WASSCE Results: WAEC should accept its share of the blame!

Sat, 30 Aug 2014 Source: Ohemeng, Yaw

Examination results are here once again and the political dogfight has commenced. In the midst of all the recriminations, we are drowning the issues. This is the time that we should be discussing the skills and competencies that our children need to attain and the skills needed to drive the development of the nation. So instead of focussing exclusively on examination pass rates, we should also be asking whether the products from our schools have the requisite skills.

To me school education should be about imparting three main abilities: to write; to read with understanding; and to reason. All innovations and inventions flow out of these three abilities and the subjects that the students study should therefore be structured to develop these. The first question that comes to mind is: how relevant is the curricula taught in schools? Are they aligned to our development goals? Are the children attaining the necessary life skills before they leave school? It seems to me that these questions should rather occupy us than mere examination results.

Following the release of the WASSCE results, a number of questions have exercised my mind, including the following:

1. Who drew up the syllabus in the different subjects on which the students are examined?

2. Are examinations meant to test the skills attained by students or to trip them up?

3. What feedback do students and the entire nation receive from the examining body?

In searching for answers, I went to the WAEC website. There is absolutely no information about examinable topics in any of the subjects. Elsewhere the education ministry is required to specify broad skills and competencies that students at various stages should attain. The examining bodies then specify the examinable topics within this skills and competency framework. With the pass rate being so consistently poor, one is left wondering whether the subject specifications by the Ghana Education Service (GES) are in sync with the WAEC examinable topics.

The experience may be different for others but ever since I was a student we appear to conduct examinations in Ghana as if we want to trip up the students. There is very scant information to help the student: no readily available syllabus, past questions are hard to come by, and specimen questions are non-existent. Again a search on the WAEC website yielded nothing in this area. There is also a lack of feedback by way of Examiners’ reports that would show in detail where students perform badly. There is a tab under ‘Exams’ on the WAEC website marked as ‘Chief Examiner’s Report’. The so-called report, which is only available for May/June 2011, is so brief as to be of no use. In these circumstances, I guess providing marking schemes would be a luxury.

This lack of information makes the sitting of examinations a gamble. You do not know whether you have covered all the topics before you are examined and you have no idea what a satisfactory script looks like. This needs to change. It appears as if WAEC revels in the failure rate instead of seeing itself as partly responsible for the high failure rate. It is about time we lean on WAEC to make their system transparent so that an industrious student can avail himself/herself of the chance of independently studying for the exams. This information may have been given to the schools but also making them freely available on their website would makes all of us into teachers as we bid to help our children and even our communities.

The other problem I have with WAEC is how it reports the examination pass rate. The only information so far out there is a statement signed by the Principal Public Affairs Officer, which stated that 28.11% of those who sat the WASSCE obtained grades A1 to C6 in at least six subjects, and are therefore eligible for admission to tertiary institutions. In as much as the percentage qualification for admission to tertiary institutions is an important benchmark, WAEC should also complement these statements with a more comprehensive report or at least make it available on its website.

In the UK, the ‘gold-standard’ of the percentage that obtained grades A* - C is reported alongside grade distributions for each subject. This helps in identifying where the weaknesses lie for better targeting of help and also to place any ensuing debate and discussions within context. It is about time WAEC ups its game in this aspect. In this electronic age, it is crude for them to keep vital information to themselves and few officials. It is laughable that what they term ‘statistics’ contains only breakdowns of numbers of candidates for May/June and November/December by year, by sex and by region and nothing else.

It may probably be that government, teachers and students are collectively to blame for the perennial poor results. However, let us also try to find out where the problems lie. Let us make examinations enjoyable for the students. The purpose of examinations should not be about tripping up students but rather to test the skills attained. If students have no idea about the nature of questions to expect and how a satisfactory script looks like; and most importantly, if they receive no feedback from the examining body by way of examiners’ reports and marking schemes, it would be a tall order to expect them to obtain good grades.

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw