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West African Examinations Council or We Are Examinations Criminals?

West African Examinations Council or We Are Examinations Criminals?

Which of the above is more genuinely applicable in today’s National Office of Sierra Leone?

Anthony Kamara Sr (in photo) of Winnipeg Canada examines the performance of our West African Examinations Council (WAEC) National Office in the last 40 years and makes his recommendation.

Fourah Bay College (FBC) became affiliated to Durham University, England in 1876, and from that year onwards the new College started presenting students for British university degrees.  The University of Cambridge, the second oldest University in the English speaking world and one of three British universities considered as a parent university for FBC, was again the choice of the Church Missionaries Society (CMS) for the conduct of secondary school examinations for both the Junior and Senior Cambridge school exams for students in Sierra Leone and the rest of Anglophone West Africa.

For 76 long years(1876-1952) West African students wrote these two exams including the Senior Cantab for university entry.  However in 1952, as West African countries started agitating for independence, the British colonial administration severed these examination links and encouraged the formation of a West African Examinations Council Body to take over the task of organizing, managing and conducting the same exams without sacrificing standards.  The new WAEC Body was to devise its own curricula suitable for West African needs.  This was seen as a welcome move.

For the first twenty years (1952 to 1972) however, the conduct of school exams had been free of scandals.  The withdrawal of the Cambridge exams meant the new WAEC had to find a replacement for the Junior Cantab, and in Sierra Leone the new replacement was the Form 111 Exams which started in 1961 and continued until 1966, when its futility was realized and  abandoned because it served no real useful purpose.  One would expect the new Form 111 exams would automatically ensure promotion to Form IV for those students who passed in five or more subjects: this was not to be the case.  Students had to pass the school’s promotional exam to proceed to Form IV otherwise the student was asked to repeat the form.  Besides it was a gratis examination paid for by the government of the day which was Sir Milton Margai’s SLPP, but got abolished during the short rule of Sir Albert Margai.

By the time President Siaka Stevens and his APC acceded to power, there was no longer a middle or junior school exam in Sierra Leone until the era of President Joseph Saidu Momoh when a new system, the Basic Education system was introduced with a new middle school exam in 1986/87 locally known as BECE.  Like its two predecessors the Junior Cantab and the Form 111 Exam of the 1960s, the BECE did not seem to serve any useful purpose as it did not exempt or guarantee promotion to the Senior Secondary 1 or Grade X as known elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the current BECE is not a gratis exam as parents have to pay not only school fees, but also exam fees for their children.

The WAEC however has over the years been tainted with corruption and serious exam scandals since 1972 and continued to this day and include the pilfering of exam papers in the Tower Hill office by WAEC employees themselves, causing rampant leakages countrywide, delay in issuing printed certificates of successful candidates, victimizing innocent students by withholding students’ examination results.

In the 1960s, the situation was different from what it is today.  Certificates of successful candidates got printed and distributed to schools before the end of the next academic year  following the release of the said exam results.  One may ask the following questions: why has there always been question paper leakages in this once credible Examinations Body almost on an annual basis? why are Certificates of successful candidates always released at least three years after the year of exams?  Did our successive governments, the SLPP and now the APC ever question the conduct and management of WAEC exams in Sierra Leone, given the annual recurrence of such scandalous practices?

Frustrated parents and students of Sierra Leone deserve answers and this is the time to demand answers, otherwise it is becoming an annual pastime by WAEC employees in the WAEC office to withhold students’ results with impunity when they are in fact the cause of the reported leakages and deliberately wreck the future of our young potential leaders.

We expect our Ministries of Education of both the SLPP and APC to show empathy with the poor students and their parents who toil night and day to find the huge fees to pay for their children only to be tantalized by these bad guys on Tower Hill.  Silence and inaction by our governments over the years in this all important matter makes them all seem callous to student problems or compromising in this nefarious practices.  WAEC office in Freetown  made the people believe that certificates are issued not in the year following the said exams but three years after.  Total bunkum!  Why do they always pressurize parents to promptly pay entry fees when they are always in arrears in the issuance of Certificates?  Exam papers leak out every year because of the insatiable lust for money by the very Council workers supposed to uphold the sanctity of these exams of a life time.  How?

