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WAEC mass failure and recipe for success



Mass failure in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is not new. It is becoming the norm in Nigeria’s education sector. Couple of months ago, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, called for the declaration of a state of emergency in the sector. Recently, the Senate said it too is intervening in the academic crisis. In this report, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, explores the history of mass failure in WAEC exams and how to truly resolve the issues

Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is not known for frivolity. He has a rich political resume; same with educational pedigree. Understanding the undercurrents of the standards of education in Nigeria as borne out by the latest flop in the West African Examination Council-organised exams for O’ level graduates, he did not hesitate to speak out where many have kept silent.

Speaking on the latest mass failure in the WAEC exams, following the set up of a Senate committee, Saraki said, “I am sure the committee will work assiduously to get to the bottom of this matter and see that it is addressed. Indeed the education sector needs some reforms.”

The crisis in the sector was further described by Senator Biodun Olujimi as worrisome.She said, “There is need for revaluation to understand where the missing link is. There is also the need to look at teacher education because we have some teachers who are not properly trained, who don’t do research and cannot read or write. So, how can they teach our children well?”


In 1948, a meeting was held to discuss the future policy of education in West Africa; at the meeting, one Dr. George Barker Jeffery was appointed to visit some West Africa countries such as Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Nigeria. At the end of the visit, Jeffery’s recommendation for the establishment of WAEC in 1952 was adopted.

Established by law to determine the examinations required in the public interest in the English-speaking West African countries, the exam body conducts examinations and awards certificates comparable to those of equivalent examining authorities internationally.WAEC is an examination board formed out of concern for educational development in Nigeria and West Africa at large. The council is said to have developed a team of well-trained and highly motivated staff that conducts examinations at local and international levels.

Since 1984, Nigeria had won the top three prizes put up by the examination body eight times. That was in 1986, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. On the other hand, Ghana won the prizes on nine occasions: 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

In the eight years (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2001, 2007, and 2011) that the prizes had been won by candidates from more than one country, Ghana had trumped Nigeria.However, the issue of Nigerian students sitting for the O’ Level exams organised by WAEC transcends winning top prizes.

To that end, in March, the Senate under the leadership of Saraki directed the Committee on Education (Basic and Secondary) to meet with the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, in order to identify causes of the recurring failure in WAEC results with a view to finding solutions.

That resolution followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by Sen. Umaru Kurfi, who described the mass failure of O’ level exams results in the country since 2009 as disgraceful. Kurfi believes that if the trend continues, it will jeopardize the future of today’s youths and the generation after them.

According to him, in the success rate of students who sat the 2009 and 2010 WAEC-organised exams had only 25.99 and 24.94 per cent respectively passed with five credits including Mathematics and English, while the remaining others constituting 70 per cent failed.“In 2011 May/June WAEC, only 86,612 out of the 1,540,250 candidates that participated in the examinations got credit in Mathematics and English. Also in 2011 May/June WAEC, only 86,612 out of 1,540,250 candidates that participated in the examinations got credits in Mathematics and English.

“In 2012 May/June WAEC, only 649,159 out of 1,672,224 candidates that sat for the examinations which represents just 38.81 per cent got five credits and above including in the core subjects of Mathematics and English. In 2013 WAEC, only 29.17 per cent candidates actually passed the November-December WAEC examinations while 70 per cent failed,” Kurfi reeled out the statistics.He added, “In both 2017 and 2018 recent January/February private examinations, only 26.01 per cent and 17.13 per cent candidates had passed with five credits including Mathematics and English respectively, while the remaining over 70 per cent candidates failed.”

The federal lawmaker expressed regret that the future of the country would continue to be bleak if urgent actions were not taken to address the situation.It is the same view expressed by Sen. Barau Jibrin. The legislator stated that urgent steps must be taken to understand causes of the mass failure and lasting solutions to prevent any reoccurrences.

Not only him feels that way. Sen. Emmanuel Paulker said the situation called for a grave concern, attributing the development to the problem from poor quality of education received at the primary school level.

“And it is this same crop of students that will move to the secondary school. Some of them can hardly write or read; without a foundation, there is no way a house can stand. Those formulating our school curriculum must sit up, if not, we have our future doomed,” Paulker argued.On March 13 this year, WAEC had released the result of the newly-introduced February diet for private candidates with only 1,937 out of 11,727 candidates who sat for the exam, obtaining minimum credits and above in five subjects, including English and Mathematics.

Briefing newsmen in Lagos, the Head of National Office, Mr. Olu Adenipekun, pointed out that the 17.13 per cent was lower than the 26.01 per cent recorded for private candidates in 2017. He also disclosed that results of the 1,021 candidates, representing 9.03 per cent, are still being held over reported cases of examination malpractices – the cases were being investigated and reports would be presented to the appropriate committee of the council in due course for consideration.

Adenipekun, who expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of candidates in the examination, said the percentage of pass was lower.Mass failure in exams across the nation is not new and reactions of Nigerians –government officials, teachers and parents have always been the same.Just last year, a mass failure was recorded in the 2017 WAEC exams. At the release of the general results during the 55th Annual Meeting of the Nigeria National Committee, only 34,664 out of 131,485 had five credits including English and Mathematics.

Adenipekun had disclosed that the percentage of candidates in WASSCE, for private candidates, in 2015 and 2016 was 28.58 per cent and 38.50 per cent, respectively.He also disclosed that the results of 14,756 candidates, representing 11.07 per cent of candidates, were withheld for alleged examination malpractice. It was added that cases of withheld results are being investigated and the reports would be presented to the Nigeria Examination Committee for consideration.

In 2015, following the poor outing in the results of candidates that sat the O’ level exam, WAEC said it had found the recipe to the education crisis.One of such recipes was a workshop held in April 2015. At that training programme, more than 400 teachers received training on how to improve teaching and learning in schools.In August 2014, the then HNO of WAEC, Mr. Charles Eguridu, when asked what was responsible for the mass failure had stated, “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 5 am to report to work at 7 am or 8 am, get back home at about 8pm. So what time do they have to supervise their children and ensure that they do their home works or do some reading at home?”


He had added, “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, movies 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’s pageant attracts 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?””

To Eguridu, the values of the Nigerian society have become distorted, claiming that Nigerian students are victims of the environment they live in. However, education experts are of the opinion that until the government at all levels up the ante by increasing the spending allocated to education, by improving the quality of capacity of teachers, providing physical and intellectual infrastructure, and incentives for teachers and students, mass failure and malpractice will continue to be the order of the day rather than an exception.

In this article:
Adamu AdamuWAEC
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