WAEC, others battle hydra-headed exam malpractice

Examination malpractice was the focus of a two-day international summit by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) held in Lagos, last week. With dangers posed by advanced technology and deteriorating values, stakeholders sought ways to protect the validity of test scores, reports KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE

Technology, teaching and pedagogy, curriculum, and societal values have roles to play in the fight against examination malpractice.

Members of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) International Governing Council, government representatives, school administrators, coordinators of examination bodies, academics, teachers and students pondered on how to strike the right balance with these factors last Thursday and Friday at an international summit on examination malpractice organised by WAEC in Lagos.

Presenter after presenter at the summit detailed the innovativeness with which candidates perpetrate examination malpractices – not just in West Africa – but worldwide.

Prof Is-haq Oloyede, registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), said in his paper on “Curbing examination malpractice: Examination bodies, experiences by officials of JAMB” that examination malpractice could be perpetrated before, during and after the examination.  He spoke of attempts by candidates to register with their three names in various orders so they could take the examinations on different dates and claim the highest score of the attempts as theirs.

He said during the 2017 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) held in May, the board discovered a Computer Based Test (CBT) Centre which created another special centre a few blocks away where candidates paid N200,000 to write.  The servers of the real centre were disabled so the downloaded questions could be transferred to the pseudo centre for the special candidates.

He also recounted how a centre supervisor, who lured a candidate to have sex with a promise to increase her score, was caught in the ICT room.  He lamented that the girl’s mother sought compensation through marks.

“When we called her mother to report how we caught the daughter about to give sex for marks, she asked what marks we would give to compensate her for what she went through. You can imagine that kind of mother,” he said.

Oloyede said students must be taught to accommodate failure so that the desperation to pass at all cost would reduce.

Prof Charles Uwakwe, registrar of the National Examinations Council (NECO), which like WAEC conducts the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) for both secondary school and private candidates in Nigeria, highlighted the forgery perpetrated by schools as a form of examination malpractice. He lamented that schools usually forged Continuous Assessment (CA) scores such that almost all candidates they present score over 90 per cent of the 30 marks dedicated to continuous assessment (CA).

“Forgery of CA scores in collaboration with school principals (is common).  The situation is such that scores of almost all the children are usually 28,27,20 over 30, which is not possible for all canididates,” he said.

The NECO boss added that schools also sell registration slips to ghost students who they later replace with external candidates.

Former Chairman of the WAEC Council, Prof Redwood Sawyerr focused on how advanced technology could make the fight against malpractice difficult to win.

Sawyerr’s eye-opening paper on “Technology and examination malpractice” revealed the existence of advanced technological devices that aid examination malpractice online.

He liste various gadgets that openly advertised features that help candidates to cheat online. They include hi-tech wrist watches, smart phones, eye-glasses, contact lenses, miniature ear pieces, rings and scientific calculators, many of which have capacity to store whole books, transfer and receive data difficult for the uninitiated to detect.

Though currently, statistics showed that 99 per cent of youths aged 16 to 34 in the United States, Canada and Germany owned smart phones or used the internet compared to 52 per cent in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, Sawyerr warned African countries to prepare for when the devices become readily available on the continent.

The professor of electrical and electronics engineering said the challenge before examining bodies was to seek ways to counteract the use of technology in perpetrating examination malpractice.

He said: “The threat of wearable technology to the integrity of examinations is real and mounting.

“Unsettling headlines on the internet webshops include: ‘Spy technology to cheat in exams’,  ’50 ways technology can help you cheat in school’; There are several Youtube sites with video clips some as long as 10 minutes showing how to cheat with a range of hi-tech gadgets now available in the market. [Google: video of exam cheating technology]

“Advert of spy glasses from one outlet reads: ‘Wireless spy glasses with hidden Bluetooth allows anyone to get excellent marks in any exam.”

“The antidote must therefore be just as smart and technologically robust if we are to win this techwar.”

To employ technology to fight malpractice, Sawyerr advised that stakeholders should consider jamming the network while examinations last so that candidates cannot send or receive questions or answers.  He also suggested outlawing all smart devices from examination centres, setting up hubs that can detect radio frequencies and trace their sources, and training of invigilators to detect smart cheats.

“Teachers and proctors or invigilators need to be properly trained on the current technologies being used  to cheat and how to detect them.

