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Opinions of Saturday, 17 October 2015

Columnist: Samuel Adadi Akapule

Ending Examination Malpractices in Ghana: Some Reflections

Public disenchantment about examination malpractices in Ghana cannot be overemphasised, and if the problem is not addressed now it would have dire consequences on the country's human resource development. It could also lead to the breeding of future leaders who are likely to become corrupt since they would have become used to cheating.

Ghana's commitment and performance in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been hailed by the international community for realising a rate of 96 per cent and completion rate of 76 percent when it comes to the goals on education but missed the issue of quality education in the MDGs.

The country is likely to miss the quality education target in the SDGs if she continues to compromise the integrity of the system of evaluation and assessment that usually form part and parcel of any quality education delivery system. In other words, if the country continues to experience examination malpractices it would affect the achievement of quality education which the country is yearning to achieve under the SDGs. The time to act is now.

Available evidence shows that since 2009, the incidence of examination malpractice has been on the rise, especially in the Basic Education Certificate Examination ( BECE) and the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE). For instance on the report of trends of irregularity cases recorded in the BECE from 2009 to 2011, WAEC made the following interesting revelations: In 2009, the number of candidates involved in examination malpractices stood at 525; 1,083 candidates in 2010 and 1,127 candidates in 2011.

Similar revelations were also made between 2012 and 2015 . According to the West African Examinations Council, 453 students who took part in this year's West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) had their entire results cancelled. It is important to note that examination malpractices are not only limited to BECE and SSSCE Candidates alone, but also at the tertiary level across the country.

In 2012, WAEC admitted to the fact that examination malpractice among students was increasing at an alarming rate and called for a joint effort among stakeholders in Education to help deal with the situation since the Council could not singlehandedly deal with the problem. The magnitude of the problem has also attracted lots of concern from majority of stakeholders. At the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) Eleventh National Delegates Conference held in Bolgatanga in September this year, the participants devoted much of the four-day conference to deliberations on how to help address the issue. Befittingly, the meeting was held under the theme "Protecting the Integrity of Examination: If not Us , then Who?".

The type of examination malpractices that are commonly prevalent include the leakage of examination questions and answers to candidates before the day of the writing of the examination, and sending foreign material such as mobile phones, answered scripts and notes into the examination hall. Some candidates are also fond of copying from one another, soliciting help from the invigilators, teachers and heads of institutions.

One would ask how this will be possible without the connivance of WAEC officials who are responsible for the printing and packaging of examination materials , briefing the examination facilitators recruited by the Council such as Depot Keepers, the Police, Supervisors, distributors of examination materials, etc.

Some Causes of Examination Malpractices

Several stakeholders have cited the strong desire by some officials of the Ghana Education Service (GES) including some District Directors, School Administrators and headteachers to produce very good results in their districts and schools as a proof of their hard work as one of the main causes of examination malpractices.

Speaking at the just-ended NAGRAT Delegates Conference, the guest speaker, The Most Reverend Alfred Agyenta, Bishop of the Navrongo-Bolgatanga Diocese of the Catholic Church confirmed this negative attitude and alleged that sometimes these authorities ask students or their parents to pay some monies either to produce the examination questions or to arrange for external help for students in the examination halls. It was also alleged that some parents and guardians who are often anxious to see their children acquire good grades connive with officials to procure examination questions for their wards.

One major adverse effect of examination malpractices is that it erodes the quality of the human resource base of a country. As stated by Reverend Agyenta at the Conference, "A dysfunctional evaluation and assessment system puts a nation at risk since she is likely to be building on a loose soil of incompetent and poor quality human capital. This happens when people are employed based on their paper qualification rather than experience".

Also, Ghana has become a destination of many foreign students seeking quality education in the country. When the system is perceived as fraudulent, the country stands to lose not only her image, but also the foreign students who enrich our economy with foreign exchange.

Furthermore, the more serious risk would be the mortgaging of the moral integrity of the youth, who are taught at a very early age that it is acceptable to cheat or steal.

The prevalent environment of malpractices also compromises the hard work of teachers since examination evaluation systems are not only meant to assess how much knowledge or expertise a student has acquired in a given period and how ready he or she is for the next level or for a job, but also serves to evaluate the quality of the teacher or professor. Hence students inclined to cheat in examination are an indictment on the teacher for failing to make the required impact on the students.

Finally, the financial loss that the state and parents suffer when examinations are cancelled and have to be re-written, coupled with the psychological trauma of candidates are enormous.

The regional body, WAEC which was established in 1952 with its Headquarters in Accra and charged with pre-university assessment procedures, has as its vision "To be a world class examining body, adding value to the educational goals of its numerous stakeholders". The Council's mission statement is "To remain Africa's foremost examining body providing qualitative and reliable educational assessment, encouraging academic and moral excellence and promoting sustainable human resource development and International Cooperation."

In the light of the above profile of WAEC, do we have any reason to be worried about the integrity of examinations and are we justified in calling for any external intervention in the conduct of our examination?.

In spite of the fact that the institution had been hailed in the past for its credible performance, there is no doubt that its image has been dented in recent times, taking into cognizance the perennial examination malpractices and cancellation of examination results that the nation is witnessing.

The Way forward

In a search for solutions to a canker such as this one, DETERRENT is always the watch-word – the kind of deterrent that would not only convey a strong/clear message to potential cheaters, but that would also make examination fraud very unattractive. Unfortunately, it is alleged that most often these offences are committed in the full glare of some of the law enforcement agencies on duty, staff of WAEC, GES personnel and invigilators who ought to know better.

Again, Reverend Agyenta in his presentation at the Conference indicated that WAEC's vision to become "a world-class examining body" and its dream to "remain Africa's foremost examining body" are at best elusive goals in the face of prevailing examination malpractices. He stressed the need for the Council and its affiliate bodies to step up their performance to match the vision and mission statements.

"Indeed most of the core values of WAEC have been compromised. Her integrity has been seriously dented by her failure to ensure the security of examination materials as they make their way from the printing room to the examination hall. Her professionalism has become questionable in the light of the alleged involvement of some of her officials and personnel in the leakage of examination papers. In dealing with investigations into irregularities and malpractices, the Council needs to demonstrate more accountability and transparency than it has done so far, especially in the instance where her own personnel are implicated in these malpractices", he observed.

WAEC must ensure that all the arrangements that area made for the deployment of her evaluation systems are carefully monitored from the printing room, as well as the collection of the scripts from the various examination centres throughout the country.

In dealing with reported cases of irregularities and malpractices , there should be a transparent legal framework for investigating; the investigative process should not be left entirely to the Council but should also involve an independent body.

Ultimately, every Ghanaians should work towards building a responsible citizenry in the country. Responsible citizenship requires that every one of us acts as a gatekeeper and protector of the common good, which includes the quality of human resource development. If we refused to be bothered by what is currently happening in our examination halls which has a repercussion for the quality of the diplomas, certificates and degrees that people hold, then we are shooting and killing our nation gradually.