Examination malpractices are fast eating deep into the marrow of all levels of examinations conducted in the country, even at primary school level. In this report, Peace Obi highlights specific malpractices that were perpetrated at the just concluded federal common entrance examinations into unity schools in the country

The recently concluded National Common Entrance Examination being a selective test for primary school pupils transiting into the 104 Federal Government Colleges scattered across the states of the federation has been greeted with criticisms by parents and observers who alleged that the examination was characterised by fraud and all sorts of malpractices.

From different centres, some concerned parents and observers have a common observation on the conduct of the exam. Many who decided to speak out noted that greedy invigilators having received gratifications from some parents to assist their wards in the examination actually carried out their bizarre business at various centres without any sense of decorum as they openly aided some pupils to cheat during the examination. A situation which they said will deprive innocent and hard working pupils who wrote the exam based on personal ability of the chance to get admission into the Unity Colleges.

It would be recalled that entrance examination in the good old days used to be a mechanism for testing the ability and suitability of students that should be admitted into the first class secondary schools in the country like the unity schools. However, nowadays, the annual common entrance examination conducted by the National Examination Council (NECO) and even those conducted for state model schools are equally becoming mere formality as both parents and teachers have turned it into a survival of the richest. A case in point is what transpired in some of the centres during the first and second phases of the entrance examinations across the country for the 2016/2017 academic session.

Sharing her experience with THISDAY, a mother who would not want her name in print whose child had earlier passed the first phase of the examination, had on June 18 taken the child to the designated centre at Yewa Junior Secondary School, Agege area of Lagos State with the centre number 20011 for the second phase interview, said that she could not believe her eyes as she watched invigilators who for pecuniary reasons freely assisted some students to cheat during the exam.

According her, “at this centre, there was glaring cheating as the invigilators were assisting the students dressed in mufti to answer the questions. At a stage, one of the female invigilators told one of the students dressed in mufti ‘Your daddy had better pay me well for this,’” she revealed.

Lamenting on some of the challenges and hardship the country has come under as a result of unabated corruption and unpunished crimes in different sectors, such as poor quality of education, near-absence of quality manpower, high rate of unemployment among others, she said that appropriate authorities need to act decisively. “I understand these invigilators are teachers. They need to be punished and set as an example to other corrupt teachers.” And calling on parents to resist the temptation of examination malpractice, the concerned parent wondered why parents should join hands with some educators who do not care about the future of their children and whose understanding about life do not go beyond immediate gratification to mortgage the future of their children. “Dear parents, if the teachers only care about their stomachs and not your child’s future, how about you, the parent?” she asked.

In what looks like telling the same storyline by different people, a parent, Mrs. Tosin Okewumi, said, “my son sat for command entrance examination and when he came back, he was so sad. He said he had the plan to be the best in that centre but a teacher in that school went round calling out the answers for her pupils. The first question he asked me was “why are you teachers like this?”He said he had no choice but to also shade what the teacher was calling out because he could not concentrate.”

The Managing Director, EDUMARK Consult, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, reflecting on how the country had in the past shown strong disdain for examination malpractices wondered how the country has descended into a state complacency with crime. Ogunde who traced the first incident of exam paper leakage to the WAEC exam of 1977, hinted that it was greeted with shock and ‘mourning’. “Exam malpractices I remember was faintly heard in the year 1977. We were young students and we heard the tale in hushed tones that WAEC question leaked. How come? It was unheard of. The nation was in pain. A panel of inquiry was set up. We were too young to know the effect of such an occurrence in our educational system. Then our nation had a conscience and the values were different.”

For the educator, in what looks like living and watching the seed of corruption sown many years back yield its fruits, Ogunde said, “fast forward by three decades or so, new rules have emerged, new kids on the block, now a generation who believes that cheating in an examination is a way of life. We are now in a world of where some educators now join hands with some parents to institutionalise exam malpractice called by different names.”

The story, yet, not being different from other observers. A parent, simply identified as Tina whose child wrote the entrance exam two year ago, shared a similar experience. According to her, being the first and last experience of having any of her children go through a public school entrance exam, the activities of some invigilators who ‘helped’ candidates to cheat were quite strange and unimaginable. “I witnessed same last two years when my daughter was about to enter and being my first and last time because she is my last born, the whole show at her Oshodi centre looked very strange. Certain invigilators were paid to teach certain pupils from certain private school who occupied a particular class room. Some were given special class rooms,” Tina revealed.