Not sure where the question papers always get printed, be it Accra or London but all the thousands of printed exam question papers have always been distributed to member countries in large carton boxes while the local Branch office did the sealing of the question papers in envelopes in the course of which those sealers on Tower Hill always help themselves by pilfering the question papers for commercial purpose.

Many a time and almost in every exam, question paper envelopes supposed to contain a certain number for a particular subject in a school are found to be short by a few copies.  It is no mistake in the count.  No extra copies even for the school’s file or the exams supervisor of the Centre, because the WAEC guys had made away with some to do business with students or their parents.  Shortage of question papers in the exam hall is an annual occurrence and they always have their ready-made bogus excuses with promises to investigate.  Investigate, investigate what, when they are the cause and part of the problem?

All leakages reported at exam time in exam centres are always traced back to the Tower Hill office.  But because nobody or government ever question them, the criminal practice continues.  They see themselves as sacred cows, yes they are the untouchables.

The exam papers could be packaged by the printing office of the contracting company as part of the agreement, but no, our country office employees, believe they can do it best with their concealed agenda of kleptocracynd always so self serving and corrupt, the office prefers to not pay the company but instead offer to use employees and pay them overtime.  It is always at the Tower Hill office that question papers get missing, but it is never reported until exam centre supervisors detect and report the discrepancy do they fake a bogus alarm. Naturally, the bait to do criminal activities is great more so in a country where corruption is almost institutionalized.  How can our nation continue to place its trust in an office proven to be so corrupt and have become a Council of scandals?

The situation is just the complete opposite of what prevails in the Gambia where I happened to have taught for eight long years in two of their most renowned secondary schools, the Gambia High and St Augustine’s High schools especially under the WAEC headship of Late Charles Jaw and later Matthew Ndurre.  Exam scandals were unheard of in the Gambia in my eight years of stay and WAEC results for both the junior and senior exams are not only released before the end of the next academic year, but Certificates of all successful candidates arrive shortly after the release of the results.  So that in the Gambia all certificates of both Junior and Senior exams are sent to schools within an eighteen month period.

Why is our Freetown Office always behind both in delivery and performance?  Ask the Head of National Office and be ready to listen to dozens of bogus rehearsed excuses.  They rely on issuing falsified statements of results to students going abroad for University studies.  All sorts of ugly things are done in this office with impunity believing the public are ignorant. They are very prompt in collecting exam fees from schools and put all the pressure threatening the payment of late fees by schools for their failure to pay on time.  This has always been their main concern, the money, as it has to do with their pay and other entitlements but not the interests of the students.

The most embarrassing of their performance took place in Exam year of 1978/79. I was in charge of my St. Francis Secondary School exams centre where other schools within Makeni were also writing their exams.  The WAEC Office in Freetown exposed their incompetence, inefficiency and disregard of the interests of the home students when they failed to order sufficient number of exams answer booklets. The exams in Makeni had to be suspended for almost one week while they dispatched one of their officials to Banjul to seek help with answer booklets.  Can you imagine this?  Shame on them!  It was then we learnt that the Banjul office printed their own answer booklets in Banjul.  Why was the Freetown office unable to do the same, given the billions of Leones they collect every year in the form of entry fees?

WAEC Freetown’s performance in the conduct of exams is an embarrassment to this nation.  There is no justification for all these things to happen in our local office with impunity.  They are all unfit to continue as a credible Examinations Body.  Why is this always happening in our country?  Why is WAEC Freetown Office never free from exams scandals?  What have successive governments  ever done to arrest these scandalous practices to save the country’s international image?

In 1992 for the first time I read in a newspaper in Banjul that the Head of National Office, Alieu Deen, was picked up by police and whisked off to the CID for questioning about widespread exams scandal along with some regional branch officers.  WAEC has destroyed the aspirations of so many students in Sierra Leone and the image of this country due to their never ending corrupt practices and our governments or their Ministries of Education have never seemed concerned.

WAEC are denying our young ones a future of hope;  they are student wreckers.  But my people, “cow wae nor geh tail, nar god go dreb am fly”.  Our students have no one to fight for them; our politicians are 24 hours focused on the next poll and not about our students’ future.

