It is long past time to abolish the West African Examinations Council

Sun, 21 Jun 2015 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Folks, the prevalence of malpractices in examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is nothing strange. It is perennial. In the era of the "O" and "A" level exams, leakages occurred and students suffered the negative backlash.

When the tide changed for the basic level (beginning with the Junior Secondary School part to be fused into the BECE at the SSS level because of the continuous assessment process to determine students' fate in the end), the malpractices haven't vanished. Instead, they have calcified and turned the entire examination system into an "auction", where those who know how to bid always win. And such people are those with the means to influence those who have access to examination papers/questions.

What is happening today, resulting in the cancellation of 5 papers may come across as "unprecedented" as the NPP's Akufo-Addo has termed it (See https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/BECE-cancellation-unprecedented-Akufo-Addo-363483); but it is nothing new. The leakage of exam papers in educational institutions in our part of the world is legendary. It is part of the endemic system of bribery and corruption.

I can say with all certainty that it is more the norm/rule than the exception. It is perpetrated by unscrupulous characters in charge of conducting the examinations and lazy students who use the influences of their lousy money-bag parents to buy their way through.

Indeed, the problem has become intractable because of its systemic nature. It exposes the WAEC as either an accomplice or a helpless institution bedevilled.

We are now being told stories about how the leakage occurred; but we don't believe those stories, especially if we honestly assess issues to conclude that those bent on exploiting the loopholes in the system have tap roots in the system and fear no repercussions. They always have access to the exam questions well in advance and establish networks to leak them for personal gains. Such gains are shared across the chain of command!!

The manner in which the WAEC organizes such mass exams is itself questionable. It is anachronistic and unproductive in this 21st century. Right from those recruited to set the exam questions to the printing presses that produce the exam papers to those who store those exam papers for release to heads of institutions or security agencies that are engaged to secure the papers for release on the day of the exams, a lot goes on to irritate us. There is no single honest person to keep his or her mouth shut, especially in difficult economic times when cheap means to make money through orchestrated channels for leakage of those exam questions exist.

Why should it be difficult for the individual countries to organize internal exams for their students? Is the WAEC anymore relevant? I daresay here that the entire WAEC set-up is moribund and must be scrapped at this point. The days when it was expedient to have a centralized authority to examine students across English-speaking West Africa are long gone, which invalidates the WAEC. Are we really moving with the times?

The truth is that each member-country of the WAEC has its own peculiarities in terms of human and material resources for the education sector, not to talk about policies and human attitudes toward education. What Ghanaians expect their wards to be exposed to at school will not necessarily be the same for their counterparts in member-countries of the WAEC. Of course, cultural factors and the overall experiences of the citizens (granted that colonialism affected the various countries in different ways and shaped national aspirations at independence and beyond) come to play here. Let’s not forget the economic potential of the various countries too. What Nigeria has, others lack. So, why should the field be equalized as if all is well everywhere in the member-countries constituting the WAEC?

We take Nigeria as an example. Being the regional superpower (even if degraded and humiliated by the home-grown Boko Haram, which is against Western education and is devastating the country in consequence), it is regarded as better-endowed than all the other member-countries put together. But its system of education can’t be praised. Remember the exodus of Ghanaian teachers in the late 1970s to boost that system and you should be hitting a home run. Times have changed, which is why there shouldn’t be any need for WAEC at all to continue frustrating efforts at teaching, learning, and a genuine assessment/evaluation of students.

We bring in also the economic burden, especially considering the huge fees that students pay. By the end of the period, if these students cannot be supported to give a good account of themselves just because unscrupulous people closely connected to the WAEC itself have leaked exam questions/papers, we should be the first to admit that a lot is going on wrong in our system. Nowhere in the world have countries with varied and diverse experiences come together to determine the Fate of students the way the WAEC is doing. What is preventing each country from doing things to suit its own aspirations for development? Have we even paused to assess what is happening in our neighbouring French-speaking countries that have a common currency (the Franc) but aren’t enthusing over a common strand to bind them in terms of education? How lazy haven’t we been all these years?

At this point, I can say categorically that I don’t see any need for a WAEC. Instead, there is need for every country to fashion out its own system for examining its students at all the levels so that teaching and learning can be customized to suit specific country needs.

In this approach, Ghana should have its own mechanism for teaching and testing its students just as the other so-called English-speaking countries constituting the WAEC (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Liberia) should.

In effect, I am asking for the abolition of the WAEC. It is an empty shell that is gradually gathering nothing but moss to worsen problems. If we consider how the overarching economic umbrella (ECOWAS) has failed to ensure economic integration and progress in our sub-region, we should be the first to fight for the abolition of the WAEC. It is dysfunctional and must not continue to be supported to create problems of the sort that now endanger the future of our students. The WAEC has lost its relevance and must be scrapped.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.