Examinations and WAEC’s misplaced aggression By Josef Omorotionmwan

Candidates writing the UTME at the University of Abuja, Saturday.

IN whichever direction we look, we see the Nigerian student short-changed. He is thoroughly repressed and at times, he becomes an endangered species. He can only cry out at a cost that is too high to pay – the moment he is labelled outright recalcitrant, he is doomed or he could flunk all the courses of those he raises his voice against. By the time he has 10 carry-overs, he is clearly at the verge of withdrawal.

The school system is such that on those rare occasions when the teachers are not on strike, the students’ results are being withheld. Meanwhile, the student is silently compelled to pay all the fees that are considered illegal in the outside world. In essence, the Nigerian student soon finds that he must work twice as hard to be half as good as his contemporaries elsewhere.

The student in the public school system knows when he is matriculating but he can never tell when he will graduate, no thanks to the incessant strike obtainable in the system. It is not unusual for a good student who goes into the University for a four-year Course to limp out after more than seven years.

At the least prompting, the academic and non-academic staff members take turns in strikes that could last some three months on either side.

Lately, some concerned Nigerians thought they were helping our students when they cried out against the prohibitive cost of procuring hand-outs from lecturers. Ostensibly, the hand-out system was abolished. The lecturers needed just enough time to re-strategize and come out with something different.

Overnight, printers went to work and compiled the hand-outs into pamphlets (oops, textbooks), which every student passing through the lecturer’s course must buy. Even those who re-sit the paper must buy a second copy of the book. The books cannot be obtained in any bookshop. The lecturer’s secretary meticulously compiles the names of all those who have bought the book. In the marking of the exam script, the lecturer places the list alongside the scripts and the fact of your buying the book earns you 10 marks automatically. Those pamphlets/textbooks go for between N7,000 and N10,000. It is simply the examiner’s market!

As if this is not enough, other external forces must bring their heavy weight to bear on the student. Right now, a big battle is raging between the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, and some State Governments, where WAEC has deliberately withheld the results of the candidates from the States whose governments had enrolled them on credit for the last May/June examinations.

Apparently, during the electioneering campaigns, politicians promised heaven and earth, including the payment of examination fees for their students. WAEC went ahead and enrolled the students.

The politicians were applauded. But since then, many State Governments have been on respiration, gasping for breath, even unknown to them if they are still alive.

The other day, they got a little life-line to be able to pay some arrears of long outstanding salaries to their workers. In such a situation, who would be talking of faraway WAEC?

WAEC knew, or it ought reasonably to have known, that it was taking a risk when it decided to enroll those students on credit. It could have insisted on payment up-front from the affected States. WAEC has no moral or legal justification to turn round and visit the delinquency of those States on the innocent students. Why must the sins of the father be visited on the son?

Anyone who is waylaid should be the best judge of how to get home. WAEC has a range of option on how to get its money. They could go to court to seek an order to enforce payment or, as a last resort, let them seal up the Government Houses of the affected States. But by all means, let the students’ results be released pronto!

Enough of this misplacement of aggression! The time to get the results is now! Those who passed need the results to process the ongoing admissions into higher institutions; and those who failed should immediately begin to prepare for the next one.

Before now, we deluded ourselves into thinking that we had arrived at the stage where we could approach our educational system through the civilized continuous assessment but because of the inherent tardiness in the system, we are faced once more with the process of galloping through the system by single end-of-session examinations. Each time teachers return from their long strike, they announce to the students that examinations start the following week.

As the final hour approaches, crammers cram with the aim of pouring everything down for the lecturer. What happens is that breakdowns occur, sometimes followed by insomnia, and in extreme cases, suicide. Who cares?

Now, the examination is taken and the student’s academic trial is over. Prosecution, defence and judgment are all now left in the hands of the examiner. Essentially, examinations are the control centres for the manipulation of the lives of students.

Our examinations can be attacked from two vantage points – reliability and relevance. When some universities have 30 percent failure rates and others 3 percent rates, the failure in one university could easily have been a huge success in another. The wide fluctuations between failure rates indicate that our examination system is simply a random process of selection.

But the Nigerian student must be liberated! There must be a rational system of assessment, ranging from term papers to regular quizzes on subjects already taught so that final examinations could only operate as minimum incentives to construct tunnels of knowledge leading to intrinsic interest in education and one’s work.

Our system is one of “All Chiefs, no Indians” where we have a multiplicity of full-time professors, a bulk of whom may be paid to be idle. A more efficient and cost-effective system would be predominated by adjunct lecturers who must constantly strive to sustain their relevance. Such would fear strikes like plague. This we recommend!