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How exam malpractice undermines nation’s development

By Iyabo Lawal
26 October 2017   |   4:28 am
The devastating effects of examination malpractices are usually expressed through the erosion of creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, technical know-how, and moral values.

A cross section of participants at the summit

Examination malpractice is as old as Nigeria itself and its effect on the sector and the nation as a whole is crippling and retrogressive, writes Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal.

The devastating effects of examination malpractices are usually expressed through the erosion of creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, technical know-how, and moral values. Industries and corporate organisations suffer because people who are qualified for the jobs are in the real sense not qualified for the jobs – they cheated their way through, most often through examination malpractices.

The older generation is wont to say that today’s students are lazy and are adept at cheating during exams but the history of cheating in exams is as old as Nigeria.

Long before 1960, students in the country have been cheating their way through to success. Examination malpractice was first recorded in the country in 1914. During that year, it was reported that the question papers of the Senior Cambridge Local Examinations were seen by candidates before the scheduled date of the exam. Ever since then, examinations and students have never remained the same again.

By 1970, the situation has gone out of the frying pan into the fire – not only students are now engaged in the act. Their parents, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, and unfortunately, teachers and examiners have become part of the cheating gang.

In 2000, at least six per cent of the 636,064 candidates who sat for the West African Examination Council (WAEC)-organised examination were involved in one form of malpractice or another.  In 2001, five per cent of the 1,025,185 candidates for the examination were involved in examination malpractice. In 2002, 10.5 per cent of the 909,888 candidates for the examination were involved in examination malpractice.

In 2003, the percentage increased to about 11 per cent (of 1,066,831 candidates for the examination). While in 2004, there was a further increase to 11 per cent (of the 1,035,280 candidates for the examination).

In its decades of existence, the exam body has been promoting the idea of hard work and honesty in youths through its awards for outstanding performance in its examinations.

The Council conducts several international and national examinations in all member countries except Nigeria where it has shed all but one of its examinations, The West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) for school candidates in May/June and private candidates in November/December and lately, February/March.

No doubt, WAEC, whose vision is to become a world-class examining body, is worried about students cheating during its exams. The quest to tackle the menace and rid the sector of the cankerworm called examination malpractice informed the council’s decision to hold an international summit last Thursday attended by key stakeholders in the sector on the way out of the scourge.

The two-day summit organised by the five- member countries of the examination body and held in Lagos with the theme, “Examination malpractice: the contemporary realities and antidotes,” provided an avenue for concerned stakeholders to critically examine the factors responsible for the scourge and ways of tackling it to rid our examinations of malpractice. But all is not well.

The council registrar, Iyi Uwadiae set the tone for the discussion when he reeled out the dangers of examination malpractice and how it has manifested in various segments of the society. The WAEC chief lamented that examination malpractice has remained a thorn in the flesh of examining bodies. Despite the measures taken against perpetrators, including cancellation of candidates’ results, baring of candidates from the examinations, derecognition of schools and others, Uwadiae expressed regrets that these measures appear not to deter the perpetrators who have continued to devise new ways of carrying out their fraudulent acts.

He warned that the consequences of examination malpractice on educational institutions and the society are grave and worrisome. “Apart from the damage it does to the image of examining bodies in terms of credibility or reputation, huge amount of resources are committed annually into the fight against the malaise.

“Over the years, appeals have gone to stakeholders in the sector to partner WAEC more seriously in the fight against the cankerworm. One of the ways we can do this it to use this summit as a platform to generate ideas and strategies, which will set the stage for the eradication of examination malpractice in our sub-region.

On her part, the council chairperson, Dr Evelyn Kandakai warned that the consequences of examination malpractice on our national and sub-regional development are grave and frightening, as its multiplier effect on our national economies is overly destructive.

She lamented that some parents have continued to assist their children physically and financially to cheat in public examinations, while also faulting the role of some school authorities and teachers who created the environment for the cankerworm to thrive.

According to her, “Examination malpractice represents one of the worst forms of corruption in the sector. Two very important measurement concepts are seriously compromised. Validity- which centres on whether the test measures what it is supposed to measure; and reliability -whether the test results are consistent.

