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Opinions of Monday, 17 October 2005

Columnist: Appiah Kusi Adomako

West Africa Examination Council, Monopoly And Inefficiencies

This year?s private candidates Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) which started last week was marred by numerous problems. Most of the candidates were put in a state of heightened suspense, as they did not know where to write their examinations. On the very day of commencement of the examinations, most of the candidates had not received their admission notices.

News reports from around the nation have it that less than a day before the commencement of the examinations, indicate an even more widespread problem with the admission notices. Despite being told by the Council to check from the WAEC website, it did not work out for most of these students. At the time of writing this piece, most candidates had not been able to write the Oral English paper because they did not get their admission notices on time. When a section of candidates stormed the council?s regional offices nation-wide they were met with indifference as if to say the problem was the candidates? own making. The problem of admission notices is however not a new problem. I remember during the 2002 one of my friends registered for SSSCE as private candidate. When he received his admission notice he was designated to take his Elective Mathematics at the Kumasi Anglican Secondary School. When he got to the centre he was told that those having their index numbers starting from a certain number would be talking their papers at the Technology Secondary School (KNUST-Tech Sec). The boy had to borrow money to take a chartered taxicab to the correct venue. Who pays the transport cost of this blunder, which the innocent boy did not commit? Didn?t candidates provide the council with self-addressed -stamped envelop such that the council could have communicated the change in venue via post?

When one thinks about this and other related issues, one is tempted to ask whether the council is not aware of the postal system in the country? Do all candidates have access to the Internet? What about a candidate in Bonkwaso in the Ahafo Ano South District or those in less endowed districts? Didn?t candidates provide the council with self-addressed ?stamped envelope at the time of registration for the examination?

The council, which is one of the oldest examination bodies in the sub-region, should be doing much the better by now. Every year that WAEC has conducted either BECE or SSSCE ?someway or somehow it appears some candidates manage to get access fraudulently to some of the set questions. It appears the Council?s name has now become synonymous with examination leakages. Whilst this year it can be said with some confidence say that the council has done well to protect the integrity of the exam system, however its past record cannot be easily forgotten.

In 1996 for instance, some of the SSSCE papers conducted by WAEC leaked and had to be rewritten. Between 1996 and 2002, although not very well publicized in the media, the handling of the SSSCE examinations by WAEC gave a lot of cause for concern. The 2002 Basic Education Certificate Examination also saw massive leakages causing innocents pupils to rewrite some of the papers again. It appears that it is because of these examination leakages that examination fees/charges in Ghana are so high as compared to other West African states. This is because it appears that when the costs of conducting the examinations are estimated, provision is made for reprinting the papers as a result of leakages. It will appear such costs may be added to the overall cost of administering the examinations and passed on to students.

The council has thrived on its monopoly as the only local examinations administering agency for a long time and it has used it to exploit the candidates especially SSSCE candidates-where the council gets most of its revenue from. It has been said in some places that the WAEC depends to a large extent on the number of students re-writing the SSSCE especially the private candidates for its existence. Who knows if another examination body were to be allowed to operate in the country the competition could force down the rates currently paid by candidates. In a midst of monopoly consumers are those who suffer most. Should we wake up next year and the council increase the entry into eight or more subjects in SSSCE private candidates to nine hundred thousand candidates will complain yet since there is no other exams body for them to go they will have to pay and register. If another exam body was to offer the same service at a possibly lesser cost do you think students will act like philanthropists to be patronising that of WAEC? The sad thing in this country is that anytime the Council comes out with fees for candidates to pay neither the Ministry of Education and Sports nor that of parliament say nothing about it. It does not appear there is any mechanism for regulating the levels of fees charged by WAEC.

Let?s take the issue of Oral English, which the council takes it as a practical test and charges students hefty amounts. What is a practical exams? Can we compare chemistry practical where students do use consumable chemicals to oral English Language where candidates only sit down and listen conversations from tapes? The irony of it all is that the tape recordings of the oral English is of poor quality. Why should the council charge every student for Oral English for such poor services quality?

The treatment of would-be candidates at the time of registration leaves so much to be desired. You ask yourself if the workers got there right from primary six without writing either MSLC or O?Level. Sometimes they treat students with utter contempt. When candidates are registering the kind of frustrations that they go through is something, which the council should take a second look at it. The council should make it possible for post offices in the country be used as sales of scannable entry forms and as submission centres.

Another issue, which the council is exploiting candidates, is the sale of scratch cards, which allow candidates to check their examination results online. Why is it free for candidates to check their exam centres online but when it comes to their results they have to buy scratch card costing ?25,000.00? The Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (A.C.C.A), Chartered Institute of Marketing (C.I. M), Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL), SAT of U.S. College Board offer the same facilities and not charge candidates for viewing their results online. Why can?t the council do the same? The answer is that the council is thriving in a market where it enjoys monopoly and exploiting helpless candidates in the process. But now, WAEC has no excuse but to sit up and deliver.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an educationist, freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through:
Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. KUMASI


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