MALPRACTICE reached a new low in the 2018 West African Senior School Certificate Examination when answers to questions were uploaded to candidates in the hall through digital platforms. Such platforms were earlier widely advertised with specified sums of money to be paid into designated bank accounts of the perpetrators for Objective and Theory based question papers. They acknowledged receipt of payments through phone text messages.
According to reports, candidates, through the connivance of invigilators and schools, sent the questions to some rogue websites via WhatsApp, SMS and other social media platforms, which then provided the answers and forwarded them to the subscribers in the exam hall. This is an ugly development, which the government should direct the security agencies and telecommunications operators to probe, in order to stem the perverse deployment of information technology in public examinations.
It is unfortunate that our school system is still bedevilled by the incubus of cheating in examinations. This newspaper’s correspondent had pretended to be a candidate for the examination and subscribed to answers for Commerce question papers from five websites namely: naijaclass.com; examcrown.com, examsort.com, waecexpo.com andguruslodge.com in a bid to prove that the syndicates actually provided the notorious service they had claimed.
Since then, WAEC has been labouring to refute the charge of culpability in the leakage of the question papers. Its Head of Public Affairs, Demianus Ojijeogu, said that the council’s investigations and monitoring established the fact that some principals of schools, invigilators, supervisors and candidates collaborated to perpetrate the illegality. Therefore, he dismissed the notion that what happened was a leakage of its question papers.
Despite that this might have been the case, it does not totally confer innocence on the council, since the affected invigilators and supervisors are, indeed, its appointees. Besides, the present fraud is not the first to be associated with its examinations. In fact, the country has lived with cheating and leakage of School Certificate examination papers since the early 1970s. Such a show of shame compelled the Federal Government to set up in 1978, the Sogbetun tribunal, which investigated the massive leakage of WASSC exams in 1977. Massive cancellation of results followed.
Unfortunately, the right lessons were not learnt from it. This explains why the evil is still treated with kid gloves. The best the council had done was to bar schools found culpable from serving as centres for its exams for a specific number of years. A total of 193 schools nationwide were affected in 2012. The punishment lasted for just two years. In Lagos State, 60 schools were mired in this odium in 2015 and were similarly sanctioned. In 2017, 47 schools in Kogi State, comprising public and private, were involved in malpractice, and were declared ineligible to present candidates for the 2018 exams.
This form of sanction and cancellation of results are not deterrent enough, given the perennial occurrence of the breach. Exam malpractice is a criminal offence, which the country’s criminal code forbids. It is wrong not to subject candidates caught in the act or those who aid it to the due process of the law. In China, for example, the offence attracts a seven-year jail term. We believe that it is by invoking the full weight of the law against the masterminds, that sanity will be restored to the system.
WAEC is a regional body with its headquarters in Accra, Ghana. It has over the years held countless meetings on how to deal with this challenge. For instance, during its meeting in 2015, it recommended stricter measures to check the menace, among which was the adoption of technology. With the 2018 digital cheating in Nigeria, the council should introduce, without further delay, counter-digital devices which could jam mobile phones or temporarily demobilise some social media networks. It should enforce strictly a ban on the use of mobile phones during exams.
Synergy with the government is required here. Countries like Ethiopia and Uzbekistan are good examples. In 2004, Uzbekistan stopped internal internet traffic and SMS messaging between 8.30 am and 1.30 pm, one Friday before a high-stake standardised test – qualifying exam for university admission – to prevent cheating. The 12th grade national exam leak of 2016, also, an entrance examination to the university, compelled the authorities to conduct that of 2017 with digital safeguards. Sadly, parents and guardians in Nigeria now reportedly encourage their children and wards to cheat in public examinations by providing them with cash to scout for leaked papers, or do so for them.
As WASSCE is hobbled with cheating, so are other public examinations. Among them is the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. Lack of faith in it has led to the introduction of the post-UTME tests by universities for the final selection of their students. A candidate who cheated to pass their School Certificate is most likely to indulge in it in the UTME, and will not have the mental acumen to withstand the rigours of university education. Such deficiency informed the University of Ibadan’s decision to ask 408 students to withdraw last month.
Teachers, above all, are character moulders. State governments should wake up and severely punish school principals and teachers that are proven to encourage candidates to cheat with dismissal from service. It is by doing so that the moral health of the society will be protected.