By Rotimi Fasan
THIS week’s column should be seen as one piece with last week’s talking point entitled, ‘Some thoughts for the Nigerian child’. In other words, today’s discussion is, for me, a continuation of last week’s discourse which aimed to take a stand for the younger elements of our society, especially school-age children and the trained youth without much prospect in a Nigeria that is programmed against them.
My thoughts this week turn to the implication for national development of the recently released May/June 2017 result of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, WASSCE. The Nigerian National Office of the West African Examination Council WAEC, has in the last two weeks since the release of the results of the May/June 2017 exam being in a celebratory mood. This is not unconnected with what the body considers to be great improvement in the overall performance of candidates in the exam.
According to the National Office of WAEC nearly 60 per cent, specifically 59.22 per cent of the 1, 559, 662 candidates that took the exam had credit pass in five subjects including the ‘core’ subjects of English and Mathematics. Credit passes in both English and Mathematics are compulsory for admission into any course at the tertiary level. These subjects are the benchmark of assessment for general performance. It is therefore important that a candidate wishing to proceed beyond secondary school level must obtain credit passes in the two.
While so much premium is placed on candidates performing averagely well in these two subjects, it is doubtful if much thought is given to how such passes are obtained. But as I wouldn’t want to get ahead of my discussion, I will leave further comments on our attitude to how candidates perform and the quality of their performance in public exams like WASSCE for elaboration in another paragraph below.
The point I am making for now concerns the mood of self-congratulation that has engulfed the National Office of WAEC in the wake of the release of the last May/June WASSCE result. The occasion for this chest thumping is the 7% increase in performance, from 52.97% in 2016 to 59.22% in 2017, of candidates who sat the exam. The performance in 2015 was a paltry 38.68%, also a 7% increase (there must be something between the figure 7 and Nigerians school children performance in WASSSCE), from the 2014 performance that stood at 31.28%. Let the reader kindly remember that these figures are for candidates who obtained credit pass in just five subjects inclusive of Mathematics and English.
The overall picture of performance is far less pretty. It’s, in fact, very ugly and damning. Viewed from another angle, the 59.22% performance figure for 2017 tells a different story. First, of the more than one and a half million Nigerians that sat the exam, 214, 952 candidates representing some 13% of the total number of candidates, cheated and their results have been withheld pending further investigation.
In the 2017 exam that is being celebrated, 92.44% of the candidates obtained credit and above in three subjects. The story, told from another angle, is that 95.59% of the candidates obtained credit pass and above in two subjects. What the above statistics further tells us is that more than two-thirds of the candidates who took WASSCE this year barely obtained enough credit pass to qualify for admission into our colleges of education or polytechnics, bedrock of tertiary education and the development of middle level manpower, to say nothing of university where the vast majority of institutions demand just 180 marks aggregate of the 400 marks obtainable in four subjects in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME.
We are yet looking at WASSCE but the performance of candidates at the UTME level is another desultory story altogether. But the fact that most if not all Nigerian universities now have what they call post-UTME exams should tell everyone that things don’t look any better in that sector of our educational system.. Indeed, if we must tell it as it is, the university is where all the garbage that is processed through the nursery, primary and post-primary education systems is deposited in all its shameful filthiness. It is at the university level that the rottenness of the Nigerian educational system comes out like a full-blown case of an unnamable disease. But the issues concerning that are, as I said, a matter for another day.
What is of moment and to which I want to call attention is the fact that just about a month or two before the commencement of the 2017 WASSCE, four persons were apprehended and charged to court for hacking into the website of the National Office of WAEC in Nigeria. These hackers, spread across four cities (Uyo, Umuahia, Aba and Enugu) in four states, including some of those celebrated for high performance in WASSCE, stole questions meant for the May/June 2017 exam. Not only did these thieves steal the questions, they sold them in the open ‘academic’ market to persons interested in buying.
As part of its celebration of improved performance in WASSCE the WAEC National Office has praised what it calls its ICT prowess including its upgrading of its website and its so-called ‘interactive platform’. The actual point of celebration about the website remains in the main unclear. The question to ask now, however, is: what is the connection between the so-called improvement in candidates’ performance in WASSCE this year and the hacking and theft of the same WASSCE questions just before the commencement of the exam?
How many of such hacking and theft of exam questions went both undetected and unreported across the country? We must also not forget cases of ‘miracle centres’ where candidates are enrolled to sit exams in order to ensure 100% pass. Many of such centres are currently under WAEC’s ban while some have had their ban lifted. Many others have been operating without let or hindrance for many years. And in all these cases how much of insider collusion is involved? What does WAEC itself know about the malpractices that surround exams it organises? What is the logic in placing exam questions on its website if it was not asking to be hacked?
We may go on to question the entire motive of WAEC and the activities of its officials in all these cases. We have been fighting corruption among public officers, which is fair enough because a lot of our problems have to do with corruption in high places. But what are we doing about corruption in our educational system, corruption perpetrated by parents and officials with responsibility to eradicate them? What kind of future are we preparing for our children when we actively nurture them on a diet of crime and complete disregard for laid down rules and procedure?