There are two well-known local examination bodies in West Africa. One is the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) which started operating in 1952 and the other is the National Examinations Council (NECO) which started conducting examinations in April 1999. While the WAEC oversees the regulation of examinations in English-speaking countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and The Gambia, NECO was established to meet the unique needs of Nigerians (the subject of which is beyond the scope of this discussion).
But in addition to NECO and WAEC, there are other exams such as IELTS, TOEFL, SAT and GMAT. These other exams are standardized exams that seek to further test the ability of candidates seeking admission to schools or seeking to migrate to the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. They are called ‘standardized’ simply because they have the same set of rules for everyone: black, white, blue or yellow person, regardless of where you are from. These exams mainly assess the candidate’s math, English and psychomotor skills. This was part of our reference to WAEC and NECO as local (local is a synonym for WAEC and NECO as regional examining bodies and a reference to their value or quality) if a candidate passes their WAEC exam, that passing becomes an important first step on the journey towards professional and academic fulfillment in life. The governors, architects, lawyers, doctors and teachers who abound in Nigeria and occupy strategic positions in life, all would have passed their WAEC or NECO exams. In our recent history, our President, Muhammad Buhari and many politicians have fought many political battles in the courts of law for their inability to produce authentic WAEC results. While the WAEC and NECO exams appear to be tests or exams for candidates only, they are in fact an examination of investments made or policies that have been implemented by the federal or state government. If students fail miserably in any state, that failure is a reflection of weaknesses in that state’s educational investments or policies, and vice versa.
As part of its monitoring and evaluation (M&E) programme, WAEC in particular generally publishes a chief examiner’s report. That report is an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. WAEC uses it to advise the federal and state governments on which areas to focus on for improvements in their education policies and investments… or ‘reforms’. At the federal and state levels of government, the WAEC and NECO exams are a litmus test and benchmark for the effectiveness of policies and investments that have or have not been made.
I have seen the chief examiner’s CE report for 2018. It is no different from general poverty and failure in English and math. In 2018, the EC said there were “rampant grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors dominating candidates’ essays”. Some of the expressions of the candidates were generally incoherent or inappropriate for the context. Sometimes the candidates simply translated their native language into the English language.’ The following year, 2019, the WAEC registrar at the time, Mr. Iyi Uwadiae, an Edo man, at the formal opening of the 67th annual meeting of the Council in Freetown, Sierra Leone, said that most of the Candidates often want to cover up their inability and incapacity by engaging in bad exam practice. “The unrest has continued to distract educational administrators and testing bodies from their core tasks, as it permeates the school system at all levels, posing a challenge to the propensity for academic achievement and a threat to the reliability of the assessment processes. evaluation,” Uwadiae said.
This is true and many people are very concerned. In Edo State, the governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, initiated a series of ‘reforms’ after taking office as governor. Part of what he has done is in the plan to ‘reform’ a system that perennially produces half-baked individuals who are eventually unable to handle critical instruments of government. To carry out these ‘reforms’, Obaseki closed most of the schools: colleges of education, schools of nursing and agriculture and the like. I visited about four such institutions in Benin City: the Institute of Continuing Education, ICE, the Nigerian Observer, the Center for Community Development behind the vegetable market in Benin City, and the Abudu College of Education. Obaseki demarcated the ICE in two. He developed the other side of the building to promote his idea of ’reforms’ and left the other side to simply rot. He moved the Downtown Community Development Center to a bush in Bekuma, North Edo, shutting it down completely. He too has closed the Nigerian Observer out the back door, preferring to tell everyone nonsense that he is carrying out ‘reforms’ in that great institution. He recently moved against journalists, but was forced to back down after strident resistance he met.
At the Abudu College of Education, I saw what I assumed was an impressive attempt to renovate infrastructure that had deteriorated over the years, that is until I interacted with some of the ground staff: they had not been paid as up to 18 months. Although some passed away in that period, the rest told me that they had completely lost interest in working as teachers or administrators. And you know what, this was the same tactic that the Federal Government of Nigeria adopted to deal with ASUU when they went on strike for 1999 days. Many of the speakers left borrowing and begging for a living. Jappa, the brain drain, became the norm. So if teachers and educational institutions are run like this, how the heck will students be able to write simple and correct sentences, or solve mathematical equations?
It is in this context that I found a press release from the administrator of Obaseki. Entitled EdoBest: UNICEF, international agencies give Edo high marks on Obaseki’s fundamental literature and numeracy reforms that reap huge dividends. The message in the press release stated that ‘Edo State has been praised for its great strides in revamping the education sector from the basic to the tertiary level through far-reaching reforms instituted by Obaseki. The statement said that “compliment was raised when a delegation of international agencies, UNICEF and the World Bank came to Edo state to visit rural schools.”
While it is right and normal for Obaseki to try to chronicle his achievements towards the end of his term as governor, it does not sound right that he is dropping the names of big organizations like UNICEF and the World Bank as evaluators of the ‘reforms’ that claims to have entered the educational sector. First, UNICEF and the World Bank are not involved in making a decision about the educational legacy left behind. He should leave that up to the right organizations, WAEC and NECO. It is a weakness to try to bring friends and proxies, put them in good hotels, accompany them and eventually put the words in their mouths. Second, posterity has nothing to do with the present. Posterity is the future. It is impartial and fair. Posterity is like WAEC and NECO: after you write the exams, you wait for the results. What Obaseki should do is wait for the results of the ‘reforms’ he has introduced.
Education in Edo is not as remarkable as Obaseki would have the people at UNICEF and the World Bank believe. It’s just monotonous. A recent online report stated that WAEC declared Edo the second best state after Enugu in 2022. But WAEC has since come out to debunk that myth. WAEC chief administrator Patrick Areghan said the report was fake news: ”I want to say here that the classification is completely false as it did not emanate from the council because there are so many other things that need to be considered to arrive at such a percentage and this is not part of our job. We, as WAEC, do not declare the classification. We only indicate number of credits in subjects and other categories.”
Etemiku is editor-in-chief of WADONOR, cultural.