‘We will re-model, reposition NECO’
On a day he clocked exactly one month in office as Registrar/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of National Examination Council (NECO), professor of Educational Research Measurement and Evaluation, Monday Joshua, spoke to JOHN OGIJI, in Minna, Niger State. He shed light on plans to build state offices for the examination body and embrace computer-based tests; the dwindling number of candidates embracing the examination; moves to remodel the outfit, make it become a major player within the global assessment industry as well as efforts to get it to deliver examination results trusted worldwide.Excerpts
YOU have been in office for about a month now. How has it been? Incidentally today is one month since I resumed office as the Registrar and Chief Executive of the National Examination Council (NECO). I must be honest with you, it has been quite challenging in a number of ways. One.
I come from a university background, and having operated as a classroom teacher involved in teaching, research activities, conference attendance and consultancy services, administering a national body like NECO, is slightly different from the work I have been doing before. So, in terms of work demands the challenges are there.
The other challenge is the pockets of protests here and there, all in an attempt to distract me from the settling down process. If the staff unions are not protesting, the host community or indigenes of the state will be protesting for one thing or against one thing or the other.
This is another form of challenges that I have faced in the last one month. When I was appointed, two examinations were staring us in the face, and upon resumption, I had to plan how to conduct these two examinations, that is the National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE) and the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). The latter is the junior secondary school examination.
So, these are some of the challenges I have faced in the last one month. But by the grace of God, we have been able to face those challenges squarely with the cooperation of my staff, especially my management staff.
The NCEE was well packaged and conducted and results released. Are you reaching out to these bands of protesters to hear them out in order to have a peaceful atmosphere to enable you discharge your duty effectively? Actually I see these protesters as distractions.
The Federal Government (FG) has given NECO a mandate and a very serious one at that. So I needed to settle down fast and plan for the two examinations I talked about. That was all I devoted my time and energy to plan and successfully execute. Because of that, I have not been able to reach out to anybody yet as far as those issues are concerned.
Even though some of the staff unions came to me to express their grievances, but none of those grievances has to do with my appointment.
However, me and my team sat down with them, and the grievances that were immediate we tried to handle them, but the ones that were not immediate, I promised them that as time goes on, we will look into them. As for the protests by the indigenes, if we really understand the content of their protest, then I don’t think we have anything to do with them.
I understand that they are protesting against the appointment of the registrar saying that it has to be an indigene. So we don’t have anything to do with that because the registrar is not appointed by the management or staff of NECO. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appoints him.
So, if anybody has a problem with the president’s appointment, the best place to go and protest is the Presidency and not at the entrance of NECO.
Nevertheless I want to use this opportunity to appeal to those who are sponsoring or organising these protests to please allow us to concentrate on the work that the FG has given us to do even though we know that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria allows freedom of expression.
The work is a very serious one; it is the work that touches every family in this country, so they should allow us to concentrate. How unfortunate are agitations like these in a complex country like ours? Well it is unfortunate that we are still experiencing these kinds of things in this country.
And it is unfortunate that these protests are coming at this point in time. We have one Nigeria that all of us should join hands to project and work for.
When we start the indigenisation of federal establishments, then the unity of the country is compromised. Federal establishments are located in almost every state of the federation, so when we start saying that indigenes of areas where federal establishments are located should be the ones heading them, then where is the concept of one Nigeria? I think these protests are unnecessary and those who are sponsoring them are doing no good as far as the unity of the country is concerned.
What are your programmes for NECO? As an organisation that has the mandate to assess Nigerian students at different levels of education, my coming here is to provide leadership to the body in order for it to achieve its mandate in a way that the FG and the Nigerian people would be happy.
I will strive hard to ensure that the vision of NECO, which is to become a major player within the global assessment industry, is maintained. In this direction, one of my plans is to ensure that NECO continues to conduct credible examinations and redefine the future of Nigerian Children through quality assessment.
We will also ensure that we deploy emerging technology that the other organisations saddled with the same responsibilities, within and outside the country have deployed to enhance the assessment practice. So, it is my plan to ensure that we improve on the foundation that has already been laid by my predecessors.
Talking about technology, how is NECO embracing computer-based examinations, which is becoming the in-thing among other prominent examination? That is what I meant when I said that we would deploy modern technology to enhance our examinations.
But I will not be able to give a specific time frame for its take-off now because this things don’t just happen overnight. You have to get the staff trained, acquire the necessary equipment, but certainly we shall explore vigorously, how to key into the best practices within and outside the country.
