I must have looked incredibly dumbfounded when my friend Ibraheem told me about some websites like naijabaseforum.tk that have helped in significantly revolutionizing examination malpractices in Nigeria in the last two years, because he asked me ‘you have never heard of this, have you?’. I replied ‘no, I haven’t’ and it was his turn to be surprised. He asked me ‘Have you been living on Planet Pluto?’ (Then I told him Pluto was no longer a planet, but that was beside the point). My friend then gladly reeled out all the atrocious crimes these sites have been perpetrating in the name of helping students.
I was informed that these countless sites would post both West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO) Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) ‘live’ questions as well as Joint Admission Matriculations Board‘s Unified Tertiary Matriculations Examination questions on the nets along with their answers days before the examinations are to be written. I was also told that some of these sites usually change their domain name frequently to avoid clampdown by government. The activist in me was terribly angry but the writer in me told me to look into this issue. So I talked to some secondary school students who were then writing NECO. To login into these sites, I was told, one has to be a member. To become a member one would have to sign up by filling an online form (just like on any other site). Members will be opportune to chat with one another, share cheat code (codes that are used to assess the internet facilities of all major GSM network without paying), and ultimately distribute LIVE QUESTIONS. I was surprised that so many students were aware of this phenomenon and that the services on the sites are absolutely FREE OF CHARGE!
But nothing prepared me for the surprise I got when I caught two of my younger siblings looking for an internet enabled phone so that they could assess these cheating sites for one of them who was preparing for a public examination. I was angry and I put my anger across to both of them in strong words. I am not laying claim to being a saint (sainthood is not even on my list of things to achieve) but I am a modest moralist. I wrote my last WAEC and NECO in 2006 and I could swear in a law court that I was never privy to any ‘live’ question paper. I didn’t look for it and I am proud of my above average result in the said examinations. I am pretty convinced that though my younger sister is not a very brilliant student but she is bright and academically sound enough to pass the examinations in flying colours on her own. So why on earth would she be looking for live question? But the answer is simple; no one wants to work hard when there is a certain short cut to success. I now think the saying ‘there is no short cut to success’ no longer apply to these public exams in Nigeria. Candidates now more than ever believe that there is nothing wrong in examination malpractices. A friend of mine once told me that ‘WAEC examination can never be passed without engaging in malpractices’. This kind of belief is common among candidates. I believe these students need more of help than condemnation.
For the past four years the results of WAEC and NECO examinations have been at an all-time low. In June 2009 NECO examinations, less than 2% of the candidates passed. Most candidates believe that it is impossible to pass these examinations without engaging in some malpractices. This belief has been fuelling the lamp of malpractices for years. Candidates lack confidence in their own ability and look for ways of getting good result at all costs and I mean all costs. We have heard of students who beat their teachers and examinations supervisors up because they failed to condone cheating in the examination. Government and examination bodies have been trying hard to curb this menace. It just seems their efforts are yielding little result. But the recent introduction of internet into perpetrating this evil act will even make their job harder.
Internet is not easy to control or monitor. It will not be an overstatement to say that internet is almost impossible to control. Emphasis is on impossible. The owners of these sites have devised an ingenious way of changing the name of their sites almost every week that even old members have to re-register all over again. There is no way to limiting the spreading of the questions immediately they are on these sites. So, the only way out is for the examination bodies to stop the bleeding before it even started. There is no gainsaying that the questions leak from inside the Examination Boards. These sites certainly have ‘insiders’ in the Examination Boards. It is time these traitors were shown their way out. I know this would be a difficult task as the structure of Examination Management is gargantuan and the personnel involved are numerous. But these notwithstanding, getting people of questionable characters out and closing up loopholes in the system are tasks that must be done.
Also, it is a high time Nigeria devised a better system at assessing our students. This might sound naive or outrightly stupid, but WAEC, NECO and JAMB have been proved times without number as a not so reliable way of assessing students ability. The withdrawal lists of various Universities in the country will attest to this assertion. Over the years, we have placed so much emphasis on students having these certificates. It matters little in this country whether a student was serious in secondary school or even attended secondary school at all, all that matters is having either WAEC or NECO results. This has greatly helped in destroying the examinations system as everybody wants to pass at all cost and there is little anybody can do about it.
My proposition is that more emphasis should be placed on Secondary School Leaving Testimonial issued by schools in Tertiary Admission process and employment interviews. An examination system like the Scholastic Assessment Tests in the United States may also avail government and concerned boards the opportunity to effectively control the examinations. Government should also heavily invest in secondary schools. We put a lot of our emphasis on Tertiary Institutions while forgetting that Tertiary Institutions only work on the product of our secondary schools. If what secondary schools produce is garbage, it is certain that four year university training will be grossly inadequate to turn garbage into something good.
Moreover, less than 20% of secondary school leavers gain admission to Tertiary Institutions. So what happens to the remaining 80%? This means that for most Nigerians, secondary school education is the end of their education. Secondary school students should be trained in a way that will make them useful in the society even without a university education. This will help in de emphasising the importance placed on having the NECO and WAEC results and likely reduce the number of students applying for admission to our tertiary institutions. This, to me, will help our education system as well as our general society. It is high time government, institutions, and NGOs stopped rhetoric and get down to work.
P.S: I wrote this article in June, 2011 and it was published in various students’ journals and newsletters. I am reproducing it here because the issue raised in the article is still relevant and nothing is being done towards finding a solution to this problem. The questions of the just concluded UTME were already on the internet hours before the Examination. My students (I teach high school Biology) now are tirelessly searching for WAEC ‘live’ questions and are no longer attending classes. The Biology Practical Specimen list was already on the net before I even got an advance copy from WAEC. Who will save our Examination System?