Examiners reveal how private schools aid exam malpractice
For over two decades, Nigeria’s educational scene has been plagued by examination malpractice. Despite the series of efforts by different examination bodies in the country to tame the scourge, it seems to be assuming new dimensions. UJUNWA ATUEYI, in this report, seeks the views of external examiners on how the menace can be curbed.
Nkiru Owolabi, 42, is a widow. Owolabi, who teaches in one of the private schools in Lagos State, lives in a single room apartment with her five children. They live fairly in poverty. But she is determined to see to the welfare of her children and also give them the best of education.
On a yearly basis, during May/June WASSCE or NECO, Owolabi sees the period as a season of harvest. It is the period they make extra money as they help supervisors in the conduct of the examination.
She gets large chunk from whatever amount of money that is recorded each day, from desperate candidates and parents who want special assistance.
To her, WASSCE period is a big business deal that cannot afford to be unexploited.
At the end of the day, the tasks are well executed and their candidates record extraordinarily brilliant results.
The candidates may have done well, but their success is a product of fraud that has dire consequences.
Around the country, there are so many schools, be it public, private or WAEC approved study centres, which are recording huge success in WASSCE and NECO, but may be not for the right reasons.
Though, their candidates are making very good results, they are always done through external help. They get ‘mercenaries’ to help their students solve the questions, which are now distributed among the students.
Some of these schools go all out to pay the invigilators and examiners so that they can look the other way.
When The Guardian spoke with a teacher of a school in Oregun, he said, “I had to quit because of my Christian faith. My belief does not condone cheating, but this is what I have been doing for years.”
Our respondent, who prefers to remain anonymous, said, “private schools corrupt invigilators. They get the money ready before examination, which is then shared among all of them. That’s why they turn out good results. They charge exorbitant fees for enrollment and so they have to justify the amount people are paying.”
This may have suggested why examiners who spoke with The Guardian were definite in their respective conclusion that examination malpractices in Nigeria cannot be eliminated. It will continue to exist, deepen and advance to the next level, as long as the love for money exists.
Supporting their argument, they noted that the majority of the private school owners would go the extra length to ensure their students pass West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) with unmerited distinctions.
Most private school owners, according to some West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB) examiners, who spoke with The Guardian, are desperate when it comes to WASSCE, and as long as there are gullible examination officers, the scourge will continue.
Private school proprietors, they said, have been bribing WAEC and NABTEB examiners to not only allow their candidates cheat during examination, but to also disclose question papers to them before examination.
The misdemeanour has somehow become a norm that any examiner that opposes it is not only dubbed ‘holier than thou’, but also receives hostile treatment and threat to life.
The more the examination bodies are devising means to tackle the scourge, the more the number of candidates that engage in the act increases.
Examiners said the number of candidates that were caught during examinations is far less than the number that engages in examination malpractice successfully.
The Guardian checks on the number of candidates caught by WAEC for examination fraud in the last ten years, showed a steady rise in the act.
In 2008, results of 74,956 candidates were withheld for alleged involvement in examination malpractice. In 2009, 109,201 candidates’ result were withheld; in 2010, 77,168 candidates; 2011, 81,573 candidates and 2012, 112,000 candidates.
Also, in 2013, the body said 112,865 candidates results were withheld due to examination malpractice; in 2014, 145,795 candidates; 2015, 118,101 candidates; 2016, 137,295; and 2017, 214,952. WAEC acknowledged that there were cases of examination malpractice in 2018, but declined to give the statistics.
The rising cases of examination malpractice are an indication that whatever that is being done to curb the practice is not yielding desired results.
Just last week, the Edo State government suspended 28 principals of public senior secondary schools in the state, for their alleged involvement in the 2018 WASSCE and 28 private secondary schools also faced the threat of being deregistered or derecognized for involvement in examination malpractice in the 2018 WASSCE.
The suspension followed the receipt of a report of investigations by WAEC that cancelled the results of the affected candidates and derecognized the schools for two years with effect from 2019. This is just a case of one state.
Origin of examination malpractice
A lot of questions have been asked as to what factors are responsible for this, and what sustains examination malpractice in the education sector from primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education, over the years.
