Inside the school hall in a typical Nigerian examination centre, young men and women are seated with rapt attention as they listen to a middle aged, well built man, clutching a folder containing some sheets of paper. He is surrounded by other ladies and gentlemen numbering about five who apparently are waiting for the middle aged well built man to give the go ahead to start the distribution of examination question papers and answer booklets. He clears his throat, pointing his fingers to nobody in particular as if sounding a warning to a recalcitrant child who refused to heed his mother’s scolding, ‘If you like, go ahead and cheat in this examination!” He blunted out ‘Remember that whosoever is caught in examination malpractice will face 21 a year imprisonment. It is the legislation.’ Inside the crowd of seated candidates waiting to take the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), someone retorted, sarcastically “Na today?” implying that that threat was a brutum fulmen.. And the others giggled while the examination official who has been addressing the candidates tries to resist a frown.
This is the kind of ceremony that usually precedes examinations. Examination officials, invigilators, school authorities as the case maybe, drone the ears of candidates with sermons against exam malpractice. All the time, candidates pay attention, except occasional side talks and ensuing giggling. As the examination commences, candidates are seen making frantic efforts to outsmart each other in the exam malpractice that follows, on some occasions, the officials had just finished sermonizing sadly participates in the easy flow of the malpractice.
Examination malpractice in Nigeria has attained a frightening proportion, it is sophisticated and institutionalized. Efforts by government administration and stakeholders in the educational sector to curtail the ugly trend have not yielded any fruit.
It is saddening to note that examination bodies, government functionaries, school authorities, invigilators, parents and students all participate in the iniquitous exam malpractice. This article will however concentrate on exam malpractice in the senior school certificate examinations.
We can extrapolate to some extent from the present trend that examination malpractice will utterly destroy the quality of education in Nigeria if decisive steps are not taken to checkmate the trend. The intractable nature of examination malpractice has resulted in high turnover of half-baked graduates by institutions of higher learning.
Apparently appalled by the spate of examination malpractice, the Nigerian Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), in 2001, introduced variations in question numerations from candidates to candidates sitting for the same matriculation examination. That year, candidates’ performance in JAMB examination was very poor. But it did not take long for the syndicates to devise another means to beat JAMB’s innovation and that, without gainsaying, was with the effective collaboration and connivance of JAMB officials.
Exam malpractice has long graduated from the normal ‘gyraffing’ at neighbors’ work, using key points notes or text books or copying on sheets of papers referred to as ‘microchips’, or copying on desks also known as ‘desktop publishing’, etc., to a more advanced and more organized system of buying question from examination bodies or corrupt bank officials entrusted with the safe-keeping of the examination question paper. Also syndicates have been able to arrange ‘special’ centers for their ‘special’ candidates they enrolled for the exam with the connivance of examination bodies for the easy flow of malpractice. These MIRACLE centers enjoy the patronage of some corrupt school administrators and examination officers.
These syndicates have made it very easy for somebody to acquire a Senior School Certificate of Education certificate without necessarily entering the examination hall as mercenaries abound to impersonate the candidates. This trend has, sadly, crept into foreign organized examinations like the British and the American sponsored examinations (City and Guilds, SAT, TOEFL, etc) organized in Nigeria. These syndicates have also devised mind-boggling means of impersonating and cheating during these examinations. The Nigerian SSCE is worse hit by this menace.
That is the reason many students refuse to take SSCE in the school they attended instead they become external candidates in another school where they pay exorbitant fee in order to perpetrate examination malpractice. Many schools have tagged fee charged candidates for examination malpractice, “cooperation fees”. The best explanation students give for changing their schools is that students don’t pass examinations there hence they go to a place where their ‘success’ is guaranteed.
The boggling question is whether examiners pass candidates on the basis of the center an examination was written. Little wonder over 50% increase in SSCE enrolment is recorded in such center (schools).
Invigilators, exam officials, police, ministry of education inspectors who have been settled from the ‘cooperation fee’ fund allow malpractice to go on without hitches. It is only those centers that could not pay the cooperation fee that examination bodies give media publicity when one or two candidates are unfortunately caught in malpractice.
Most private schools, if not all, invest huge sums of money, which students contribute to cooperation fee fund to sponsor exam malpractice in order to maintain a high performance in certificate exams, sometimes they record as high as 100% exam success.
Recent statistics indicate that Zamfara State tops the list of exam malpractice with 47.89% and closely followed by Abia State with 41.71%.
The National Consultative Committee on Education (NCCE) held a meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State Capital recently and it was attended by stakeholders in the educational sector. At the meeting, the former minister for Education, Prof. Fabian Osuji, who was recently dismissed by the Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for allegedly involving in a Bribe scandal that equally claimed the office of the Nigerian Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, stated that henceforth, schools involved examination malpractice of any magnitude will be derecognized and barred from enrolling candidates for any public examination for three years. Good talk backed with consequent levity! Many of such directives have been given by the Federal Government in the past without any effect probably because of lack of sincerity of purpose. They simply blow hot and cold even as defaulting schools get more recognition as magic centers for exam success thereby smiling to the banks from increased enrollment. No one has been sanctioned save for un-cooperating schools.
How has exam malpractice attained such a gargantuan proportion in our society? Certificate issued by exam bodies like NECO, WAEC, JAMB etc. lack credibility.
It is incontrovertible that exam malpractice thrives in a corrupt society which indicates that it is a reflection of the society. It is in the psyche of the people therefore it can only be tackled in the mind of the people.
To fight effectively this war against exam malpractice, all the agents of socialization must participate actively in stemming the ugly scenario. The home front must deliberately discourage their children and wards from further participation in the act by stopping the financing of exam malpractice for them. Encourage the children and ward to study harder.
Examination bodies like NECO, WAEC, NABTEB, JAMB etc. must totally dissociate themselves form activities of malpractice syndicates and stop concession postings. Exam bodies should break the vicious circle of exam malpractices by centralizing posting of candidates to exam centers and meeting appropriate sanctions or punishment on offenders without fear of intimidation or favor.
Invigilators, school authorities, police personnel and other exam officials should be put under surveillance as they are major stakeholders in the business of examination malpractice. Remuneration for examination supervisors and invigilators should be reviewed and such remuneration should be promptly paid to prevent them from being tempted to involve in the rather lucrative ‘business’ of examination malpractice.
Government and its agencies should henceforth stop handling cases of examination malpractice with kid gloves. The law should not recognize sacred cows. Anyone caught cheating should be made to face the music of irrespective of status or connections.
Saintmoses Eromosele is a Nigerian author, journalist, publisher, rights activist and lawyer.