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WAEC 2020: Will social distancing protocol reduce exam malpractice?

The West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) for school candidates 2020 began Monday amid tight implementation of the COVID-19 protocols for schools to mitigate the spread of the disease.

A total of 1,549,463 SS3 pupils registered to take the examination in 19,129 public and private secondary schools across the country.

The Federal Government, through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, reeled out conditions schools had to meet before resumption penultimate week. Among them were the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 protocols of wearing of facemasks, sanitising and washing of hands with soap and water, as well as maintaining social distancing.  Schools were also directed to seat the candidates two metres apart for the examination.

There have been questions about whether the social/physical distancing policy would help reduce examination malpractice, a bane of public examinations in Nigeria.

Since schools resumed two weeks ago, teachers have found it challenging to enforce the social/physical distancing policy among SS3 pupils.  Many reported that the teenagers removed their facemasks at will and gathered together to hug and gist after almost five months away from school.

However, candidates are not expected to move around during examinations – and with facemasks compulsory, talking, which happens when candidates try to ‘help’ one another in the examination hall, is limited.  So there are many stakeholders who think that the physical distancing policy may check examination malpractice.

Some educators and candidates have described the COVID-19 protocols as a blessing in disguise, saying it would checkmate pupils’ excesses during the examinations.

Vincent Okoye, who is writing his examination at the St. Charles Secondary School, Onitsha, Anambra State, expressed joy over the development, saying it would encourage a hitch-free examination.

“I’m among those who will enjoy the arrangements because I hate being disturbed whenever I am writing exam. That is why I always like sitting on the front row,” he said.

Adaobi Akwari Ohaeto, commenting on the policy at a virtual group discussion, said the strict implementation of the seating guidelines made malpractice difficult.

“I have not seen such thing (malpractice). In fact, the social distancing observed to avoid penalties from Ministry of Education is very scary,” she said.

Some candidates are worried about the policy. They hope the invigilators would not be so strict in enforcing it as the examination goes along.

A pupil, who craved anonymity, lamented the challenge it would pose for those who hardly write examination without assistance.

He said: “I cannot remember any exam I wrote without asking questions in the hall. There is no how one can remember all he read, no matter how intelligent or prepared he is.

“There is a question you must forget and will need to ask a neighbour. I wonder how one will copy with this social distancing of a thing?” he stated.

Another pupil who simply identified himself as Angelina said she did not expect teachers who aid malpractice for pecuniary gains would strictly implement the policy.

“Students will not observe physical distancing because the system is yet to bring the reality of the COVID-19 to them.

“Secondly, teachers and invigilators who also aid examination malpractice will not observe it, especially when they have been settled,” she said.

A teacher, Mrs. Adaeze Nwakalor, said the policy may work “to an extent”.

“Some of these students have other means. Social distancing only prevents them from copying from one another,” she said.

Prof. Dennis Aribodor, former chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, agrees.  He said though social distancing would reduce physical interaction, it would not stop other forms of examination malpractice from taking place.

He said: “Exam misconduct will be reduced minimally. There are many types of exam misconduct or malpractice. Apart from giraffing (stretching to steal content from other candidates), there are other forms of exam misconduct. Writing on body parts and materials is one form, aiding by compromised invigilators is another. Some electronic gadgets, including wrist watches, are also used for exam misconduct, among others.”

Another academic, Lady Ifeoma Bosa even thinks that the physical distancing might give more candidates the chance to cheat on a personal level.

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“Exam malpractice is in different categories. Social distancing will reduce group malpractice – the chances of passing the expo from one person to the other will not be easily done.

“But there is what we call personal exam malpractice whereby the students come in with already prepared answers. This can easily be used because many supervisors may not remember to check that.

“Some write in palms, handkerchiefs, thighs and making use of such expos become easy if social distancing is maintained. Besides, no supervisor will like to contact COVID-19 through searching the student,” she said.

A Pharmacy teacher, Sunday Okafor, also thinks that invigilators and supervisors may compromise the process as a result of misplaced sympathy for candidates’ ill preparedness.

He said: “Despite the social distancing, corrupt examiners will aid example malpractice. The COVID-19 pandemic may also attract unnecessary sympathy to the students. Some examiners can simply justify exam malpractice at this point with an unacceptable reason that students have not been well taught.”

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While, as the educators have observed, social distancing may limit group malpractice, it has no effect on malpractice promoted by social media.

Mrs. Nwakalor said candidates patronise examination malpractice merchants who supply them allegedly leaked question papers ahead of the examination.

“They have what they call koko master that supplies them with the questions before the exam. Whether the questions are real or fake, I don’t know.  So, some of them hide the expo in their clothes or even copy on their bodies,” she said.

The examination has not yet been up to a week and already reports of leaked question papers are rife.  There were claims that the first subject on the timetable, Mathematics, which was written on Monday, leaked.

A teacher, Gidado Palang, said the social media has not helped matters as access to the internet has made it easy to get these leaked questions.

“I feel this should be a sample of exams in a digital world. Leakages spread fast because most of the children now communicate with social media. So, this is one of the problems with social media.

“This should get the examiners thinking about how they can be steps ahead of the children also using technology.  There will sure be ways that the malpractice issue can be tackled.

“That aside, I pity those children that will trust in the leakages. WAEC will shock them when they decide to suddenly change questions overnight.”

Another teacher commenting on a group discussion online with the name Teachers Academy Africa said Chemistry Practical questions written on Tuesday leaked online.

“As at this morning, the Chemistry paper yet to be taken was already everywhere online; all you need to do is Google it. We really need to rethink how we assess as well as certify our students going forward; this current model is not sustainable.

“I mean it.  I just finished invigilating Chemistry Practical. We are in trouble in this country.”

When asked if it tallied with the live questions, he said “Yes, it did.”

 Head of Public Affairs, West African Examinations Council (WAEC), Mr. Demianus Ojijeogu when asked about the leakage of the Mathematics paper and he said the answers in circulation were fake.

“No, it is not true. They were fake.  Scammers photoshopped past question papers to sway gullible candidates,” he said.

Ahead of the examination last month, WAEC’s Head of National Office, Mr. Patrick Areghan, warned candidates to desist from examination malpractice and not look for leaked papers online.

He said: “I must not fail to warn all schools and candidates to shun any form of examination malpractice. Lack of preparedness is not an excuse to cheat. For the benefit of doubt, standards already set remain sacrosanct.  Do not delude yourself by thinking that they will be lowered due to the prevailing circumstances.  Therefore, as usual, you get what you deserve. It will be a double tragedy for any candidate to write the examination under very difficult circumstances and not to have any result.

“Schools and candidates must resist the temptation of patronising dubious websites that claim or would claim to have examination questions at their disposal. We cannot claim not to know that they are right now strategising on their evil machinations. They are fake and conscienceless destiny destroyers. Self-reliance is the sure key to success.”

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