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Buhari’s next battle: Exam malpractice

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 Exam malpractice[Caught in the act]

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) has just released its May/June school-based senior secondary certificate examination (SSCE) results. From the

breakdown, less than one-third of the candidates would be eligible for university admission. The majority, more than sixty-eight per cent, are looking up to the National Examinations Council (NECO), the second window open to secondary school leavers, for some form of magic!

For very obvious reasons, there will be no magic when NECO releases its own May/June SSCE results. And the reason for this is not far-fetched. Over the past few years, NECO authorities have plugged identified holes that made it possible to cheat. Part of the steps taken is to dispense with the services of ad hoc staff in handling sensitive materials and building in security measures that knocked out ‘miracle centres’.  Ultimately, the measures have resulted in the conduct of credible examinations.

Those who slam NECO for deliberately failing candidates miss the point. This is for the simple reason that NECO and WAEC use the same syllabus for their examinations and engage the same set of chief and assistant examiners in setting and marking examination scripts. The only difference, and this is very crucial, is the quality of staff engaged to monitor the examinations. And this is where NECO has, over the past few years, distinguished itself. If NECO appropriately mirrors our education by posting lower pass rates, it is because the authorities have succeeded in building an examination body Nigerians should be proud of. Basically, instances of leakage of NECO question papers are almost nonexistent and this has reduced the chances of NECO examinations to be compromised!

Student designs self with exam answers

Examination malpractice refers to any irregular behaviour during or after an examination with the view of obtaining undue advantage. Such irregular behaviours are exhibited by candidates or persons charged with the conduct of examination within or outside the examination hall.  Touts and ‘miracle centres’ play prominent role in the process. In essence, examination malpractice is any act of wrong doing or neglect that contravenes the rules of acceptable practices before, during and after an examination.

The phenomenon has a long history behind it. The first case of examination malpractice in Nigeria was recorded in 1914, more than one hundred years ago, when the Senior Cambridge local examinations leaked. Since then, the problem has assumed a disturbing proportion. It became a national issue in the 1970’s and 1980’s and got so serious to have warranted two military governments to promulgate draconian decrees to curb it. Today, people engage in examination malpractice despite widespread public awareness of extant laws that stipulate jail term for the offence!

Examination malpractice raises a lot of questions: how can the younger one become leaders of tomorrow when, in some cases with active connivance of parents, they have perfected the act of cheating? What hope does the country have when its young and elderly do not see anything good in hard work? How can examination malpractice be checked so that young ones and their elderly collaborators would cultivate the spirit that hard work pays?

Unfortunately, examination malpractice has come to be accepted as part of our national life as people from different social strata are involved in the practice. Parents spend money every year to assist their wards to cut corners while school administrators and touts engage in the practice for the financial benefits they derive from the practice. There has been reports of schools that include ‘hidden cost’ in the school fees of final year students to take facilitate examination malpractice.

Increasing cases of examination malpractice are an indication of how corrupt and morally bankrupt most Nigerians, high and low, have become. Examination malpractice is a form of corruption; it is a manifestation of how morally bankrupt the country has gone. Since many students now rely on their parents and elders to cut corners, the tendency is that they hardly see the dignity in labour and hard work. The patriotic message and prayer in the second stanza of the national anthem is lost on many.

Many reasons have been adduced for examination malpractice. Prominent among them is what some experts call over-reliance on paper qualification that has been responsible for the do-or-die approach to passing examinations. Proprietors of poorly equipped schools, driven more by profit, engage in the practice to deceive gullible parents while dubious staff of examination bodies also indulge in the practice for financial reasons. There have been reports of staff of examination bodies who, on being caught in the act, claimed they were not appropriately mobilized before being sent out to conduct examinations.

Several other factors fuel the problem. Among them are overcrowding in the schools, harsh school environment, preponderance of unqualified and poorly motivated teachers and inadequate teaching and learning facilities. Others are inadequate supervision of teachers by inspectors, poor teaching in schools and non-completion of syllabus before examination., tying of promotion of teachers to success of candidates at public examinations, absence of guidance and counseling services in schools, lack of confidence on the part of teachers and students, constant closure of schools and high enrolment fees.

The essence of any educational system is to inculcate the spirit of discipline in its recipients but this is not possible in an educational system, like ours, that is characterised by all manner of absurdities. A candidate who fraudulently obtains a certificate is a danger to the nation because such a candidate will glamorize and perpetuate corruption and incompetence. Our sad experiences with poor quality political leadership, collapsed buildings, death through medical negligence, drug trafficking, armed robbery, fake and adulterated drug and other forms of moral decadence could partly be traced to examination malpractice. It is safe to suggest that examination malpractice has the potential of frustrating President Muhammadu Buhari’s genuine efforts at national rebirth and moral rejuvenation.

The first step to be taken in this direction is for people to realize the dangers of examination malpractice and develop the will to stop it. This important task should be placed at the doorstep of the National Orientation Agency, (NOA). The body should be re-organised and empowered to launch a major campaign against examination malpractice and take such campaigns to post primary and tertiary institutions across the country. The message should be clear: hard work pays and those caught cutting corners will be punished!

Other measures to be taken include adequate enforcement of existing laws on examination malpractice, effective and adequate use of continuous assessment in schools, proper monitoring of schools by inspectors and prompt payment of allowances of examination monitors and supervisors especially officials of examination bodies.

If the country paid lip service to the dangers of examination malpractice in the past, the clear-thinking Buhari/Osinbajo administration provides one great opportunity to put things right. It is one opportunity that Nigerians must not frivol away!

Hafsatu Magaji <marhabmagaji@yahoo.com> is a staff of the National Examinations Council, NECO, Minna.  <234-805-555-9042>

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