By Onome Amawhe
ONE day in November 1948, The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, University of London School Examinations Matriculation Council and West African Departments of Education convened a meeting to discuss the future of education in West Africa. During the meeting, Dr. George Baker Jeffery, Director of the University of London Institute of Education was mandated to visit West Africa to assess the level of education and requirements.
Dr Jeffery embarked on the journey between December 1949 to March 1950. At the end of the fact finding mission, he presented a report making a case for the establishment of a West African Examination Council. Following this, the conveners of the meeting met with the governments of West African countries.
Conveners of the meeting
Unanimously, they agreed with the idea of a West African Examination council. Two years later in 1952, WAEC was established. This is the founding history of the famous educational body known to all as WAEC.
Isaac Adenipekun is the Head of the council’s National Office. He’s been in charge since December 2015. And he is of the opinion that the development of WAEC has been exponential in terms of growth: “When WAEC was established in 1952, it had just one small office in Yaba before they moved into the high rise in 1973 where it is now situated. It was from the high rise building that it began to establish branches across Nigeria. Today we have 12 zonal offices and 18 branch offices in the council. That, if you ask me, is a huge spread. In its early days, WAEC had less than 500 candidates in the whole of Nigeria but today, we are examining 1.6 m candidates.
In terms of staffing, WAEC started with staff strength of about 30. Today, our staff is close to 2,800. In the area of deployment of technology, WAEC took the lead as soon as it started deploying machines to do calculations in the early 70s. And from there, we’ve taken the lead in terms of ICT usage”.
Since its establishment, WAEC has become one of the world’s largest assessment agencies with responsibilities for setting and marking a large number of examinations, both locally and internationally. The council examines approximately 2 million candidates across West Africa each year: “In the early years, candidates had to personally come to WAEC to make enquiries and obtain forms. After that candidates had to come to WAEC office or post office to be given the centers where they would write their exams. And when results are finally processed, they had to come to WAEC offices to check their results. But within the last 20 years, there’s been a lot of improvement. In addition to that, WAEC has been organizing seminars, briefings and training for examiners such that those who are teachers in secondary schools can also gain additional knowledge. The supervisors are also trained on how to conduct standardized examinations and in the process knowledge acquired are not meant to be used for WAEC examinations alone because when they get back to their respective schools, they are expected to deploy the knowledge they have gained in conducting better internal exams”.
“All these are some of the effort that WAEC has put into delivering on our mandate to the Nigerian education sector”. Upon assumption of office, Adenipekun explained that his mandates are to ensure that WAEC continues to have examinations that are credible.
To issue certificates that have integrity. To continually deploys technology for WAEC to remain a cutting edge organization. And to remain the examining body to beat. “That’s a huge challenge”, he quips noting that efficient management, providing leadership by example and ensuring that the staff and their welfare are properly taken care of are part of the mandate: “ it is my intention to deliver on every one of them”, he affirms.
A major challenge for Adenipekun may be upping the council’s ante in terms of its approach to examination particularly in the area of Computer based Testing.
In a recent release WAEC noted that the adoption and full implementation of the Computer Based Test (CBT) mode will not be suitable for certificate examinations as against admissions examinations conducted by its sister agency, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Computer-based testing (CBT) has emerged as one of the recent “innovative” approaches to assessments most pursued by states.
CBT has been lauded as the answer to having cheaper and speedier test delivery for state and district-wide assessments. It is also seen by some as an avenue toward greater accessibility for students. WAEC argues that such would amount to “intellectual dishonesty” as it thinks the purpose of its examinations is to prepare candidates for life, not just to pass examinations; hence the need to examine different domains which CBT cannot accommodate: “We must look at the purpose of each examining bodies and the candidates we are talking about.
For WAEC, we are expected to examine the students after 6 years secondary education. And that is what we call achievement test. We want to know what they have been able to achieve and it is our duty to ensure that we guide them properly and not put any impediment that would make it difficult for them to express and establish what they have achieved. And one of the ways we’ve gone about that is by going to the schools where these students are being taught to ensure that the teachers that will invigilate them are the same teachers who taught them in schools”.
“The supervisors may not be their own teachers but the teacher that invigilates them must be their own teacher. So also is the actual writing of the exams; we feel that before we move from paper based test to CBT, it is necessary to ensure that all the students have good interaction with the computer.
CBT was introduced to Nigeria 2 years ago and there is the issue of supporting infrastructure (power generation) which needs to be addressed. We feel that the time period is not enough for us to consider CBT in our examinations.
The case of JAMB is quite from ours because it’s an examination that has to do with ranking in the order of performance based on selected texts. And this is basically to enable JAMB establish candidates that are suitable for university admission.
And most of their exams are objective based while WAEC exams are based on theory, objective and practical so you can see that if you’re talking about CBT you must be talking about the objective aspect of examinations”.
In recent years, WAEC has had to contend with scathing criticisms. A major issue for the council has been failure of candidates and withdrawal of examinations. Adenipekun is unperturbed.
High level of respect
He thinks they are not just mere criticisms: “It only shows that the WAEC clientele and other stakeholders are getting critical. Every attack we come across helps us to step up our game.
Not only that, those criticisms have also propelled WAEC to seek better ways of getting things done. Apart from all of these, WAEC is a newsmaker any day because the brand is a very vibrant and strong one. In spite of all the criticisms, we are always accorded a high level of respect wherever we go.
I mean, I have attended conferences abroad where other examining bodies wonder how we are able to conduct exams for 2 million candidates every year. That in itself is a huge responsibility and I must confess that I have enjoyed a lot of goodwill working with WAEC”.
Having spent 26 years in WAEC in a variety of senior management, Isaac Adenipekun thinks he has given his all to assessing young people at the secondary school level. And he finds that being able to build their lives around that assessment is a huge responsibility. In his tenure as Head of National office, his aim is to take WAEC to another level. He is hoping that it would: “become a world class examining body and a reference point for assessment and conduct for public examination in the whole world”.