It was amazing to learn for the first time in living memory about moves by students and sympathizers planning a demonstration at the Tower Hill office in connection with the withheld results, and with all great surprise, some unknown person succeeded in making the police deny the approval they had earlier okayed citing fear that it would erupt into violence.  Yes it would have been justifiable if it did.  Yes the poor students have realized that their government(s) has made them sacrificial lambs at the altar of corrupt WAEC kleptocrats. This in itself is sufficient and justified grounds for the students and their sympathizers to take the law into their own hands and teach the Tower Hill crooks a never to be forgotten lesson since they have no one to champion their cause.

Now that there are no more lower colleges in Sierra Leone, as all former polytechnics and colleges have now been upgraded and proclaimed Universities, this now brings the total number of universities in the country to six, four publicly funded, and two independent, including the University of Sierra Leone with FBC as parent of all our universities, Njala University in the South with MMCET affiliated to it the Bunumbu University in the east, and now the Ernest Koroma University in Makeni, with campuses in Magburaka and Port Loko. In addition, there are IAMTECH in Freetown and the Diocese of Makeni’s UNIMAK.  For this bold upgrade, our president deserves everyone’s congratulations for his interest in university education and in education in general.  But my question for President Koroma is this: has the president been following the current state of decline in the quality of education in his country since the end of the war?  I am not sure he did.  How many students pass the SC/GCE today in the whole country with 4 or 5 good credits or better?  Can WAEC honestly tell our nation if up to 600 school leavers make it in four or more credits to qualify for university admission?

A country whose capital city of Freetown was once described internationally as the ‘Athens of West Africa’ to experience a collapse in educational standards at all levels of the educational system is unimaginable; a country whose primary and secondary school students have come to depend entirely on pamphlets in all subjects and more so at the secondary level; this clearly explains the dismal performance of our students over the years. A country whose total good passes at the senior secondary school level can all be absorbed by FBC while the rest scramble for the rejects.  This clearly opens the way for all those HTC and TC students to be allowed to do an extra one year for the HTC and an extra two years for the TC students to earn degrees.  Is Sierra Leone sacrificing quality education for quantity?

Despite all the much talked about problems of infrastructure decline at FBC, it is still the university of first choice by almost all qualified senior secondary school leavers by virtue of its age and long standing record of exemplary performance and staffed by competent academics; is indisputably still and will always remain the university of first choice by all the qualified few applicants with the exception of students wanting to do agricultural studies, in which case Njala with over 50 years experience in agricultural education and with a well established agricultural farm becomes the first choice.

There are now far too small a number of qualified high school students for university entry. What is going to happen without any pretence, is the Principals of provincial universities, who stand disadvantaged, will devise ways and means to admit students anyway, otherwise looking for 5 GCE credits including English and Mathematics is no longer of any relevance, because they don’t just exist.

Special entry exams in Maths and English will be the alternative.  The city has two city universities, FBC and IAMTECH which can absorb all the country’s few qualified passes. FBC rejects will have to scramble for admission either at IAMTECH in Freetown where many students may prefer to attend to going to provincial universities where below average performing GCE students may negotiate under relaxed entry conditions; three ‘O’ Level credits may be considered for admission for degree courses where there are no better qualified those institutions need student fees to be able to run their institutions.  After all it is not anyone’s business to know what goes on in the other man’s University.  People have got to mind their business.

Let’s not also forget that all or most qualified students from the provinces would prefer pursuing university studies in the city for a change after spending their whole lives in the provinces; besides studying in the city has immense advantages in terms of facilities like libraries – Sierra Leone Library Board, The United States Embassy Library, The British Council and other places of advantage.  These considerations give city universities an added advantage over those in the provinces.  No student wants to attend primary, secondary and university in the same rural area; they prefer change and exposure to city life.

With six universities now in our country, why can’t we say goodbye to the archaic British public examination system for university admission, a system which WAEC has used over the years to exploit the poor students of the country?  Forget about what the different University prospectus say about admission requirements; all future admissions will be negotiable with a small admission’s test because WAEC has ruined the system by their scandals over the years.

Our country now has six universities with a combined population of less than 8,000. President Koroma must help this nation abolish the outdated British system.  To create a special body of corrupt decision makers at WAEC over our children’s future is itself encouraging a few to lord it over the students.

The WAEC shoulders all the blame for all students’ exams problems in the country including the pilfering and sale of exam question papers.  Yes they are sold, because after all, “Something for something, and Nothing for Nothing”. Who can deny this in today’s world?

