is clear, the education sector needs to be sanitized. Why will a principal need to allow examination malpractice just to prove to the state that her school is the best? Why will an invigilator allow students under her watch to cheat their way through just because they were able to buy her conscience? Why would parents agree to pay for their children to pass examinations at the end of their six years in secondary school? The moment answers are provided to these questions, then perhaps a lasting solution might be found for this menace.
I can only appeal to those in charge of the Education Sector to look into this menace and find out ways to handle them. It is not yet late to get it right. Our students from Regina Pacis Girls Secondary School did it when they returned to Nigeria with the Technovation trophy. We were proud. They not only did well here, they went globally and made an impact. Their teachers were proud. Their parents were proud. Society was proud. Why can’t other schools tow the same line? It is really sad seeing education take the nosehill dive the way it is presently doing gradually. This explains why our universities are also filled with so many students who are not ready to bend down to serious studies. They prefer to take short cuts to good results. At the end of the year, they still end up looking for lecturers to either bribe or sleep with as the case may be, just to get good scores,
The resultant effect remains that we keep producing graduates who have little or nothing to offer society and they keep causing more harm than good to everyone concerned. It has truly eaten deep into the education system and I appeal to the consciences of all the people who are involved in this anomaly to take a break and do a turn around. We are talking about the future and we need to remember how sensitive it is. Posterity will definitely judge us if we all sit around, fold our hands and watch these bad influences destroy all that the past governments and the present government has invested in the education sector. God bless us all!