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Interrogating impact of coronavirus on students’ WAEC performance

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Students in an exam hall

The West African Senior School Certificate Examination is ongoing. The stakes are high, so are the hopes of the students sitting for the exams. However, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL writes that the combined statistics of the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) between 2014 and 2018 may not reflect how students will perform amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of academic activities.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus across the globe, the educational system has remained one of the worst-hit. In a country notorious for poor academic sector funding, things came to a head when the West African Examination Council (WAEC) rolled out the date for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) this year.

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When WAEC announced that the exam would start in August, some parents, students, and other stakeholders expressed concerns over the possibility of the exam recording a mass failure at the end of the day.

The concern is understandable: students had been at home for several months and the channel of academic instructions was disrupted. Besides, with many students already getting set for the exam and the COVID-19 pandemic scuttling the initial date, the spirit of the many students would have been dampened.

Sure, it would have afforded others to recover lost ground but the protracted crisis leading to school closure until August could have taken the wind of the sail of everyone. That’s again understandable and the schools concerned had since organised quick-fire revision programmes for the final-year secondary school students.

However, the greatest concern should be the downward spiral of the country’s WAEC results in the last five years. Numbers, they say, don’t lie.

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According to the National Bureau of Statistics, with the exception of 2019, between 2014 and 2018 students had failed to impress as a whole, especially in obtaining the minimum credit passes in five subjects including English Language and Mathematics.

For example, the number of candidates that sat WASSCE in 2016 dropped by 1.4 percent from 1.72 million to 1.69 million candidates in 2017. Then, in 2018, the downward spiral continued with 1.68 million candidates sitting the exam. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the number of students who would have sat the exam will likely reduce further.

Regarding the performance of students in the exam, the number of candidates who had five credit passes including English declined by 3.09 per cent to 1.01 million candidates in 2017 and to 11.64 per cent (896,191 candidates) in 2018. Admittedly, the number of candidates that had a minimum of five credit passes including Mathematics increased by 12.21 per cent to 1.15 million candidates in 2017. However, there was a decline of 3.79 percent in 2018. In addition to that, candidates with five credit passes (including mathematics and English) rose from 870,857 in 2016 to 913,039 candidates in 2017. A year after, it took a downward spiral to 793,910 candidates (13.05 per cent decrease).

In 2018, over 1.57 million candidates sat WASSCE as against 1.56 million candidates in 2017. In 2018, 849,069 of them had five credits and above including the English Language; 1.06 million candidates had five credits and above including Mathematics while 756,726 candidates (48.15 per cent of the total candidates who sat the exam) had five credits and above including Mathematics and English Language.

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With students devoting hundreds of thousands of hours to prepare for WASSCE, it can be heart-breaking to see them fail key subjects abysmally. To put things in the broader context, the NBS data showed that between 2014 and 2018, the top 10 states in WASSCE performance are Abia with a mean percentage of 74.11%, Rivers, 69.73%; Edo, 67.22%; Imo, 64.52%; Anambra, 64.08%; Bayelsa, 63.88%; Enugu, 58.19%; Lagos, 57.47%; and Delta, 53.4%; Ekiti, 52.36%.

The bottom 10 states are Adamawa with a mean percentage of 29.24%; Kastina, 28.99%; Niger, 26.72%; Kebbi, 25.17%; Sokoto, 23.27%; Bauchi, 19.59%; Zamfara, 14.38%; Gombe, 14.33%; Yobe, 13.44%; and Jigawa, 10.08%.

According to the data, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Delta, Edo, Imo, Kaduna, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Oyo, and Rivers consistently had high percentage (average percentage and above) representation of the candidates that sat the May-June WASSCE from 2014 to 2018 with Lagos having the highest percentage while Adamawa, Bayelsa, Borno, Ebonyi, Ekiti, FCT, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara consistently had low percentage (below-average percentage) representation of candidates.

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In 2015, Abia led the pack again with 63.94 per cent; Anambra came second with 61.18 per cent and Imo was fifth. Osun was 29th; Oyo, 26th; Ogun 19th; and Ondo 13th. Ekiti came 11th. Only Lagos made a good showing but did not make the top-five – it came sixth.

The quintet of Abia, Rivers, Edo, Imo, and Bayelsa states emerged as the best performing states in the 2016 WASSCE.

Abia came out strong at 81.54 percent; Rivers, 78.59 per cent; Edo came third with 77.41 per cent; Imo had 76.46 per cent; Bayelsa, 74.38 per cent, and Anambra, 71.83 per cent. Ondo came seventh with 68.43 per cent; and Lagos, ninth with 64.31 per cent; while Ekiti, Ogun, Osun, and Oyo were 14th, 19th, 24th, and 29th.

