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Opinions Mon, 7 Apr 2014

Is WAEC still using typewriters?

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is an external exams body recognized worldwide. The name WAEC is nearly synonymous with Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Using its exams, WAEC directs teaching and learning in our schools. For example, many schools even use the WAEC syllabuses instead of the teaching syllabuses provided by GES.

But there is a problem! And this problem is that avoidable errors frequently occur in WAEC exam papers. Due to time and space limitations, I focus largely on BECE providing at least one example to substantiate any arguments raised thereof. All examples are drawn from the years 2010 to 2014 because the further you go backwards the more surprising you become. In each case, I provide only one example and then mention only the question numbers and the years in which some of the other mistakes are found.

First, WAEC consistently types ICT as information and communication technology omitting the ‘s’ at the end of communications. A reminder to the renowned exams council is that, the‘s’ at the end of the word communications is as invaluable as the ‘s’ attached to the word examinations in its own name which shows that WAEC administers several types of exams including BECE and WASSCE. Still outside the academia, the ‘s’ in Ghana Standards Authority means that the authority deals with several standards, and not just one. Thus, the ‘s’ at the end of communications also means that ICT comprises several means of communications including writing and posting/faxing letters, text-messaging, voice- and video-calling and emailing.

At schools, some ICT teachers too do omit the ‘s’. Many ICT textbooks on the market and in our schools written by the so-called specialists also lack the ‘s’. And these ICT books bear the phrase ‘based on GES syllabus’. The surprising issues are two. A subject teacher or an author cannot correctly spell his/her subject name. Hmm! Only in Ghana! Second, the ICT syllabus which these authors claim that their books are based on has the ‘s’. It is due to this second issue that WAEC omitting the ‘s’ too is amazing because it draws its own exam syllabuses from the teaching syllabuses provided by GES. I am therefore appealing to WAEC to return the ‘s’ to its due position come BECE 2014.

The other avoidable errors which are the focus of this write-up range from concord to dangling modifiers. Technical errors will be covered in later write-ups. The subject that contains many needless errors is ICT where it’s a commonplace to spot questions with concord problems, with dangling modifiers and with spelling mistakes. For example, in 2013 BECE, the stem of No. 13 reads:

A group of files are stored in…………………

The obvious mistake is taking the object of the preposition—files—as the subject. The subject of the stem (the incomplete introductory part of a multiple-choice question) is the word group and being singular, it requires a singular verb. See also ICT 2012 (No. 6).

Throughout the ICT papers, the word Internet, a proper noun, is mistakenly typed as internet (beginning with a small letter). The status of Internet and its brachylogy—Net—as proper nouns can be checked in the dictionary: all headwords that are proper nouns begin with capital letter in the dictionary.

If interested in schadenfreude, locate ICT exam papers and your day will be impregnated with laughter because dangling modifiers readily infest them. For example, the stem of No. 27 of ICT BECE 2012 reads

To see exactly how the pages of a current document will appear when printed, the command given is………………………

Logically, the introductory infinitive phrase To see exactly how the pages of a current document will appear when printed describes an action that can only be performed by a person. However, the portion of the stem modified by the introductory phrase begins with ‘the command’ which cannot see. Thus, the introductory phrase is dangling. See also ICT 2012 No 34. Sentences containing dangling modifiers can be corrected in many ways (See your English tutor). The simplest way is to introduce a grammatical subject immediately after the introductory phrase.

There is good news! There was a great reduction in the dangling-modifier incidence in 2013. Congrats! WAEC. Hmm! But why were they there in the first place?

Turning attention to spelling mistakes, we spend no time in locating them in bunches in all the subjects except English language and perhaps mathematics (notice that subject names are common nouns unless derived from proper nouns). Unbelievably, the misspelled words are always ordinary words. As usual, but rather shocking, misspelled words are commonest in ICT. The most disgusting one I saw was the word LABTOP in BECE 2011 (Option C of No. 14). At first, I thought it was a new type of computer designed to be put on top of the LAB because ICT is usually studied in the computer lab. A thorough search of literature suggests that no such computer type exists; thus, the examiner intended LAPTOP. Hmm!

Reading the same paper further, I saw the word ‘suposed’ in the stem of No. 20. Extremely sickened, I stopped immediately. So I hand over the baton to you the reader to continue to number 40 for me. God bless you and safe journey.

