How WAEC Contributes To Candidates’ Failure - by Bayo Olupohunda

The West African Examinations Council recently released the results of the 2014 May/June West African Senior School Certificate examination. Again, the examination recorded massive failure by candidates. 

I am not going to bother about the shameful statistics. It is already in the public domain. But the result was not surprising. In fact, it was expected. Stakeholders, familiar with the dismal trend in recent years, were not surprised. WAEC has in a sense, become a messenger of doom. As an educator, I have also always had mixed feelings during the waiting period between when the examination is written and released. It is always a heart-stopping experience because no matter how hard you prepare, with WAEC, you never know what to expect. It has almost become a gamble for reasons I will attempt to explain in this piece.

For me, every examination cycle brings with it a feeling of anxiety in an environment where concern and doubts have arisen about the effectiveness and quality of coordination, script grading and evaluation of candidates by WAEC Nigeria. If every year candidates continue to fail woefully in an examination they spent three years of senior secondary school preparing for, then its time WAEC began a critical self- evaluation of its own performance. Why are candidates failing? Should they be failing so massively given the preparation that go into sitting for the exam?

For those who are not aware, preparing a student for SSCE is a demanding and rigorous exercise for schools, teachers and parents. A bit of explanation will suffice here. Preparation for the SSCE starts as soon as a student gets into Senior Secondary 1, commonly known as SS1. The WAEC syllabus covers the entire period of the three-year senior school curriculum. Technically, a student starts the preparation for the examination three years before it is written. The May/June examination is thus a culmination of three years of senior school curriculum and study. The syllabus also makes it clear that final questions will be based on the three-year senior school curriculum.

In preparing for the examination, schools and teachers often start in the first year of senior secondary school. They grill their students right from the word go because they know what is at stake. All the project work, assignments, homework, group and individual tasks are geared towards one goal: to ensure success in the examination. Schools that are aware of the importance of not just passing SSCE also use the curriculum to impart important life skills commensurate with the age of their students. As learning is not just for passing examinations alone, the senior school also offers the opportunity for life changing school trips, excursions, debates and quizzes.

Add these to the remedial classes and three years of personal study put in by students, the efforts of the school, teachers and parents, then you will get the complete picture of why we should look beyond the usual arguments often advanced for candidates’ failure. In spite of all the rigours of preparing for the exam, the results keep getting worse. Why is this so? The well-worn arguments often border on fundamental issues facing our educational system. But there have also been some improvement in the sector. For example, a growing number of private and public schools have improved on the quality of instruction and training of teachers. If students are failing, then we must also question WAEC in the way it conducts exam and evaluates candidates. 

Is WAEC not infallible or beyond reproach? Who are its current examiners? Are they doing a thorough job of evaluating the scripts based on the ability of individual candidates? How do the welfare and remuneration of examiners affect their disposition to grading of scripts? How does WAEC respond to the allegation of fatigue with just a few examiners to grade thousands of scripts? Are they patient enough? I have had cause in the past to question the proficiency of WAEC examiners. Sometimes, I wonder if during grading, examiners are aware that the scripts are symbolically tied to the future of candidates who would have put in their best in a difficult situation.

As Nigerians yearly confront the national disgrace that heralds the release of result, WAEC cannot continue to play the ostrich. It shares a major part of the blame for candidates’ serial failure. For example, a visit to WAEC coordination centres across the country will reveal the appalling condition under which examiners work as they grapple with thousands of scripts. The poor remuneration of its examiners by WAEC also affects the quality of work. I am aware that in the last few years, the quality of the examiners has also dropped. Many experienced and qualified examiners have retired. Competent and qualified examiners are discouraged with the poor treatment by WAEC. Payment per-script is as low as N11 per script. It is scandalous. A visit to WAEC coordination centres will also reveal the chaos that attends handling of scripts; examiners are also shabbily treated by WAEC staff.

There are also obvious marking guide errors by WAEC which examiners are not allowed to correct. Many of these mistakes lead to the failure of students in the subjects. For one, the quality of grading has dropped over the years. Those who joined the examiners rank are discouraged because of obvious incompetence on the part of WAEC and lack of motivation. WAEC has also largely contributed to examination failure because it has refused to build the capacity of examiners. For long, there has not been any form of capacity building like conferences, seminars and workshops that will reinforce best practices in test evaluation. WAEC officials also lack the necessary training to continue to function in a rapidly changing world. Clearly, the Nigerian factor has eaten deep into the fabric of the exam body. All they are interested in is to just make money from candidates. Allegations that WAEC deliberately fail candidates to increase yearly registration should not be discountenanced too.

Really, why should an examiner go through the rigours of coordinating and grading only to get peanuts not commensurate with the global standards? By contrast, Nigerian examiners grading foreign examinations such as IGCSE, TOEFL and London GCE are well-paid. Many even jostle to be listed as examiners by paying to write the qualifying examination conducted by The British Council. In the end, it is the hapless candidates and their parents that are made to bear the brunt of WAEC’s inefficiency. For example, what are the criteria for being an examiner of WAEC? No qualifying examination except for the examiners subject experience. As of now, anybody can become an examiner. The rule is not strict.

At the height of candidates’ failure is also the allegation of financial impropriety in WAEC Nigeria. How can an examination body charge so much only to deliver so little in terms of welfare of its workers and ad hoc staff? Yet, it is these few, poorly paid and fatigued examiners that will eventually grade millions of scripts. Sadly, the alternative all-Nigerian examination body, the National Examination Council has also been disappointing. While I agree we must fix our educational system to improve standards, WAEC must also re-organise to serve the needs of candidates. Stakeholders must beam the searchlight on WAEC activities. This endemic national disgrace must not be allowed to continue.