In this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, the Head of National Office, West African Examinations Council, Mr. Charles Eguridu, talks about the performance of students in recent examinations in Nigeria and the challenges facing the country’s education system.
People expect that WAEC results would get better but rather they are getting worse. What is the problem?
The West African Examinations Council has a three-fold mandate. The first is to assist in the development of sound education. Secondly, to ensure that educational standards are maintained. Thirdly, to provide the people of West Africa the vision and the potential that lie beyond examination. Looking at these three mandates, WAEC is like a mirror and a good mirror has one function, it reflects back correctly the true image. So the performance pattern that we witness is a reflection of the quality of teaching and learning that is taking place in the school system. Now asking me what is responsible, it’s obvious. There are so many factors responsible. One, the teachers are not competent. You can see from the example of what we saw in Edo State, where a teacher could not even read. So how can a teacher impact the knowledge he does not possess? So the quality of teachers in the system is such that one cannot vouch for their competence and you find that even some states were trying to do competency tests for teachers, but this had to be reversed for obvious reasons. The other factor is infrastructural decay in the school system. There are no well-equipped libraries or laboratories, and most of the schools don’t have proper amenities. We have seen situations where children were learning under trees. So in such a situation, what do you expect? Another factor that could be responsible is the fact that parents don’t have time to supervise their children. Take the Lagos environment as an example, people leave home as early as 5am to report to work at 7am or 8am, get back home at about 8pm after work. So what time do they have to supervise their children and ensure that they do their home works or do some reading at home? Another factor is that the children are distracted. The children are left without being properly counselled. They come back from school and all they are interested in is to either browse the internet or watch European football leagues, African Magic and of course, move around with their peers and play football. So, the motivation to read is not even there. When last did we as a people recognise excellence in academia? But footballers are celebrated, they make millions when we win competitions but the best students are not even recognised. The most beautiful girl in Africa or Nigeria pageants attract wonderful gifts, money, cars, world tour, and is featured in the media for her beauty. But the one who spent time in the classroom to read and excel in his examination, what do we do for him? He is not celebrated. So the children themselves are not even motivated to read. Why read when playing football for a club side for just six months will give you the money you need in a lifetime? The values of our society are so distorted. So if you combine these factors, you will find that the Nigerian child is a victim of his environment because children live what they see. People are blaming WAEC but WAEC is not supposed to doctor marks to please the society.
Some people say you are making the questions harder.
They can’t be harder. I told you we have a threefold mandate. To ensure that education standards are maintained is part of our mandate. If we go back and reduce the standard, will Nigeria be living in isolation of other countries? Graduates from the Nigerian school system are supposed to be able to compete with their colleagues and for your information; West African Senior School Certificate Examination is an international examination. The standards are the same for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Gambia, so we cannot afford to change the standard for Nigeria.
You highlighted the issues of infrastructural decay and poor facilities in Nigeria, do other African countries have such challenges?
They do but they are addressing them in their own little way. I’m aware that in Ghana, when they reversed the secondary school duration from three to four years, it necessitated building extra classrooms and recruiting more teachers. The Parent Teachers Association was encouraged to assist the school system. I was in Ghana then, my children were in school and I was called upon to contribute money for the building of extra classrooms which we did. But in Nigeria, you find that parents have abdicated their responsibilities. They want government to sponsor everything, pay for their children’s tuition, their examination fee, and provide uniforms, textbooks, and lunch. Was the government there when you were producing these children? Parents should take responsibilities for the upbringing of their children. Let’s stop placing everything on the shoulders of the government. Who is the government? It’s you and I, so let’s take responsibilities as parents.
You said your children schooled in Ghana, didn’t you have faith in your country’s educational system?
No, they schooled in Ghana when I was working there and now that I’m back in Nigeria, my children came back with me. Ghanaian education is not superior. We are using the same curriculum. In fact, our curriculum today is richer than that of Ghana. We have more subjects than Ghana has now. At times, I wonder when I see parents sending their children to universities in Ghana. I had every opportunity to send my children to universities in Ghana but I elected to allow my children to school in Nigeria because I’m in a business of education and I know the standards in the universities in Ghana and in Nigeria and I elected to bring them here. They all schooled in Nigeria, at least, at the university level. That is indicative of the fact that I have faith in my country and its educational system.