A study carried out by Luke A. S. Hounvenou of School of Languages, Federal College of Education, Kontagora, Niger State and Elizabeth Chinenye Hounvenou of Primary Educations Studies Department, Federal College of Education, Kontagora, Niger State, revealed that examination malpractice crept into the educational system in the late 1980s and 90s.
“That was during the military regimes when the educational sector at both the federal and state levels fell to sorry states.
Schools at all levels were starved of necessary funds and allowed to dilapidate. Public schools degenerated to something like learning centres meant only for the less privileged.
Teachers at all levels despite the meager honorarium were owed several months of salaries.
“And whenever the strikes were called off, the school calendar was jam-packed only for the students to hurriedly enter into a new semester or academic year as the case may be. One knew his year into the university but one’s year of graduation remained uncertain.
Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU) and Non-Academic Staff Union Of Universities (NASU) strikes became a regular phenomenon with students spending the greater parts of the academic calendar at home.”
The report claimed that as a result of the disorderliness in public education, the option for private schools by parents became a necessity.
“To meet up with this demand, private schools started springing up in every nook and cranny of streets in major towns and cities in the country. As these schools competed to retain the highest number of students/pupils, examination malpractice started rising. Emphasis was no longer placed on standard but on money.
“In fact, hardly will a student pass out from these private schools without having chains of As. Proprietors whose students fail woefully the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) or the National Examination Council (NECO) examination, are regarded as not ‘knowing the way.’ They may have been ‘new comers’ in the system,” says the report.
However, 1977 and 1981 will remain evergreen in the minds of many when it comes to examination malpractice.
1977, in fact, got the sobriquet Expo 77. And in 1981, another year that was characterised by mass cheating, the WAEC examiner had to be summoned to the National Assembly why this was so.
“You will notice that 1982 and 1983 did not record that high rate of cheating, as some people’s jobs were on line,” said a source in WAEC.
The Guardian checks revealed that the plague crept into the education sector as a further confirmation of the rot in the system.
The WAEC and NABTEB examiners who spoke with this reporter said candidates were not to be blamed solely, rather some dubious private school owners, who work hand in glove with some covetous WAEC examiners should be blamed.
They described the situation as a perilous chain reaction from top to the bottom.
Though they did not exonerate public schools, the only difference is that their cases are rare unlike private schools.
“The truth is that public schools candidates who engage in examination malpractice succeed by luck, unlike their private schools candidates that have a master plan. Once their school authorities strike a deal with examiners, distinctions are assured. This is different from the so-called ‘miracle centres’. So public schools do engage in exam cheats, but it is more intense in private schools where the proprietors boast about 100 per cent excellent in WAEC,” says Mrs. Chinwe Ajoke (not real name) a WAEC examiner.
“As an examiner, we know that there are number of misconducts here and there during WASSCE, and we try as much as we could to bring orderliness. But what I witnessed at a private school in Iju-Ishaga, during the 2018 diet was jaw-dropping. The first day I reported to the school, the proprietress, in company of the principal, came to inform me of how they operate, and what they had for me, if I could play along.
“I told them that my conscience and the fear of God in me would not let me indulge in such an act. Besides, that they were not helping the candidates by their act. After much persuasion, I refused to shift ground. At that point, they decided to cheat by all means. In my very own eyes, the schoolteacher was solving the questions for the candidates on the board, while the other teacher was dictating objectives. When I confronted them, they ignored me and continued their action. I moved into the next hall, the same thing was happening.
“It dawned on me that the school did not prepare their candidates for the examination. I have never experienced such rowdiness in my eight years as an examiner. I thought of reporting the school, but I remembered there were innocent candidates that were not involved. I also remember a nasty comment made by one of the male teachers about trailing and revenging, if I dare report their school. He said he had nothing to loose as a bachelor. The cheating was too much.”
She continued, “In the past they used to assign at least a police officer to each examination centre. I don’t know why they stopped it. Private schools are desperate when it comes to passing WASSCE and can go to any length to achieve their goals. There is another private school at Okota, the owner was not interested, but the principal bought him over and convinced him on why they should go extra mile to help their candidates during WASSCE.”