The description of corruption as the bane of the Nigerian society and a cancer that has eaten deep into its fabric has become visible in many ways, especially as children over the years are gradually being recruited into this shameful act. In another account, a school administrator, Mrs. Olofinlade Ewuola said that her pupils complained about some candidates cheating during the first phase of the exam. Ewuola also hinted that a parent complained of being advised to pay for the services of a special centre. “Pupils in my school complained about this even at the first stage of the exam. I remember a parent who told me last year that she was told to pay some amount for a special centre. What about those who do not make cut offs yet after paying some money get admitted into these school?” Ewuola asked.

In all of this, the examination bodies cannot be said to be folding their hands and watching. There has been visible and continuous efforts at different quarters targeted at wrestling the hydra-headed monster of examination malpractices. It will not also be out of place to say that the major reason and aim of the introduction of different technologies into the conduct of exams like JAMB, WAEC, NECO, among others, is part of their efforts to retain the validity of their tests and assessments. Painfully, with a steady recruitment of cheats by some parents and educators at the basic level of education, it is obvious that exam malpractice is gradually being institutionalised in the country by those who should fight it.

Observing exam malpractice to be prevalent among private schools, Linda Onwuka noted that school owners and their administrators in their bid to attract more patronage dangle excellent academic performance as their selling point which often times are obtained through cheating. “I have observed that private schools are guiltier. School proprietors encourage this evil to prove that their standard is high and get more patronage from some conniving parents, sorry to say. We interviewed a good number of candidates for admission into sub-degree programme some years back and a good number of them came with fantastic results but when questioned, the innocent children led astray by parents and elders admitted that they were assisted.”

Chatting the way forward, Onwuka advised parents, educators, and every sensible adult that wish Nigerian youth well as well as the country to keep talking about the dangers of paying for marks to students, to parents and to school owners. And calling on parents to go beyond assessing schools based on academic performance alone said, “As a parent I consider a number of factors before choosing schools for my children. For school owners let them learn that unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain. Let us learn to build these students, teach them morals and values and of course the beauty of hard work,” she advised.

Beyond the immediate effect of the quick fix approach now being adopted by some parents to meet the educational needs of their children which include pushing a child beyond his/her capacity, dwindling reading culture, among others, Olawale Stephen said that the wrong foundation though laid sometime in the past would always rear its head against perpetrators anytime any day. “It’s so sad seeing all this at this foundation level, I have always believed the foundation should be right but in a situation where those that ought to build the right foundation are uninterested and cutting corners, I cannot but wonder the type of future the children will grow up to have. I was opportune to visit some centres, you wouldn’t believe it, wonders were many. God help this country,” he prayed.

Presenting a three-pack solution with a focus on government, school and parent, Rhoda Odigboh advised government to do an honest functionality assessment of WAEC, NECO and other examination bodies in the country. In her words, “Search for holes and gaps, be it in form of personal strengths or weaknesses, including those of godfatherism or unnecessary bottlenecks found in layers of lacklustre administrative bureaucracy that continues to leave us at a blind spot from moving forward or achieving greatness.”

Also, in addition to functionality assessment, Odigboh recommended the adoption of advanced technology in the administration of tests. “Superior technology will wipe these block aids out and kill the corruption at the highest level of WAEC, NECO and others. And tell you, schools will conform.”

Considering the place of parents in the fight against examination malpractice, Odigboh advised parents to be sincere in their choice of school. According to her, “Let’s be honest schools that partake in this ridiculous act should never have our patronage. They are killing our children and deepening the unfortunate social paradigm of ‘I go make am anyhow.’ ‘Hard work is old fashioned’ that has swept our country down the drain over the years.”

Stressing that the culture of keeping mute over issues of corruption such as examination malpractices will not embolden perpetrators but will soon become a norm, urged Nigerians to speak out by reporting schools that are involved in shameful act. “But we must do well to report them. Someday, just someday, things will look up, but they sure won’t if we keep mute.”

Stressing that the age-long rape of the nation’s educational system by corrupt practices and the seemingly inability of the law to punish offenders should not be seen as the ideal situation, however, warned that it has a grave implication for the individuals and the country at large. “For now, the race is to the swift’ they say. But hold up, that child is half baked, half cooked, half done! They will never get the chance to stand in sincere high places. Do yourself a favour, raise an authentic child. Help Nigeria grow. Don’t rob your child of greatness,” Odigboh admonished.