You made reference to a very important point; reality TV shows attract up to millions of naira while for school debates, winners will hardly even get 100,000, so who do you blame for this?
It shows where our value lies. It’s the society. Our values have been distorted. We have so many churches, mosques and shrines. Most of our people are religious but godless. The fear of God is not there in our hearts and the values we embrace do not reflect godly character. If we claim to love God the way we do by building churches, mosques and shrines everywhere, then one would have expected that to transform our character in the sense that we will be able to say people are honest and the values they cherish are those things that God himself will endorse.
Examination malpractice is still an issue in Nigeria. Special centres that help candidates to pass exams still exist why is WAEC impotent in addressing this problem?
I will address the issue but let’s talk about malpractice in the global sense. When you talk about malpractice we shouldn’t isolate examination malpractice as if it’s the only form of malpractice that is prevalent in our society. Malpractice is as old as mankind. Right from the Bible, we have had malpractice. When Rebecca decided to deceive the husband by putting hair on one of the children, it is malpractice. Looking at our society, you will find that we have all forms of malpractice. When a market woman decides to sell half measure of garri for full measure by using the wrong container, it is malpractice. So the malpractice we see in examination is a reflection of the general malpractice we have in the society. In fact, WAEC should be congratulated for being able to conduct exams without the presence of military men. Because if Nigeria cannot conduct credible elections without the presence of security men, then why not congratulate WAEC for conducting exams across the length and breadth of Nigeria without the presence of security men? It’s the same population that we are dealing with. The population that INEC is dealing with is the population that WAEC is dealing with. WAEC in itself has gone beyond using coercive measures to prevent malpractice. We are the first examining board anywhere on the continent of Africa to introduce some measures and I will tell you a few of them. One of them is that with effect from the May/June 2014 WASSCE, we have a biometric enabled certificate. That means that candidates’ biometric features are imprinted and encryted in quick response code on their certificates. Even with the photocopy of the certificate, they can trace the true owner by putting his finger on a scanner and reading it on the certificate, it will tell the true owner. We are the first and the only examining body I know of, at least in Africa, that has introduced that technology. It came out of complete innovation by the officers of WAEC. Secondly, we have introduced an ICT-driven technology that is able to capture the processes of the conduct of the examination in any centre within the country. And at a click of a button, it is transmitted to our database.
But despite these technologies, WAEC officials and exam supervisors still collude with students to cheat.
Yes, I’m not going to hold brief for the bad eggs we have. If Jesus Christ had 12 disciples and of the 12 he had one Judas, you can expect that if WAEC has 10,000 examiners and we have 500 bad ones, at least we can’t do better than Jesus Christ. What we are dealing with is organised examination malpractice that has the total cooperation of some supervisors, possibly some school proprietors, possibly some ministry officials, and possibly some parents. When you have a parent colluding with the supervisor and the school authorities to have an organised examination malpractice, it tells you that you’re dealing with a big issue and that is why government has decided to enact a WAEC law that places stiffer penalties on those that are caught for examination malpractice. But I want to let Nigerians know that we are practitioners in the business of assessment. We have inbuilt procedures for dealing with examination malpractice. Yes, there may be 1,000 cases but out of every thousand, I can assure you that WAEC is able to get at least 95 per cent and deal with them. People that are caught for engaging in examination malpractice are dealt with. We have sanctions in place, their results are withheld and the committee of WAEC looks at them. And where necessary, we cancel results.
How many people has WAEC convicted in the past.
We don’t convict, all we do is report to the police. I have a live example. We got to know of a special centre in Ogun State last year. It was real organised examination malpractice. I went to the police and my management team visited the centre. The undergraduates were writing the exam for special candidates and of course, the results were cancelled.
With the pictures and the biometric system, how come they are unable to check such activities?
People are ingenious when it comes to cheating. The school we saw was registered by the Ogun State government and everything looked alright but on the day of the examination, he (the owner) had people from all places who paid special amounts. So the Ogun State government closed the school down. This should sound as a note of warning, WAEC is an international organisation, and we will close down any school whether state or government owned without recourse to the owners of that institution once candidates are found cheating.
What have you been able to do about WAEC staff often being accused of conniving with candidates to cheat?