Another examiner for NABTEB, Mrs. Cathrine Okeke (also not real name) said, “All the while, I have always been assigned to supervise in government schools. But, the first time I was assigned to supervise a private vocational school at Ketu, it was a nightmare. When I got there they called me and said madam, this is how we use to do it. I told them I did not understand what they meant, and they said ‘you will allow us to help our students.’ Though I objected and stood my ground, the next day, I got a letter from NABTEB and I was told to move from that school to another school.”
“It was later I learnt that the principal went and connived with the authorities in NABTEB then. They have people in NABTEB, some of them always work hand in hand with school principals especially the private schools and they give them a lot of money. It cannot happen in state or federal government colleges. Most private schools want their schools to be known as institutions where students clear all their papers at one sitting,” she said.
According to Okeke, though it is a good ambition to have students clear their paper at one sitting, it shouldn’t be obtained in a fraudulent way.
“I have supervised Federal Science and Technical College Yaba, four times, such never happened. In the state or federal schools, you have the boldness to reject the offer and nothing will happen. But, you cannot try such in private schools; they will despicably deal with you. There was a case of somebody they gave tea, he drank and slept off. I am talking about my colleague. So you don’t accept things from them once you know you are not ready to compromise, don’t accept anything from them. They do all manner of things in the private schools, in so much that if you are not a strict disciplinarian, you will give in to their demands.
“When we are doing coordination for supervision each year, you see them hovering around, soliciting for people that will always compromise with them. Even among teachers, there are a lot of them that are willing to accept the offer; they will be the ones looking for the private schools because of their love for money. Also in public schools it happens but on a low key, some principals will close their eyes as if they don’t know some teachers are helping some students, whereas they are very much aware,” she said.
Stating that in every 12, there must be a Judas, Okeke, who retired last week from the Lagos State teaching service, said most teachers and examination officers actually make money during external examinations.
But in the midst of all these misdeeds, she affirmed that there are still some good students who will write exams on their own and pass all their papers.
Speaking on how examination malpractice could be eradicated, the retired teacher said, “it will be difficult. It is like asking someone in need of money not to collect a huge financial offer made to him/her. Once corruption set into any system, it will be difficult to sanitise that system.”
Notwithstanding, Okeke said if all private schools could be monitored, it would be reduced. “But I don’t know how that could be achieved. We are talking about private schools nationwide. A colleague was sent to a school at Oshodi to supervise May/June WASSCE, she didn’t compromise, and the school owner became hostile to her, and said, ‘Do you think that I built this school for my students to be failing in their examinations?’ Her request was that the examiner should be showing them question papers a day before examination.
“And the school owner is a wife to a prominent man, people we are looking up to, people that are well exposed are the ones encouraging exam fraud. So, examination malpractice cuts across all strata of people in the society. Parents, teachers, proprietors and some corrupt examiners. Once this team seals a deal it must be cleanly executed because money is involved and all parties have their own share.”
Okeke also shared a story about schools that are not technical schools, but conduct NABTEB examination. She said they register candidates for examination, and then bring in ‘mercenaries’ to help them write the examination.
“This trend started after it was announced that with NABTEB certificates, people can actually be promoted in their working place. All these old men, women and adults that have been in the civil service system for long decided to be patronising such schools where they can be aided during examination. One of such schools is at Akesan, Igando. They are not technical schools, but they register candidates without teaching them the course or completing the syllabus. During examination, they will now bring ‘mercenaries’ to write for their candidates. Many times, you will not even see the candidates. Those categories paid for non-appearance. That is the society where we found ourselves.”
Students, parents and teachers reaction
Recalling what transpired during her time as a student, a respondent, Favour Ezike, asserted that it would be difficult to eradicate exam fraud in the country.
The situation according to her has deepened to the extent that young Nigerians hardly go for examinations, confident of what they can produce on their own without depending on one type of examination malpractices or the other.
“From candidates to parents, supervisors and even WAEC officials. Examiners are aware that cheating is going on in their centres, and the deal for exam cheat is increasing yearly. Private schools seem to be the worst because they don’t want their products to fail WAEC. When I did my first WAEC in my school, at Sowemimo, Ojo Alaba, we had a meeting with the school authority, they asked us to pay so they could settle WAEC supervisors/examiners who would grant them free access to assist us in the exam. My school principal counselled us and tried to justify her action.
