It is by no coincidence that having been in the hot sits recently about corrupt practices, the Sierra Leone branch of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), with the help of the country’s “corruption czar” Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), has now found the perfect scapegoats to divert negative attention from the agency.
It is unfortunate that instead of truly looking into WAEC malpractices that are dumbing down generations and hurting the entire education system in the country, the ACC, as usual, has stepped in to pick on the little fish in order to shield and protect the big fish in the pond.
Just a few weeks ago, during the National Primary School Examinations (NPSE), exam questionnaires were being re-used because there were not enough printed for the number of students who showed up to take the exam. Instead of each student receiving a clean exam questionnaire, they had to take turns; one set of students waits for the other to complete the exam so they could use the questionnaires.
When WAEC was confronted with this issue, the agency and its partner, the Ministry of Education, went on the defensive on every media outlet that would give them the time.
WAEC officials were claiming to have been instructed by the Ministry of Education to administer the exam to each and every student who shows up on the day of the exam, with no exceptions. According to WAEC, this meant that students did not have to be on the registration roster to be allowed to take the exam.
This argument is totally contradictory to the WAEC requirement that students who take national and sub-regional exams must pre-register weeks or months before the exams. Exam questionnaires and other materials are then ordered by WAEC based on the number of students who register for each exam. This is the logical procedure.
However, WAEC Sierra Leone claims to have ordered exam questionnaires based on the number of students who registered for the NPSE. The agency even claims to have ordered a surplus number of questionnaires for the exam. But, according to WAEC, school officials, especially from rural school districts, had failed to register their students accordingly. And that those unregistered students showed up for the exam anyway.
Thus, WAEC blames the shortage of questionnaires on thousands of unregistered students showing up on the day of the exam. And because of their agreement with the Ministry not to turn any child away on exam day, WAEC officials claim they had no choice but to re-use exam questionnaires to accommodate the influx of unregistered exam takers.
We find this to be a very crafty excuse, which in our view, is WAEC’s and the Ministry’s way of dodging responsibility for their failings. So the truth will never be known about why WAEC did not have enough exam materials; worst of all, WAEC officials have no incentive to correct their malpractices because they could always put the blame on others.
It is sad that corrupt agencies and their officials have mouthpieces that speak for them in the media, spread their nefarious falsehoods, which we find very insulting to the people’s intelligence. Conversely, the people on whom all the blames are being dumped have no mouthpieces to speak for them.
ACC alleges to have arrested teachers and students in response to a ” a tip off.” That the teachers had acted as “examiners” during the exam and were marking the exams when they were arrested. Our questions:
- Should this tip-off have gone to ACC or WAEC officials for action?
- Why are teachers who are “Examiners” also marking exams?
- Do WAEC officials supervise the examiners and markers?
- Why are teachers who act as “examiners” also allowed to mark those exams?
- Who does it benefit when “perpetrators” are so dramatically arrested by ACC?
- When did cheating on exams become an arrestable offence in Sierra Leone?
We believe that the so-called tip-off was nothing but a concerted effort to find scapegoats in order to allay negative attention that has been swirling over WAEC recently. These arrests also show that WAEC and the Ministry of Education are not intending to do what it takes to clean up their malpractices. The same people they are failing to serve, the students and teachers of Sierra Leone, to whom they provide no resource support, are the same people they prey on as scapegoats to cover up their corruption.
ACC further alleges that the teachers were found marking exams in a secret location where students had been invited to retake the exam upon paying a fee the teachers charged.
This shows a fundamental flaw in WAEC’s practices. As the agency that administers all exams, it should actively supervise all exams and examiners, in order to maintain integrity of their agency, the exams and the education system. Can WAEC explain…
- Why teachers who act as examiners are the same who mark the exams?
- Were the “said teachers” marking the exams outside the proper protocol?
- Why are WAEC officials not being arrested for not properly supervising exam marking?
ACC apparently “raided” the location where the teachers had been marking the exams and claim to have found five students retaking the exam at the time of their arrest. This is a very illogical strategy and warrants many questions:
- How does this dramatic raid impact all the exams that were being marked in that location?
- Were there any WAEC officials at the location where exams were being marked?
- What was found in the raid that amounted to the arrestable offense?
ACC officials further claim to have arrested the landlord of the premises along with the teachers and students and are keeping them in custody as the investigations ensue.
This is another fundamental flaw in the WAEC system. Is there no standard rule on where exams could be marked? In this case, the landlord is being dragged into the case to make it more dramatic. If WAEC has rules and regulations on where exams can be conducted, then it must also have rules and regulations on where those exams can be marked and under whose supervision.
If there are such rules, then it should be standard procedure for exams that are not conducted and marked under prescribed procedures be systematically rejected by WAEC. This would reduce the incentive and opportunity for corruption.
ACC claims to have made the arrest as a move to improve the integrity of the education system. This could not be farther from the truth.
We argue that the arrests were part of the ACC’s modus operandi. Whenever a government institution, official or some other big fish is caught red handed in corrupt practices, such as WAEC has been caught recently, the ACC makes a dramatic arrest of a scapegoat, which puts the issue on the back burner of public discussions and life goes on. Meanwhile, the real criminals continue their shady activities in even more reprehensible ways.
The issue of rich and influential people using their wealth and power to give unfair advantages to their not-so-bright sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, is an age old problem in Sierra Leone. This has robbed many bright people of their rights to quality education and loss of many other benefits that are supposed to be based on merit. University scholarships and study abroad scholarships have always been funneled to students with social and political connections, regardless of their academic standings.
ACC does not help the children and youth of Sierra Leone by helping WAEC shift blame onto teachers and students, who may or may not be innocent. It would serve the education system better if WAEC would systematically condemn exams that are conducted or marked outside of proper procedures. This would reduce the incentive for fraud and eliminate opportunities for rogue teachers to sell exams.
Mama Salone is by no means condoning fraud or malpractices by faculty and staff in the school systems of Sierra Leone. We believe that there should be a consistent and systematic process of exposing and expelling faculty and staff who are found to be involved in fraudulent activities in the schools.
Dramatically arresting teachers and students is not the solution!