When you are delivering service, you must expect that not everybody will applaud you. That is not to say that there may be no cases of one or two WAEC staff being involved in cheating. But wherever we have detected them, we don’t hesitate to dismiss them from our services. WAEC is the only organisation in Nigeria I know that has survived from the colonial times till today. West African Railways collapsed. What is making WAEC survive where others have failed is because we operate a committee system where nobody is the emperor? Everybody is accountable.
Technology aids candidates to text or mail questions to other students. Instead of pushing some of the blames to schools and teachers, what is WAEC doing about it?
We’ve recognised that long ago and that is why we have prohibited the use of mobile phones in examination halls. Candidates are not allowed to take their mobile phones into examination halls. And in fact for every examination onward, what we are doing is to have body scanners to get students going into examination halls with phones. In fact, when a student is caught with a mobile phone, his or her result is cancelled. That’s how seriously we take that offence.
But often times, we still hear cases of leakages of examination questions.
No, not with WAEC. Not in the past five or eight years. We have not had any issue of leakage. In fact, we should congratulate WAEC in Nigeria. We print our questions locally and there has been no incident of leakage for a long time because we have competent hands.
Why is it that candidates still get results for subjects they didn’t register for?
No, that’s not with WAEC. I’m not aware of any student getting results in subjects he or she did not register for. Please if you have that case bring it to my attention, I will investigate because we are so well automated. What probably happened in such a situation is that the student entered for a subject he ought not to have entered for and then it’s uploaded as part of his entries. And when the results came out, if he didn’t write the paper, it’s marked X which means that he or she was absent. The child will now say he didn’t register but got result for it. In fact, after registration, we normally open the portals for candidates to verify, cross-check and validate their entries.
We have heard of cases where Igbo or Hausa students who can’t speak Yoruba language will score an A in the subject or vice versa, how does that happen?
Well, anything could happen. Malpractice takes different forms. It could be that the candidate cheated. It is a possibility because the examiners mark what they see. So in situations like that, which is rare, certainly examination malpractice could have occurred. But it is also possible that some people can write better than they speak, that they might be able to express what they know orally because they are not good at speaking but they write better. So that’s a possibility but it’s very slim. Either way, it’s a rare occurrence.
Why does it take so long for WAEC to sort out delayed results of candidates?
I don’t think it takes so long. This is a system where candidates have been suspected of cheating and it is only fair for the due process to take place and WAEC cannot make itself the accuser and the judge. So we work using a committee system. When we have a reported case of examination malpractice, we note the case, we examine it and when we have reasons to believe that we have enough evidence, we gather the cases and we refer them to the Nigerian Examination Committee. This committee is not made up of WAEC staff, it is made up of the representatives of the federal and state ministries of education, other stakeholders who come in are not sitting as WAEC staff, and they sit independent of WAEC staff. They look at each case, one after the other and take a decision on it. So we have not constituted ourselves as a court to try people we suspect, we get the reports, we compile them, and hand over to an independent body made up of representatives of the government. The Chairman of that committee is a Director in the Federal Ministry of Education, we have the president of All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools as a member, we have the representatives of the various ministries of education as members. So if we do that in a period of less than six months, I think we should be congratulated.
But only about 31 per cent of the candidates scored credit in Maths and English, do you consider that remarkable?
Why should we isolate Maths and English? Yes, English Language is the medium of communication in Nigeria but is it our mother tongue? In fact, for your information, Nigerians did better than Ghanaians in Mathematics. We had over 64 per cent in Mathematics, so I’m not of the view that except you have credits in Maths and English, then you’re not there. If you look at the statistics, it shows that 46.75 per cent of the candidates scored six credits and above. So we only isolate Maths and English because people are putting too much pressure on the two subjects. The policy does not envisage everybody going to the university.
Public school students in Oyo State are yet to receive their WASSCE results, there is information that the state is owing. Is this the case?
It will be unfair for me to come here and tell you that government of Oyo State is owing WAEC. We are dealing with the situation, that’s what I can tell you and they will receive their results very soon.
The House of Representatives Committee on Education is planning to investigate the recent mass failure in WAEC examinations, and they are planning to visit you. What do you think about the move?
