Uwakwe: Repositioning NECO for Efficient Service Delivery

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Barely 20 years after its establishment, the National Examinations Council has become a household name in the area of examination assessment. Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the efforts of the current Registrar, Professor Charles Uwakwe to transform the council into a world-class examination assessment body, as well as his achievements and challenges since he assumed office

When the National Examinations Council (NECO) was established in 1999 and conducted its first Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) in 2000, many stakeholders in the education sector were sceptical about the sustainability of council and the credibility of its examination. The pioneer candidates were not sure if NECO result would be accepted by their chosen higher institutions. Some higher institutions in the country were said to have rejected the results initially.

The council was however undaunted in its determination to evolve into a world-class examination body and is currently the only home-grown public examination body in Nigeria responsible for conducting the SSCE, the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) for junior secondary schools, as well as the National Common Entrance examinations into federal government colleges.

The council has continued on its path to greatness under the current Registrar, Professor Charles Uwakwe with some of the policies and programmes he initiated to transform the council.

It is on record that his first task on assumption of duties was the initiation of “NECO Ethos”, geared towards enhancing staff orientation, attitude to work and service delivery. The ethos is hinged on: professionalism, service delivery, punctuality/timeliness, client satisfaction, precise and accurate information, good attitude, integrity, commitment, zero tolerance for impunity, and excellence.

The 10-point ethos was a reflection of Uwakwe’s determination to start on a solid footing and charting a direction for himself and the staff of the council. The goal was to bring NECO to global standard and best practises in line with global trends in educational assessment.

The registrar, an erudite scholar with over 28 years of university teaching, research and consulting experience in counselling, educational and health psychology, is said to have personally applied himself to ensuring that the driving principles of his 10-point NECO Ethos are vigorously adhered to.

“He not only preaches the ethos, but is guided by them. He believes they are the bedrock of building a team of dedicated and committed staff who share a common vision for the examination body. This obviously is in line with his belief and determination to provide a valid and reliable assessment platform for students’ performance and also keeping in view the need to assure stakeholders in education to continue to see examination as a reliable means of restructuring and national development.”

Based on his conviction that the success of any organisation depends to a large extent on the commitment of the staff, Uwakwe demonstrated his commitment to staff welfare and development by undertaking a timely and transparent conduct of two promotion exercises which were devoid of the rancour and bitterness usually associated with such exercises. He also introduced equity and fairness in the posting of staff to out of station assignments.

He ensured that all staff entitlements are regularly and timely paid. He had promised on resumption of office that the only way to maintain staff integrity and that of the council when they are out on official assignment was to ensure that all entitlements were promptly computed and paid.

According to the council, “this promise has been kept in full. Prompt payment of allowances to examiners and other ad-hoc staff engaged by the council has also witnessed a boost. This has largely invigorated staff motivation and dedication to assigned duties.

“Professor Uwakwe has left no one in doubt as someone who takes responsive action when needed. This he demonstrated with the prompt appointment of a director of Human Resource Management Department, a position that has been vacant for over a year before he assumed office, and caused several bickering and hiccups in the council.

“Equally under his watch, three new departments and a directorate were created with the appointment of directors to oversee them for greater staff mobility and service delivery. The departments are Psychometrics, General Services, ICT and the Directorate of Special Duties in the Office of the Registrar.”

It added: “It is worthy of note that under the able leadership of Uwakwe, the council has witnessed the provision of befitting accommodation for staff across the country. Specifically, staff accommodation has been provided in the FCT, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Enugu, Bauchi, Kano and Lagos States.”

Achievements

Perhaps the greatest achievement of NECO is that it has provided hope for thousands of candidates who have been able to keep their matriculation dates because of the timely release of results. “Consequently, many Nigerians now have the opportunity to contribute to the development of their nation and the feeling of wellbeing that results from this sense of realisation is difficult to quantify in concrete terms.”

The council also emphasised that by its activities, it has allowed for a reduction in the number of potential sources of instability in the community, especially by youths who ordinarily would not have been able to feel a sense of satisfaction and progress in their lives.

“Furthermore, whatever contribution these vibrant segment of our population are able to bring back in the form of economic activity is a potential generator of wealth for the nation. Consequently, the dividends of NECO stretch well beyond the horizon of testing, measurement or evaluation. They touch thousands of Nigerian lives and do so for the better.

“The coming of Uwakwe to NECO has brought visible changes to the examination body. The erudite scholar and astute administrator has proven to stakeholders that his past record of achievements are no fluke. His track record of achievements is self-evident in the successes he has recorded across board in the management of the examination council since his assumption of office.”

Other achievements of the current NECO registrar since he assumed office on August 1, 2016 are: Successful conduct of all NECO examinations (NCEE, BECE, SSCE I and SSCE EXT) from August 2016 to date; early release of all examination results as exemplified by the 2017 Nov/Dec SSCE results which was released on the 38th day after the examination. This enabled the candidates to use the results for the 2017/2018 admission exercises into tertiary institutions.

The council has also printed and distributed all outstanding SSCE and BECE certificates up to 2014; combating and reducing examination malpractices to the barest minimum in all its examinations is another key achievement of NECO; the council has also successfully conducted sensitisation workshops on offline-online examination registration procedure for relevant stakeholders in all the 36 states and the FCT on January 23 and 24, 2017; as well as ensured seamless migration from strictly online registration procedure to offline-online procedure in January 2017.

The council also successfully conducted the 2016, 2017and 2018 trial testing of test items using senior secondary school students selected from the six geo-political zones; successful conduct of 2016, 2017and 2018 accreditation and re-accreditation of schools for SSCE and BEC; timely and transparent conduct of 2016, 2017and 2018 staff promotion examinations devoid of rancour; introduction of equity and fairness in the posting of staff for out of station assignments; as well as prompt payment of honorarium to examiners, supervisors, external monitors and other ad-hoc staff.

Furthermore, Uwakwe’s administration ensured successful participation and presentation of two memoranda at the 2016 Joint Consultative Council on Education (JCCE) Reference Committees meeting which held in Awka, Anambra State from February 27 to March 2, 2017; as well as successful linkage of the national headquarters complex of the council in Minna to National Power Grid by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company in June, 2017 after seven years of sole reliance on generators.

The council also sponsored in-house training workshop on the use of some Item Response Theory (IRT software in partnership with the Institute of Education, University of Ibadan in August 2017; sponsored some staff to attend national and international conferences on educational assessment; gradual but steady improvement in remittances to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) since 2016 to date, among other achievements.

Challenges

In spite of the achievements, the council is being confronted by a number of challenges such as poor public understanding of the difference between the functions and operations of NECO and other examination bodies; inadequate capital allocation; delay in release of appropriated funds; non-settlement of debts/delay in settlement of debts by some state governments.

Other challenges are lack of integrated ICT platform and communication system linking state/zonal offices to the headquarters; inadequate standard warehouses nationwide; inadequate manpower in some subject areas; inadequate office accommodation for most state offices; obsolete ICT equipment; and inadequate operational vehicles for distribution of examination materials nationwide.