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Monday Musings – Solving the WASSCE Problem: Is an Independent National Examination Body the Answer?

Let’s start off today with a few mental sums, shall we?

In 2014, according to data released by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), a total of 242,162 candidates sat for the May/June edition of the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE). Of this number, 68,062 candidates, representing 28 percent of the total number of candidates, obtained credits in six subjects and above, including English Language and Mathematics, which is the minimum result accepted by universities for new applicants.

At the University of Ghana’s 2015 matriculation ceremony for new entrants, the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Ernest Aryeetey stated that for that academic year, the University of Ghana received 28,665 undergraduate applications, out of which only 18,106 students successfully gained admission. The number of successful undergraduate entrants into the University of Ghana for that year represents just 7.5 percent of the students who sat for the 2014 WASSCE examinations. In fact, that 7.5 percent is generous, especially when one considers that entrants consisted not just of 2014 May/June WASSCE candidates but a number of 2015 WASSCE candidates as well as candidates from previous years and Nov/Dec WASSCE applicants.

Prof Aryeetey-at-UG-2015-matriculation

Prof. Aryeetey at University of Ghana’s 2015 matriculation ceremony

Statistics provided by the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Prof. Otoo Ellis at the university’s 2015 matriculation ceremony show that there were a total of 29,891 applications for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the University. Out of that number, only 6,889 students were admitted into the undergraduate programmes. That represents 2.8 percent (!) of the total number of students who sat for the May/June WASSCE examinations in 2014. Again, this statistic is generous as it doesn’t take into consideration Nov/Dec applicants and other applicants from previous years.

The University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology are two of the biggest universities in Ghana and their admission statistics of other universities can be safely assumed to mirror those of these two at least in percentages, if not in exact numbers.

Now let’s do a little imagination, shall we?

Imagine you are a parent with a child in senior high school and you are desperate for them to get into the university and you are offered the chance to practically buy the best results your child can get in order to boost their chances of admission into the university of their choice, what do you do?

Imagine you are a student in senior high school and you are suddenly offered a chance to make your family or community proud as well as vastly increase your chances to get your preferred choice of medicine, which is the most competitive admission option, as a course of study in the university. You can achieve this either by buying or just taking a look at leaked WASSCE questions. What do you do?

Somewhere in all of this is a WAEC official, a security guard or somebody else, who in one way or another comes into contact with the examination questions before their due date. In order to make a few bucks, he or she helps their child or relative or just due to plain greed, decides to sell or leak the questions and finds a willing accomplice or buyer in somebody from the two scenarios given above.

These arguments in no way support dishonesty or cheating at examinations or anywhere else, but are attempts at presenting the kinds of realities students, teachers, parents and guardians face especially when the overwhelming odds against enrollment into universities are considered.


A form of examination malpractice

The yearly leakage of WAEC examinations is clearly a huge problem and when one considers the various factors that lead to this occurrence: from students to teachers and schools to parents and guardians as well as WAEC as a body; it seems almost impossible to find a solution. In the wake of the recent leaks of three WASSCE papers before the dates for the examination, a number of people have suggested the enactment of a national examination body to administer examinations for Ghanaian students due to WAEC’s gradual loss of credibility citing the situation in Nigeria as an example. In effect, they are saying the answer to cheating at examinations is…….. more examinations!

In Nigeria, students write a Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) and a Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) examination in addition to WASSCE. Due to the unreliability of results from all these examinations as a result of various forms of cheating, universities administer a “Post-JAMB” or “Post-UME” examination to successful applicants before they are finally enrolled. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that more examinations do not suddenly solve the problems of one examination. The annual problems with WAEC examinations may actually be an opportunity to review our whole educational system. Why should the outcome of three (3) years of Senior High School education be suddenly decided by one examination? What can be done to ensure that more qualified students can be enrolled in the university? What alternative opportunities are there for the over 80 percent of students who fail WASSCE and do not qualify for admission into the university? And maybe most importantly, when will we learn that the form of examinations we have right now, test our memory at a particular time and not our abilities and are not a true reflection of what we can or cannot do?

We need to start answering and asking more questions of this sort if we want a long lasting solution to all forms of examination malpractice in general as well as vast improvements in our educational system and the kind of students or people it churns out.

Author: Ferdinand Senam Hassan, threesixtyGh Writer

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