Sustaining Students’ Improved Performance in WASSCE

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For some years now, Nigerian candidates have maintained a seemingly consistent poor performance in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. But in what looks like breaking the jinx, the 2016 result showed a significant improvement in candidates’ performance. Educators believe this will pave the way for better output in future. Peace Obi reports

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) last week released the results of the 2016 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) showing a significant improvement from what it has been for a decade.

Announcing the cheering news at the council’s national office in Lagos, the Head of National Office, Mr. Olu Adenipekun, said 878,040 candidates, representing 52.97 per cent of 1,544,234 candidates who sat for the examination obtained credits in five subjects, including Mathematics and English Language.

This year’s performance has been applauded by stakeholders. For a period of five years (2010 to 2015), the country moved within the orbit of 24 and 38 per cent failure record. And as students, teachers, principals and educators in the country heave a sigh of relief from what was beginning to be a stamp of ‘never do well’ label on the Nigerian secondary education system and its students, there seems to be so many questions on their lips as well.

For some stakeholders, the question is ‘do the results truly reflect improvement in learning outcomes, especially the mastery of what have been taught to the students; do the results truly reflect WAEC’s ancient standard or was there a lowering of standard somewhere along the line to achieve this feat; did something new go into the exam body’s marking scheme; should it be entirely and wholesomely received believing that the results is not shaped by exam-malpractices? And many more questions.

Given the reactions of some educators, it is evident that the current rise from the smoggy atmosphere of failure will inspire, motivate students and teachers to aim for the best. It can also mean that efforts channelled in various directions by subject teachers, school administrators and students to wrestle the hydra-headed monster of failure in WAEC’s examinations can be trusted, repeated, improved upon for more excellent results in subsequent years.

The Senior School Principal, Loral International Boarding Secondary School, Igbesa, Ogun State, Mrs. Martha Osime, said the feat attained by Nigerian students in this year’s SSCE is a good development, adding that it will not only inspire teachers and school administrators to do more, but will also spur students to strive for better results.

Asked what could have been responsible for the sudden rise in the percentage pass recorded this year when compared to what was obtainable in previous years, Osime said nothing extraordinary was done except that the consistent failure being recorded yearly had increased stakeholders’ concern and has kept schools on their toes searching for solutions.

“We didn’t relent in our efforts, searching for how we can make improvement. We kept looking for newer and newer ways such as teaching methods, teachers and staff development, developing different strategies of ensuring that our students read.

“In my school for instance, we introduced six hours sit and read for the exam classes. We ensured that for six hours students sit down to read and a child is only allowed to break it maybe if he/she wants to go and ease himself. This is just to ensure that the children read what they were taught. And many other things we did to improve in our operations and for our students to do well. And if these efforts have helped, it will be cheering to learn about them.”

She said the recorded improvement in students’ performance would boost the morale of subject teachers, students and educators, adding that it has a redeeming effect on the country’s education system, especially as teachers and other stakeholders have over the years put up different strategies to upturn the table of failure.

“To be honest with you, it was becoming embarrassing for principals and teachers and educationist in general that at the end of every year’s exam, students will not make a pass in their subjects. And I know that we were frantically looking for what to do to halt the unwholesome trend of failure. May be those things we did particularly last year should be repeated and built upon.”

Speaking on the likely effect of the results on students and the teaching profession, the former Principal, Queen’s College, Lagos, hinted: “When there is a mark of success, it helps to spur one to do exactly what one did and even do more. The fact that we have been able to break this jinx of failure every year, we are hopeful and we are happy to keep doing what we can to improve.”

On how the feat could be sustained and improved on, Osime said “the exam body needs to help us by analysing the result and give us the feedback so that we can be able to know the strengths and the weaknesses. What did the students do right that they were not doing before; did their response in the exam show that they covered the syllabus intensively or did they show that they improved in their essays or was it the computer-based test? They need to give us the feedback so that we can build on it and improve on where we didn’t do well,” Osime suggested.

Also commending the WASSCE result, the Principal, St. Michael’s Anglican Church, College, Coker, Mr. Bonny Godwin, told THISDAY that it is a good step in the right direction that requires the commitment of all stakeholders to maintain an improved students’ performance in external examinations.

Sharing with this reporter some of the steps the school management took in preparing its students for the exam, he said, extensive syllabus coverage, change in teaching method, provision of adequate facilities, manpower development, among others were involved.
“What we did was to make sure that the syllabus for the exam was well covered and the teaching was done using past questions; then on the part of the students, there was conscious effort to encourage them to be studious, to read and to practice past questions as they read. These two factors helped in getting the results in place.”

Reflecting on the dynamism of life, Godwin noted that no magic wand was applied in realising the good result, saying that students come in sets. “You may also have to realise that every set is different from the other. You can use this strategy for this set and get a good result but you can use the same strategy for another set and get a better result because of the commitment of that set. Sometimes, it depends on the set of students involved.

“What we have done so far is not different from what we have been doing because to prepare students for any external examination, the first thing is that the syllabus must be well covered. When that is done, the children must be encouraged to be studious, not just reading, but reading using past questions. This will help them in the practical ways of answering questions and that goes a long way to boost their performance in the exam, he said.

For Godwin, it is not yet “Uhuru”, as all stakeholders must collaborate to maintain continuous impressive results by Nigerian students in their O’ Level examinations. “On the part of the students, they should keep working hard; they should read using past questions. Parents must monitor, ensure that relevant textbooks are bought and that their children actually study at home because that is where most of the readings take place.”

Suggesting ways schools and government could sustain the good result, the principal said with adequate facilities in place, school administrators should endeavour to train and retrain their teaching staff. “Schools should try and develop their human capital because when the teachers are well trained, their service delivery will definitely improve. Success also depends on the quality of teachers in the school. If you have quality teachers and you train them from time to time, their service delivery will improve and it will reflect on the students’ performance.

“Government should be consistent in the area of its policy, especially in its incessant change of curriculum. We need to be consistent and if we say this is what we are doing, allow it to run for some time so that the people will get used to it and get the desired result from it instead of the policy summersault we have been experiencing.”

For the Head, Career and Admission, Corona Secondary School, Agbara, Mr. Ike Ngwoke, it has been years of relentless effort to rise above the waters of failure in WASSCE. Describing the recently released results as a reflection of hard work, he said: “Our teaching method was reviewed and we engaged more personnel. At the end of the day, it is hard work that will determine whether one will be successful or not. We put our students through a more rigorous preparation.”

He stressed that continuous teacher development would help in Nigeria’s quest not only to sustain good result but in ensuring that the country returns to the table of WAEC’s International Excellence Awards which it won last in 2007, the awards which for some time seem to be an exclusive right of the other four-member nations, especially Ghanaian candidates.

Ngwoke added that active and sincere support from parents will go a long way. “Parents need to understand that there is need for them to discourage their children from cheating because there are parents who think that the only way for their children to be successful is to aid them in cheating. That has to be discouraged. Parents have to teach their children to imbibe the attitude of hard work. That is the only way out.

“Without that kind of cooperation from parents, no matter the amount of effort the teacher puts, it will not yield the expected results. This is because the students would have made up their minds that ‘well at the end of the day, I will pass whether I read or not’.

“Government has a lot of work to do both at the state and federal levels. Government needs to work to improve teachers’ commitment and dedication to duty and part of this has to do with staff emoluments and motivation,” Ngwoke said.