These states, without reliable virtual learning resources during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown restrictions, going by the above data will likely experience a further decline in students’ performance. Northern states, especially, will be worst-hit.

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Yobe and Gombe had the lowest for four consecutive years and one year, respectively.

It was noted in the statistics that few states had average and above the percentage of candidates that obtained five credits and above including Mathematics and English Language.

Although, most of the states recorded a significant percentage increase of candidates who obtained five credits and above including Mathematics and English Language in 2016, 2017, and 2018, just 11 states obtained a high mean percentage above average.

It is yet to be seen how that record will be improved. The COVID-19 pandemic may further reveal the underbelly of the nation’s poor secondary school education system that often turns brilliant students and great teachers into under-performers or under-achievers.

Stakeholders in the sector have shown concern as they are worried that the short preparation for the examination could result in poor grades this year based on the fact that many students would not be able to cope.

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Though the government and some private schools organised online teaching during the lockdown, regrettably, a large number of the students did not participate in the exercise.

President, Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Kassim Labaika said apart from the fact that only a few students participated in the government’s online learning scheme as most parents could not afford the cost of data and phone, he lamented that most of the students writing the WASSCE are not adequately prepared for the examination.

The Education Secretary, Ikeja Local Government Authority, Akeem Amosu complained that epileptic power supply almost frustrated the online classes as well as on air teaching organised by the Lagos State Government in some parts of the state, coupled with the inability of many parents to afford Internet-powered phones and other gadgets for the children to learn on radio and television.

A teacher in one of the public schools, Taiwo Adekemi said during the period of lockdown, students were not allowed to attend tutorial classes while many parents could not afford to hire teachers for private home lessons for their wards.

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Adekemi pointed out that WASSCE is normally held in May/June every year after students have been thoroughly taught and completed the syllabus given by WAEC.

He noted that despite adequate preparation and thorough teaching with revision taken towards the commencement of the examination, students have not been recording encouraging performances.

Adekemi expressed fear that the 2020 WASSCE results may not be too good.

An SS3 Mathematics teacher in one of the public schools in Maryland, Steve Oyinade, said less than 30 per cent of his students participated in the online teaching he engaged them, and many of them were not even regular.

He was of the view that the outcome may not be as encouraging as anticipated. He lamented that the students have not adequately prepared for the examination.

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A parent whose ward is also writing the examination, Esther Ginika is however optimistic. She said: “With the online classes and the revision period before the commencement of the examination, students should be able to perform well.

Paul Obi, a WAEC student in Community Grammar School, Maryland said: “Our teachers tried their best to prepare us for the examination after the lockdown. They took us through five subjects per day. And personally, apart from school preparation, I spent about two hours at home to study for the exam.

Grace Angel of Abundant Grace school, Ketu said: “I’m not that ready for the examination because the earlier postponement made me to relax.

Opeyemi Lawal, a science student in Army Children Senior High School, Ikeja said: “I joined online teaching immediately it started and I believe I will do well in my exams, likewise others that adequately prepared.”

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Precious Okunlola, an Arts student of Ikeja Senior High School stated: “The revision was a marathon one. I didn’t attend online teachings because I didn’t have a smartphone likewise most of my friends, but I picked up the personal reading habits at home while my friend went to our head boy’s house for the tutorial. With the look of things, the examination is going to be a 50/50 chance.

Some others are however optimistic that the students would do better having been returned to schools for revision.

One of the secondary school teachers in the Gbagada area of Lagos State who identified himself as Godson said with the efforts of the state government, the students would perform better in the examinations.

He said: “I believe the government has done its best to ensure a good performance among our students. Prior to the COVID-19 break, the SS3 final exams, including the other classes were just about a week to commence. Most teachers have already completed their syllabus, and many were on revisions.

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“During the four months of lockdown, students were not left on their own. There were several online channels made available to them using the media and on the Internet. Some indigent ones were lucky to have received from government tablets and transistor radios. Most schools engaged students of all classes in all subject areas on live teaching through WhatsApp. Just as the pandemic has brought out the best in some of us (teachers) by exposing us to various modern e-learning methods, students have also availed themselves of this new normal.

Since 2015, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has not taken any responsibility for the continued decline in education standards in Africa’s most populous nation.

But in the heat of reopening schools, for students to sit WASSCE, he had said: “I feel responsible for the whole children in Nigeria not just those in Federal Government-controlled schools.”

Will he feel responsible for the likely mass failure that lies ahead for not helping to put in place; realistic measures for public school students to keep learning until school was reopened?

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