“They made it appear like they are doing us a great favour, they asked us to pay N5,500 each after paying for WAEC fee, that was in 2013. So for me as at that time, not only that I was not interested, there was also no way I could have afforded it because paying the WAEC fee was hard for my brother whom I was living with then. So on the day of the examination, they separated those that paid from those that didn’t pay. For those that paid they supplied them answers for objectives and theories. They were writing answers for them on the black board and students were copying.
“Then on the day of physics, the questions were so difficult and they noticed that some of us would be having tough time. So they came to our class to pick few candidates, I was among those they picked because I once represented the school in a competition and we won. Also the school was aware that we never had a good physics teacher. So they took us to the main class where they were helping those that paid. At the end of the day after all the cheating, WAEC withdrew our physics, which was why I had to write another WASSCE.”
Ezike who lamented that exam fraud is going on even at the common entrance level, further stated, “Even lecturers in university collect money from students and give them B or C mark in their courses. They will tell you A is for them. Some collect N5000, while some collect N10,000 depending on the unit of the course. I saw people doing it in my department. So personally, I doubt if exam malpractice will be eradicated. Students are no longer serious as a result of this.
“I studied petroleum engineering and I worked very hard to come out with first class, but I ended up finishing with second class upper, and I have a feeling that some of my lecturers frustrated my ambition,” she claimed.
Blaming the situation on policy inconsistency and overloaded curriculum, Ezike said, “If you ask me, Nigerian schools are more interested in selling books and making profit than imparting knowledge. If you see a child’s school bag, it will be filled with so many books and you begin to wonder how and when they read those books. Government on its part is confusing students with its constant alteration in school curriculum. A new minister will come and modify, the next one will come and drop existing practice and introduce his own.
“They should reduce the content of what students are reading in this country. It is too voluminous. You see a child in primary school, you will marvel at the quantity of textbooks and workbooks they have. My niece is in JSS 1 now, I don’t know if it is only book that the school is selling. Who will read all those textbooks and workbooks? Including the notes they copy. What they will learn in those books are they relevant or will it be useful to that child in the future?” she queried.
A parent, Mrs. Titilayo Oladele who argued that she couldn’t encourage exam fraud, said “those who engage in it do it out of love. They don’t want their children to fail, especially when your neighbours’ children are making their papers at one sitting.”
A teacher at Ebonyi State University Secondary School, Abakaliki, Mrs. Edith Anyanwu, who decried the ripple effect of the scourge, said that all hands must be on deck to get it reduced at least.
She said, “Exam malpractice has remained a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of our educational system.
Much awareness has been created so as to expose its dangerous effect yet it cannot be abated. Cheating during examination, over time has been encouraged by different people, in different guises and with different motives. Some private schools operators encourage it just to boost their image. They do all it takes to make good results so as to attract more students. This is exactly how the issue of ‘miracle centres’ started.
“We cannot refute the fact that the pride of any institution, especially secondary school lies in the quality of their WAEC and NECO results. Some proprietors/proprietress go all out to make a name even if it means encouraging this dirty act. Some parents also have a large chunk of the blame. They behave as if they are in some sort of competition as to whose child will gain admission into the university first. So they go all out to pay some ‘mercenaries’ that will give them the required credits.”
Anyanwu who affirmed that some teachers are also guilty of the crime, said, “In some schools, teachers are being reprimanded, punished or even surcharged owing to the mass failure in their subject area. This leads to some teachers giving a ‘helping hand’ to students during examination. Of course, no one wants to roam the street looking for a job especially when you have crossed the ‘I humbly apply’ age.
“This ill can however be eradicated if all hands will be on deck to fight it. Private School operators should show integrity in all they do. They should encourage students to work on their own so that they can defend their degrees in future. Parents should desist from sending underage children to school and they should be allowed to choose whether to be science- or a rts-inclined.
She further called for a regulation that will bar the influx of WAEC/NECO answers in the Internet during such exams. “The examination bodies should thoroughly monitor their staff so as to fish out the bad eggs that aid and abate such crime as examination malpractice.”
