Stakeholders in the education sector, who recently converged for the maiden summit of the Education Writers’ Association of Nigeria, made far-reaching recommendations on how to ensure that external examinations and admissions conducted in the country meet approved standards and public confidence. Funmi Ogundare reports

Representatives of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), education experts, including a former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji; Prof. Peter Okebukola, among other stakeholders, converge on the Julius Berger Auditorium, University of Lagos (UNILAG) for the maiden summit of the Education Writers’ Association of Nigeria (EWAN), a body of education reporters from the print, electronic and online platforms.

With the theme, ‘Integrity of Public Examinations and Admissions in Nigeria’, the summit was chaired by the Secretary of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), Prof. Michael Faborode.
It saw participants urging the federal government to reverse the suspension of the post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (post-UTME) screening; to restructure the entrance examinations by the institutions, as well as the implementation of the 2002 National Summit on Higher Education.

The summit also appealed to the federal government to re-introduce the Higher School Certificate programme, as part of efforts to bring back the integrity of public examinations.
The experts called on the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu to consult stakeholders within the system before taking positions on key policies.

In his remarks, the Chairman of the association, Mr. Tubosun Ogundare, said the theme is apt as it will bring about the positive changes in the sector, which has suffered a great deal, adding that any damage that happens to the sector will automatically have an effect on others.

“As journalists, it is not enough to write alone and go to bed, impacting the society requires action and that is what we are trying to achieve as part of our social responsibility initiative. We believe that now is the right time to cause positive change in the sector.”

He described the recent confusion between the federal government and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) over what admission policy should be adopted for candidates seeking admission into tertiary institutions as worrisome and detrimental to the sector. “As a nation, we experience too often, policy somersault with successive governments. Our political leaders play politics with almost everything without considering the consequences of such actions, especially on the masses.”

The EWAN chairman expressed concern that many universities, polytechnics and colleges of education are not clear about the policy to be adopted in their admission processes, adding that the situation is even worse at the secondary school level, as many graduates have good Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) results that they cannot defend because they are products of cheats.

“While the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) usually records mass failure in its exams, the National Examinations Council (NECO) results are always above average even though they both have the same students, syllabus, teachers and operating under the same environment.

“The situation is further compounded with the quota system that ensures that only one section of the country benefits from the policy, rather than merit for admission into federal schools.”

The Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG, Prof. Rahamon Bello kicked against the suspension of the post-UTME conducted by individual institutions and recommended regulation instead of outright cancellation. He said the integrity of public examination is key if the country must achieve qualitative education.

“If we are talking about quality assurance, the inputs into the school matter because the products will be affected. We are in support of the discuss today, which is very germane.

A former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola, said a way of enhancing the integrity of public examination is to ensure that efforts are made to reduce poverty in the land; step up the anti-corruption war; sanction breeches to examination codes of ethics; take steps to restore cherished societal values; and improved funding to WAEC, NECO and JAMB.

He emphasised on stimulants of low level of examination integrity, saying, “there are several drivers of low level of examination integrity, first is the weak preparation of students for an examination. In turn, this is driven by inadequate coverage of the examination syllabus, teacher incompetence and facilities inadequacies. If a student is prepared by the school for 10 topics out of 30 in the examination syllabus for a subject, chances are high that the student will want to cheat to pass the examination.

“The second driver is the erosion of cherished societal values such as honesty and diligence. It is the lack of honesty that propels the examiners to leak question papers for their children and students to cheat during examination. Lack of diligence leads to poor study habits and weak preparation for examinations since the ranks of students who are dishonest and lazy are growing, little wonder examination malpractice continues to be a challenge in the Nigerian school system.”

According to him, “the third is the inadequacies in the budget of the examination bodies, which translate into lowering the effectiveness and efficiency, which in turn impacts negatively on examination integrity. The forth is endemic corruption which has metatasised like cancer in all aspects of our lives including the lives of those who are concerned with public examinations, especially officials, teachers, students and parents.”

Okebukola, who was the keynote speaker at the programme, traced the foundation of the post-UTME to the decline in the quality of admission seekers to higher institutions in the past, and suggested that the most important thing is to restructure the post-UTME and not to scrap it.

“Clearly, in the last eight years, the management of many universities have adulterated the post-UTME process, turning it into huge revenue-making business, this is why I endorsed the ministerial suspension about a month ago, a suspension that should be lifted as soon as the universities get their act right on the process.”

The former executive secretary called for the re-introduction of the Higher School Certificate (HSC) to provide an opportunity for candidates who are unable to pass SSCE and UTME. “Admitting beyond programme carrying capacity is a recipe for poor quality products. NUC should continue to apply sanctions to breeches of carrying capacity in institutions.”

In her presentation, Obaji regretted that the initiative she introduced as a response to the loss of integrity in public examinations, including the UTME and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), among others, has been rubbished by the institutions by jettisoning the original idea behind it.
The former minister of education said Nigerians must believe in themselves and be passionate to move the country forward so as to achieve greater heights.

According to her, it is not all about recommending solutions to the examination malpractice but by the commitment to the implementation of the recommendations.

“The government’s passion to get the education sector sanitised will propel the implementation of the recommendations on how to improve the integrity of the examinations. No country ever moves forward with the quantity but quality of graduates produced and we need to get this right. We can get it right if we provide the necessary facilities in our school system to attract foreign students and lecturers,” she said.

The President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, reiterated the union’s stance that it is the primary responsibility of the senate of each university to admit and graduate students for their respective institutions, adding that ASUU would continue to contest the suspension of the post-UTME and that the fees charged by institutions should be regulated.

“Candidates must be subjected to post-UTME; we are interested in the students’ entry into the university not only with integrity, but also interested in the integrity of their graduation.”