“Similar to the ban on mobile phones in exams, any devices capable of storing, transmitting, receiving and displaying digital information should also be banned.

“There should be a ban on watches – traditional and smart – until proctors/invigilators are fully trained to detect these gadgets. In order to eliminate the problem of differentiating between watches in an exam environment, some Australian and UK universities have already implemented bans on smart watches and in some cases all wristwatches,” he said.

However, Sawyerr also called on stakeholders to seek ways to deter candidates from perpetrating examination fraud through changing how students are taught and tested.

“We must review the way we teach and our approaches to pedagogy in view of the emerging educational technologies.  We must provide tests and exams that test thinking skills and the grasp of concepts and their application instead of regurgitation.

“Problems should be open-ended and have different solutions where possible,” he said.

Emeritus Professor Pius Obanya said the fight against examination malpractice could only be tackled by a social re-engineering of values.

The keynote speaker for the programme said examination malpractice could only be addressed if the root causes of the menace were attacked, using a multi-pronged approach. He also said stakeholders needed to work together to check exam malpractice.

Applying the problem/solution tree analogy, Obanya said the negative effects of examination malpractice could be seen in various social vices like fraud, corruption, unprofessional conduct, and the like, which represent the leaves of the problem tree.  He said the root cause of examination malpractice was a negative change in values and behaviours of individuals, system, and society.

To end malpractice, he called for “values re-orientation, enforcement of legal sanctions and regulations of quality standard for schools; institutionalisation of educational assessment in the true sense of the term; improvement in the quality of schools, with Teacher capacity building for creative teaching and learner psycho-social support.”

Apart from re-orientation, some speakers called for the implementation of sanctions against perpetrators of examination malpractice.

They lamented that despite laws in existence to punish examination malpractice offenders, few were booked resulting in candidates being emboldened to perpetrate malpractice.

Chief nominee for WAEC Liberia Dr. Romelle Horton said all parties involved in malpractice – candidates and teachers – should be publicly exposed.  He said such negative publicity would drastically reduce examination malpractice.

“Any child that bed wets or wees on the bed would be brought to public domain to chant songs for him, the same thing should be done to a candidate or teacher  involved in the act,” she said.

On his part, Dr. Mohammed Karama, a chief education officer in Sierra Leone, said his country practised what Dr. Horton recommended, saying some examiners had appeared in court because of their roles in aiding and abetting examination malpractice, and were made to paid fines.

He urged Nigeria to do the same thing.

“The laws are there in Nigerial; the government only needs to implement them,” he said.

Southwest Coordinator of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Mr. S.P Binga said the Examination Malpractice Act, WAEC Act 2004 and the NABTEB Act, 2004 as well as the ICPC Act all spelt out punishment for perpetrators of examination malpractice.  For candidates, the penalty under the Examination Malpractice Act is a fine of N100,000 or three to four-year jail term; while for officials, it is a five-year jail term without option of fine.

However, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education and Services, Mohammed Zakari, said the house would consider reviewing the examination malpractice law with a view to increasing the jail sentence and eliminating the option of fine.

He said: “Examination malpractice has become a major challenge facing Africa and Nigeria in particular, and if we don’t kill it, it will ruin us as a nation.

“The four-year jail term with option of fine for offenders seems no longer enough to deter them, and I think if we can introduce a 10-year jail term without an option of fine, those engaging in the practices will know that we are committed and serious about fighting this menace.”

WAEC Registrar Dr Iyi Uwadiae said the council had invested in technology that would check the penchant of schools to record false CA scores, fictitious candidates and other vices.  He also said the body had sole distributorship of a customised calculator that could not be programmed which was already in use in Nigeria.

“WAEC has gone ahead to customise a mathematical set and calculator. It is already in use in Nigeria.  It is customised and we ensured there is no chip in it. I want to appeal to government nominees of all WAEC member states to approve it for their countries from 2018.  We have heard all the dangers technology can pose,” he said.

He urged stakeholders to join forces to check the menace and protect the integrity of examinations in the West African Sub-region.

For a better future, Chairman, WAEC Governing Council, Dr Evelyn Kandakai, called for action rather than talk.

“One lesson from this conference is that if we continue to do things the same way, the results will not be different.  There must be a paradigm shift in how we teach, learn and examine.  The moral compass of our society has been called to question. All hands should be on deck; we must all raise the alarm,” she said.

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