On why most examiners are not reporting these private schools, Okeke said that the move was fraught with grievous consequences. She said she had in the past, reported a public school and that subject was eventually cancelled. But later, some of her colleagues made her look like a devil.
“At Adeosoba, students cheated during chemistry. I wrote a report against the school and the whole result was cancelled. Some of my colleague gossiped about it and dubbed me a witch. But in some cases, before the report you wrote will get to NABTEB, the school will contact their persons in NABTEB and they will remove it from the file. They have their own people in NABTEB that flow with them, if not, such will not happen. It is easy and safe to write a report against a public school. If you do that with a private school, you are endangering your life.”
But Ajoke on her part said she had never reported any case, firstly, for the sake of innocent students who never partook in the fraud and two for fear of being trailed and eventually attacked.
We do not have gullible examiners
Exonerating WAEC examiners from the act, the WAEC Head of Public Affairs, Mr. Demian Ojijeogu, said there were no gullible officers from the board, as their staff were well paid and well taken care of, thus, could not be used by dubious school owners.
He said, “during exams, WAEC sends its staff to go and monitor the centres, and in some cases, due to the nature of the centre and the hostile nature of the environment, our staff are forced to receive whatever they are given.
When they return to office, they pay the money to the audit, obtain receipt and compile their report against the centre or school. That will form part of the report. Somebody at the scene might think that the person has compromised, but he/she did not.
“When our examiners look at the environment, they are forced to accept whatever offer made to them because they have to leave the centre or school alive. In that kind of circumstance, take the money they gave you, come back, remit to the audit and write your report. The reason for collecting money is to at least leave the examination scene alive.”
He continued, “after that there will be an investigation. Senior officers will scrutinise the scripts of the subject that was written that day at the affected centres to check if there were incidents of exam malpractice. After their investigation, the results will not be released. They will be withheld. The outcome of the investigation will be sent to our national office, from there to the Nigeria Examinations Committee (NEC.)
“NEC is the highest decision-making body on exam-related matters. The members are not WAEC staff. The NEC will then meet; of course, we will facilitate the meeting. They will scrutinise and advice WAEC. They sometimes point out incidents that might lead to litigation. After results are withheld, it is their decision that determines whether they will be released or cancelled. WAEC is obligated to go by their decisions. No appeal!”
On latest effort of the board, Ojijeogu said, “WAEC took the decision to bar private school teachers from supervising their exams. It came to our notice that in most cases, private schools are always involved. A lot of things have happened in private schools. The board is working towards ensuring that they are not part of our conducts. It might take a little time, but we will achieve that.”
But he added that there are exceptions to private schools like some mission schools.
Possible way out
A former examiner, who is now a senior lecturer at Yaba College of Technology, said, “there is a need to install CCTV camera in all examination centres. And these CCTV will be linked to WAEC main office like the way JAMB has done theirs.
If WAEC can spend money to do that, I know it is capital intensive, but it will be a worthwhile project. It means all the secondary schools in the country, should have one because every government-approved secondary school is an examination centre.”
Parents, she said must be brought in, as lot of them bribe the teachers to help children pass their examination. She said they must be educated that there is nothing wrong with their children repeating class or rewriting examination.
“The money they spend for exam malpractice should be used to recruit a home teacher for the child. They also push these children so high that they are not mature enough to be able to sit down and read. And schools on their part do not teach reading skills and handwriting anymore.”
The lecturer recalled a story of a candidate who made five As, 2Bs and 2Cs in WAEC, only to score 165 in JAMB. “When her parents pushed her to polytechnic, she did not only fail the oral interview, her handwriting too was a mess. It was at that point that it became very clear that she is a product of exam malpractice.
“Also when I supervised JAMB, a man from my hometown offered me N100,000 to assist her daughter to pass.
It is that bad. Parents must be told that there is nothing wrong with their children repeating or rewriting examination. I told him, I could not do that. Of course, I have a name to protect. A name I built over the years. Passing external examination is not a do or die affair.
“I went to supervise another private school in 2007, the school is along Apapa road and it is supposed to be a Christian school going by the name of the school. But shockingly, the school owner made an offer to me to allow them cheat. It is really pathetic that people who are supposed to know better are the ones encouraging examination fraud.”