With the planned introduction of computer-based examination, what is the fate of the rural child, who has no access to computer set or knowledge of its workings? Well, I think we will cross the bridge when we get there.
When the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was to introduce its Computer-Based Test (CBT), there were lots of arguments and complaints about the people in rural areas and the level of illiteracy.
But today, JAMB has gone full scale CBT so all those arguments are no longer tenable. I am sure when we get there we will get it right. Since the establishment of NECO in April 1999, the organisation cannot boast own offices in the 36 states including Abuja.
Do you plan to do anything in this direction? Thank you very much for this question. That is one of my major plans for the organisation. But I am still studying things being my first month in office.
By the time we settle down very well, I will see how we can ensure that NECO has its own offices in all the 36 states of federation.
I know that there will be budgetary constraints because to build one office, you will be talking about millions of naira and so when you multiply that by the number of states where we don’t have office, you will be talking about billions of naira.
This notwithstanding, having our offices across the 36 states and Abuja is one thing that is very dear to my heart. However, I am not a magician to say that before the end of my tenure, I will build offices in all the states of the federation, but if at the end of my tenure I am able to build in at least 12 to 15 states, that will be an achievement and I will leave NECO a happy person.
The number of candidates applying to write NECO-organised senior school examination has plummeted from one million candidates to about 700, 000.
What do you think is responsible for this? Are there plans to attract more candidates to register for your examinations? Yes, that is true.
At our last management meeting, we discussed the issue, which is a source of concern to the management of NECO, and we are going to do something about it.
However, the drop in the number of candidates may have to do with the perception of people that NECO examinations are difficult to pass, and candidates are rushing to register for other examination they think that they can pass very well, easily.
Secondly some state governments in the pursuit of free education policy have been paying for one examination for their indigenes, and in most cases they choose WAEC, as they may not want to pay for two examinations. So, I think this is one factor again that has contributed to the low enrolment figures.
But at our own end here, we will re-model NECO and embark on an enlightenment campaign to let Nigerians know that this is the only indigenous examination body owned by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So I believe that if a state government wants to pay for an examination fee for its indigenes, it should be NECO that is solely owned by Nigeria. Some are of the opinion that candidates fail NECO examinations more than examinations conducted by other external examination bodies.
How true is this assumption? Well, my take here is that our vision is to become a major player within the global assessment industry, and also to deliver examinations, whose results are trusted worldwide for their credibility and we will continue to strive hard to maintain this vision.
To answer your question, we have a syllabus, which is equivalent to that approved for secondary schools by the government, and our examinations questions are drawn from this syllabus.
The students, teachers and schools are all aware of this syllabus. The examinations, when written, are marked by some of these teachers who teach the students. So, if candidates fail our examinations, I don’t think it is NECO’s problem, the blame cannot be on us as an examination body. If candidates pass examinations of other examination bodies than they pass NECO, then there is something to look at.
But we will not envy any examinations body because more candidates register for their examinations. We know the processes that we subject our examinations to and our processes are very thorough and among the best standards in the world. Let me give an example with the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) that we conduct. We conduct this examination with our staff in the field, who carry the question papers and monitor the examinations.
We also have internal people- our staff members that serve as examination administrators and their job is to look into what is happening at examinations venues. To add to the credibility of the examinations, we also bring in external monitors.
These are professors and high-ranking lecturers from different higher institutions across the country, who independently monitor these examinations and send reports to us.
Our examinations are conducted under very tight security. All these things other examination bodies are not doing. So, maybe that is why candidates pass their examinations more than NECO examinations.
But I can assure you that NECO will continue to remain focused. We will not compromise our examinations because we want more candidates to come and register for our examinations.
Passing the examinations is not the issue, but competing with other candidates and examination bodies globally is the issue. We will continue to maintain our standard towards achieving our vision. What kind of NECO would you want to leave behind?
The first day that I addressed the staff here, I promised that I was going to run NECO as a family and I will constantly seek the grace of God to help me run NECO as a family so that by the time I leave, I will leave it as a united family, that is the NECO I will want to leave behind.
QUOTE But at our own end here, we will re-model NECO and embark on an enlightenment campaign to let Nigerians know that this is the only indigenous examination body owned by the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So I believe that if a state government wants to pay for an examination fee for its indigenes, it should be NECO that is solely owned by Nigeria.
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