The publicly funded Universities get their funding from government.  The new independent universities heavily depend on student admissions from whom they generate fees essential for running their universities, while the public ones are funded by government.

Now what is the panacea to end these examination scandals and exploitation of parents by WAEC corrupt officials?  As the West African Examinations Council carry out their excesses with impunity over the years, the time has come to make a sober rethink about this outdated British system of selecting students for university admission and take a bold decision for the withdrawal of Sierra Leone’s membership of WAEC, dismantle this criminal body which has long ago outlived its usefulness and relevance to public exams not only in Sierra Leone but in all West Africa.

Officially we have been with the British system of education for 140 years since 1876, and if we add the 49 years preceding our affiliation to Durham, we have been with this system for 189 years in total.  It’s time to quit, let’s call it quits if we mean well for the future of our children at home.  Government must take the right decision now or never and not focus too much on the next poll, but the future of our children is even far more important than the next poll.

I urge President Koroma, as he has taken the bold step to upgrade, to also complete this upgrade by announcing our country’s withdrawal.  The alternative is to go global and join nations of the world by adopting the system in the United States and Canada, Australia and continental Europe.  I want all readers of this posting to realize that the British system of education to this day, aims only at the excellent students from wealthy background who can afford the sky high fees and excludes the average or below average; in other words, it is a system that caters for a limited number of successes while the masses are failures who become the servants, policemen, soldiers, cleaners in British society.  Does anyone consider British society a fair and just society? The British system of education is a consciously created class system and specially designed for special class within their society. They have class schools from the primary to high school, and eventually University.  They are schools for the rich and privileged class of British society.  It is now time to dump and bury it and adopt a more equitable and just global system.  After all, even our local wealthy class cannot send their children to those class primary or high schools, not to mention Oxford or Cambridge Universities except on a scholarship.  The fees in those high schools are prohibitively high.

In place of the British system, I very strongly recommend the adoption of the North American system in the USA and Canada and probably Australia and continental Europe.  This system is based on a cumulative assessment from Grade I right up to Grade XII when the graduating student may apply to the university of choice.  Here the student, to qualify for university admission, has to obtain at least 28 credits in the last two years of high school, including English and Mathematics, that is, Grades XI and XII.  Of course education in all publicly funded schools is free from Grade I to XII including all school supplies.  The teachers are all qualified university graduates in high schools while in kindergarten all hold the Early Childhood Education (ECE I, II and III). This is the system I’d recommend in place of the outdated and discredited British system.  Enough of the now discredited British system in Sierra Leone.

The only beneficiaries today of the British system are the corrupt WAEC officials and will never stop exploiting our families until we stop them by abolishing the council.  We cannot afford to let them continue falsifying results and bullying our children with exam result seizure with impunity, while the future of our students remains uncertain.

The very creation of a special Examinations Body to administer all public exams in a country like ours, is making corruption institutionalized and unchecked by anyone.  By the way the results of the students must be released immediately so as not to continue to incur the wrath of the nation.

With a global system in place, parents too will not have to worry about payment of exam fees anymore.  In this way the parent can start saving for the child’s future university or college education.

The British system was the CMS’ choice for our new FBC at the time of affiliation in 1876 because it was the system of their home country and created for students wishing to study in their country but, the time has now come for its replacement without anyone questioning us. After all we are a sovereign nation; therefore let us quit WAEC and let those employees go job-hunting and end the exploitation of parents and the seizure of students’ results.  It is undoubtedly not the best system in the world.  It is a system found only in the former colonies of Britain.

Nobody knows or understands anything about a GCE in continental Europe or North America.  They demand high school credits.  So let us go global, otherwise the universities upcountry stand hardly any chance of ever competing for the best qualified applicants.  This could be another legacy of our President when he leaves office next year.

All over the world students choose the city universities as first choice, and then the others. Why continue with this old fashioned corrupt system?  Time to adopt a global system and stop explaining what GCE credits mean. The British system was deliberately designed to create a class society and hence they selected ideal quiet locations in the quiet cities of Oxford and Cambridge, two universities from where all their public servants, ambassadors, crude oil executives found all over the world and above all, these Oxbridge institutions always produce the top politicians and above all the prime ministers of Britain. We don’t have such class schools in Africa, and we don’t need them in the first place. We are a classless society where we don’t have to determine in advance our future leaders.

Anthony Kamara Sr

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