Yes, we are waiting for them to come, we will educate them.
We also heard that when they come on such visits, they also like to go back with monetary gains.
I don’t think that would be fair to these honourable members. That is the problem we have in Nigeria, we like running down our leaders. It’s not fair to these honourable members. I know many of them, they are my good friends. I want to say that since I assumed duty as the head of national office, no legislator or government official has paid a courtesy call to WAEC to demand anything from me, rather, they want to find out the problems we are facing. And please discountenance such rumours because they are unfounded and are the work of mischievous people.
It’s good to be political but people who say this are people who gave the money out. You can say that you have not given, so it’s not a question of running anybody down…
Well, I have not given. I understand but I want to place it on record that since I assumed duty as Head of National Office, WAEC Nigeria, there has been no committee from the House of Representatives or the Senate that has visited the office under my watch. The time they said they were coming, they didn’t come and they have not come. Well they have visited others and if they gave them, I wouldn’t know.
You have spoken about being automated, but where results have to be sent abroad for students who plan to study abroad, they still need to get to WAEC office in Yaba, Lagos even if they live in Maiduguri.
I must admit that you are very correct. That is something I discovered just a few days ago. And it’s an issue I will address in the next one month. The reason is not because we cannot do what people want us to do, but this is a society where you have a number of people prone to fraud, and a few of them are very ingenious. I have seen WAEC certificates produced that are not ours. And if you are not versed with the work of WAEC, you will be unable to differentiate between the original certificate and the fake one. It’s been so bad that we had to go back to our printers to enhance the features which I won’t disclose. That was what prompted the biometric certificate we now produce. Fraudsters use these certificates to gain admissions abroad. In the past, we found out that some of our satellite offices had officers who would compromise and verify those certificates as genuine to institutions abroad. So in order to harmonise it, we removed the power from offices in remote areas and decided that when it comes to embassies and foreign institutions, it has to only come from Lagos where we have designated people to sign the documents. Otherwise we have online portals known to embassies and foreign institutions, where they can confirm but if they still elect to want us to write a letter, the only person who can certify that will come from Lagos.
Many think the punishment for exam cheats in Nigeria is not appropriate
You are right in your observation, and we have been concerned about this. That is why we took steps to revise the WAEC Convention and it has been approved by the government. It went to the Presidency, the Federal Executive Council has approved and it’s now going through the second reading at the National Assembly. We have introduced stiffer penalties for exam cheats. I think five years jail term and some huge amounts they will have to pay, this has been done in Ghana. Now whose responsibility is it to apply the law? It is the job of the law enforcement agencies and the courts. Government makes the law and offenders are supposed to be sanctioned by the courts, it is not the job of WAEC to say someone has cheated in an exam and then throw him in jail. We don’t have such powers, all we can do is to apprehend the cheats and hand them over to law enforcement agencies and expect that they take action from there on. We have our legal personnel tracking our cases in courts but I don’t want to accuse anybody, our role as an examining board stops at that. We can only report to the enforcement agencies.
When WAEC registration is on, most school principals smile to the bank because they use the opportunity to extort candidates. Why is WAEC not doing anything about this?
We operate a democracy. My right stops where yours begins. These schools belong to the state and education is on the concurrent list and not on the exclusive list. So the states have a right to run their schools the way they want and WAEC depends on what the state ministries of education send to us. We also insist that any school that wants to register for our exam must have the clearance of the state ministry of education. When the ministry tells us that School A has been cleared and it has 100 candidates, we have no reason to doubt the state. When their principals are now charging in excess, I expect that it should be the state that should caution them. But we deal directly with candidates for the private exams.
Do you consider the National Examination Council in Nigeria a threat to you or fear that WAEC may gradually be phased out of Nigeria?
No, I want to congratulate the government for setting up NECO. It’s those who don’t have information that misinterpret government’s intention. It is better for WAEC that we have more examining boards because competition has a way of creating improved performance. Nigeria is a big country and we have only WAEC and NECO to conduct the senior examination in secondary schools. I wish to see a situation where more examining boards are created. The advantage we have is that we have been on the ground for well over six decades and our activities span across Anglophone West Africa. We have harmonised our certificate so it’s easier for somebody with a WAEC certificate to go to Ghana and gain admission.
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