The commission of elementary spelling mistakes is never limited to ICT. In 2012, the word enterpreneural appeared in social studies (? 18) and in integrated science (? 25). The correct spelling is entrepreneurial (notice the underlined letters). Not applicable to WAEC, the obvious source of the spelling error is the mispronunciation of the word: the word is always spell-pronounced. Spelling pronunciation is the pronunciation of a word according to the letters that form it (see Islam and patios). The opposite, applicable to most English words, is pronunciation spelling (see Island, debris, fracas and patois). Entrepreneur and its derivatives are of French origin and take their pronunciation thus; the ‘en’ is pronounced as ‘on’. See other words such as en route and entourage.

Again in 2013, the word occured (notice the single ‘r’) appeared both in RME (? 5 Section A) and in integrated science [Essay test ? 1 (b) ii]. I also saw the word ‘droping’ (notice the single ‘p’) in Option C of social studies ? 38. A very recent one is vapourise in integrated science (WASSCE 2014, No. 38). The correct spelling is vaporise (cf. humorous and odorous).

Using enterpreneural and occured as prize examples, I quickly noticed a pattern: any word that is misspelled in one subject is likely to be misspelled in all the subjects in which it occurs in the given year. The chief examiner must notice this!

What is so surprising about these spelling errors is how they manage to go unnoticed. Dear reader, attempt typing any of these words on your computer! One or two things will happen—either the autocorrect option will automatically correct it or the computer will underline it with a red wavy line. Any secretary using a computer knows that a red or green wavy line implies spellchecking. Typewriters will not offer either of these options—this is the basis for my caption. Remember that these words are non-technical and even if they are, why wouldn’t the exams council have the required software to correct them? I’m not Dr Bawumia but I guess these are likely evidence of fallen and buried educational standards. Hmm! In Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana?

Why are we (teachers and other educators) worried about these mistakes in WAEC exam papers? We are now in an era in which teachers are assessed and appraised by a method I called progeny testing—the performance of students at BECE or WASSCE shows how intelligent or hardworking their teachers are. Thus, teaching in Ghana has been reduced to preparing pupils/students to write and pass BECE/WASSCE so well. All our references are now WAEC and not GES. Somebody must sit up to eliminate these glaring mistakes.

A colleague teacher or pupil makes a mistake and you attempt to correct him/her and then get this reply: ‘But I saw it in BECE or WASSCE exam papers’ or ‘Even WAEC makes mistakes’. WAEC has no excuse for such embarrassing spelling errors because it has series of examiners for each subject who must all peruse the questions before the exam papers eventually reach the chief examiner. All these expert examiners are supposed to be using computers. Ironically, the exams council asked that any misspelled one-word answer be marked wrong. But with their ‘knowledge’ and computers, they still test positive to error making. Nawaaao!

In conclusion, we teachers now find it difficult to refer to WAEC papers because of such preventable errors (notice that I’ve not touched the technical errors). In science, a common mistake from the exams council which generated some controversy in my school is the insertion of space between the name of an element and its oxidation number. In BECE 2010 (No. 10), WAEC even worsened the error by inserting the space and typing the oxidation number in small letters—carbon (ii) oxide. The same mistake is repeated in nearly all the integrated science textbooks (for both JHS and SHS) notably AKI-OLA where element names are separated from their charges [e.g., iron (II) instead of iron(II)].

Before leaving you, I offer this piece of useful advice to my colleagues—science teachers. The word equipment just as any other uncountable noun can only be pluralized by using a partitive—2 pieces of equipment and not 2 equipments or 2 equipment. This same mistake keeps occurring in many science exam papers and is found in Integrated science 3 (WASSCE 2014: No. 3c).

To WAEC and GES, I suggest the following:

1. The chief examiner for English language be made to proofread the exam papers of all the other subjects.

2. The illustrations especially in integrated science be made using computer programs—giving the paper for somebody to draw the diagrams in ink not only produces faded diagrams but also devalues the exams council (See No.1 of Integrated science 3, WASSCE 2014). At Cosmos Basic Schools Ltd, Lapaz, Accra, we insist on this principle; we are now perfecting at creating all illustrations at will.

Long live Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana!

Idris Pacas: 020 910 15 33 & iddrisuabdulai12@yahoo.com

Columnist: Pacas, Idris