WAEC has continued to deploy all weapons in its arsenal and utilise every available opportunity to fight and discourage the die-hard perpetrators of examination malpractice. We have made frantic appeals to all stakeholders in the education sector to partner with us in the fight against this scourge that is endangering the quality of academic achievements and human capital development in our sub-region. The persistence of examination malpractice and its devastating effects on educational assessment and evaluation in the sub-region have worsened with the advent of the social media

She added that the consequences of examination malpractice on our national and sub-regional development are grave and frightening, as its multiplier effect on our national economies is overly destructive.

Eminent scholar and immediate past chairman of the council, Prof Pius Obanya who was the keynote speaker said the society’s emphasis on certificates over intellectual capability was responsible for examination. He said there were many holders of certificates with high grades who could not defend those certificates because they did not actually earn them.

The seasoned educationist said it is not necessary for students to sit for formal examinations either as promotional or for admission as the practice in Africa.

“We sit for too many examinations in Africa. Whereas what we need is to assess each student based on their peculiarity because there are thousands of factors that can affect one’s performance in an examination. So, who you are and what you can do are what really matter just as it is the practice in the developed countries of the world.

Other speakers, including the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof Ishaq Oloyede, National Examination Council (NECO), Prof Charles Nwakwe and National Board for Technical Education (NABTEB) also lamented that the scourge is fast assuming a dangerous trend, adding that the advent of social media has further worsened the situation. Bearing in mind the role that education plays in nation-building, they warned that the country stands the risk of being underdeveloped in terms of accumulation of illiteracy, disease, and poverty when its youths reject the honour of getting a sound education and seems to opt for fraudulent activities and deceptive ways in making ends meet via cheating during exams.

The overall aim of education is to shape the behaviour of students so that he can perform effectively within his social milieu. Those who successfully cheated in exams graduate into the larger society with the mentality that dishonesty is a quicker way to success and fame –and regrettably so, many Nigerians today considered as being prominent have been fingered to have risen to the top based on questionable exam results and certificates. Even the country’s number one citizen has not been spared.

WAEC, in the early 1970s, first witnessed mass cheating during exams and has since been grappling with the menace.

In 1977, a judicial commission of inquiry was set up to look into the affairs of WAEC in relation to the problem of efficient conduct of examinations and prompt release of results. Among other things, the committee acknowledged the excessive workload of WAEC and recommended that its workload should be reduced by establishing some more examination bodies, which could take over some of its numerous examinations.

Registration of too many candidates over and above the facilities available in schools was also cited as a risk factor. With limited facilities and unlimited candidates, supervision is expected to be minimal with many candidates crammed into a classroom. A situation was reported where 200 candidates registered in a school which equally had halls that could accommodate them, but the arrangement was such that when a supervisor was in one of the classes that were so wide apart, dictation would be going on in the remaining classrooms.

During examinations, materials, which candidates’ feel could assist them to answer questions, are brought in. It can be a small sheet of paper like the size of a business card hidden on any part of the body.

Researchers noted that there was a time when teachers knew their students individually. Teachers at that time served the functions of both teachers in the school and as role models to the students. There was a strong link between the home and the school. The home, society, and school cooperated to raise the children properly.

With the advent of the Universal Basic Education (UBE), education experts said things are no longer at ease as there was a great uptick in student’s enrolment in schools without adequate preparation in terms of staffing and infrastructure. The limited number of teachers remaining in the schools could no longer cope with their functions. As a result, morals and knowledge acquisition took a downward spiral – in which exam malpractice is a symptom.

Even though the Federal Government promulgated laws, which stipulated a four-year-jail term for anyone found guilty of examination malpractice, the act has become the norm rather than the exception. In 2006 the Federal Ministry of Education blacklisted and de-recognised 324 secondary schools as centres for conducting public examinations from 2007 to 2010.

In a nation where exam malpractice thrives, many of its citizens will end up being insensible, dishonest, ignorant, narrow-minded, myopic, deceptive, and disingenuous. Examination malpractice puts youths and professionals in a situation that leads to a future of social-political and economic bankruptcy.

Sometimes when caught, students have had to repeat classes, retake the exams, dismissed from school; thus wasting money, time and efforts that could have been put to productive use. The importance of examination for diagnosis, placement, classification and quality control in schools has been eroded.

Stakeholders at the summit agreed that the fight against examination malpractice is a collective one and must be fought to a logical conclusion for the sector to experience a positive turnaround.