By Obinna Iroegbu
Whenever the topic of examination malpractice comes up, attention is usually directed to candidates and teachers. Scarcely has the role of examining bodies been mentioned in the menace that has bedeviled our school system. Three major pillars of education are teaching, examination and certification. While teaching and certification are the prerogatives of teachers and public examination bodies, respectively, examination, which includes marking and scoring, intricately involves both parties.
Ostensibly, examination bodies like WAEC and NECO put up paid adverts and notices condemning and discouraging the act of cheating in examination, but their staff and administrative system directly and indirectly encourage and sustain examination malpractices. Examination bodies play their own part in sustenance of malpractices by discouraging examiners who desire to perform the statutory duty of reporting cases of irregularities and malpractices. This they do in two ways. First, the remuneration for detection of malpractice is hardly commensurate with the trouble an examiner goes through in reporting a malpractice.
Whereas in marking, an examiner is remunerated per script, detection of a malpractice is paid for in relation to the number of centres. This method is skewed in the sense that N150 (for WAEC) or N200 (for NECO) is paid for detection of all the cases of malpractice in any particular centre. This implies that if an examiner detects cheating among 500 candidates in a particular centre, such an examiner is paid the paltry sum of N150. Secondly, the number of forms to be filled and correspondingly counter-signed by tiers upon tiers of officials, including the chief examiner, subject officer and venue coordinator, makes it so cumbersome and therefore unattractive to a greater majority of the examiners. Finally, the outright disposition of marking-centre officials while reports are being made usually sends the signal that the one doing the reporting is unnecessarily complicating the work of marking.
Two recent and succeeding experiences as a NECO examiner are particularly illustrative of the tacit method in which field officers of public examination bodies discourage detection and report of malpractices. In 2019, the venue coordinator discovering upon enquiry that I happen to come from the same geopolitical zone as the candidates for whom I was reporting malpractice engaged in a most embarrassing emotional blackmail.
In the presence of other examiners and supervising officials, she repeatedly asked, “why do you choose to be wicked to your innocent brothers and sisters by constituting an impediment to their progress? Is it because of the N200 you are being paid per centre?” At this particular year, because of the psychological torture arising from the barrage of questions and the look of supervising officials and other examiners who witnessed the incident, I felt like a kind of Judas accepting payment for an act of betrayal.
This year 2020, the centre coordinator was overtly confrontational and abusive. At first, he told me point blank that I was not going to be paid more than N1000 for the 33 centres I detected and reported confirmed cases of malpractice. He claimed that the commission did not provide him with enough fund to cater for remuneration of examiners, who detect and report malpractices. “If all examiners reported malpractice as you have done, do you think the commission would have enough money to pay for it?” This was his direct question to me. He continued the upbraiding by saying that he just settled an examiner who reported for five centres with N200 “and the man was satisfied with it.” “Mr. man”, he shouted, “be satisfied with what you have got and leave me alone. As you can see, we are trying to tidy up and depart this venue.” Like his counterpart in the previous year, this was done right in the presence of his subordinates and a handful of other examiners rounding off their work. And as in the previous year also, I scurried away shamefacedly like a mischievous child who had refused to outgrow the urge to engage in condemnable acts.
I would not know whether I would be able to muster the courage to engage in marking exercise subsequently but I must state categorically that my withdrawal from such a national service as script marking is not due to the rigours and poor remuneration involved, but because of the attitude of officials of examining bodies towards the infinitesimal few of examiners who insist on doing their work the way it is required of them.
Iroegbu is a staff of Federal University, Oye-Ekiti