KWAMI ALORVI WRITES: UNPACKING THE FRAUD IN GHANA’S WEST AFRICAN SENIOR SCHOOL CERTIFICATE EXAMINATION (WASSCE)
If the West African Secondary/Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) were an aircraft in flight, signals would have been sent by the cabin crew to passengers on board to fasten their seat belts because the plane is heading for a crash landing. A terminal examination meant to assess the educational outcomes of senior high school students, WASSCE has been known to run into challenges since I started teaching in the Secondary, now Senior High School in the mid-1980s.
Examination question leakages and other malpractices by teachers and students in the exam halls have been with the system for ages. The West African Examinations Council, WAEC, had been bold in the past in tackling these challenges by cancelling papers that leaked and rescheduling them. Integrity, rather than cost avoidance and political expediency, had been the wheels on which WAEC moved in the past.
Schools in which examination malpractices were detected had their papers cancelled either for all candidates or for specific candidates.
I vividly recount one particular year in which I detected massive collusion among candidates of a particular school in the Geography 1 Paper that I marked. I recommended the cancellation of the paper on a form issued to all examiners by WAEC for such purpose. I was glad when WAEC, after a diligent investigation into the collusion, cancelled the paper for that school. That was WAEC in those days. The integrity of WAEC and its certificates was a vision jealously guarded by officials then.
Sadly, however, the examination body in recent times seems to have lost its vim and biting teeth in tackling the examination fraud wiping away its integrity. The level of examination fraud being experienced in our Senior High Schools in recent times is unprecedented, with virtually every school in Ghana, including the top grade A schools hitherto known for their strict adherence to rules, joining the race.
The Levels of Fraud in the Conduct of the WASSCE
Fraud can be identified at three levels in the conduct of the WASSCE in recent years, especially with the inception of the free SHS policy. These are:
1. Leakages of questions from WAEC
2. Fraudulent practices in the schools.
3. Political Inertia in dealing with the challenge.
1. Leakages of Questions from WAEC
It is now emerging that except for the Biology Practical Paper, virtually all the question papers written so far had leaked ahead of time. Even the Biology paper seemed to have been changed at the last hour due to leakage judging from the ten specimens in the actual paper as against the eight specimens sent to the schools to arrange for the practicals.
The latest of the leakages was the Geography Papers written on Thursday 30th September 2021. At about 4.03 am on that 30th September, my phone, which I had put on silence when I went to bed started to buzz with vibration incessantly, waking me up from sleep.
The caller was one of my Team members from one of the Regions. When I picked the call, the opening statement I heard from the member was, “Senior, your subject area, the Geography paper too has leaked.
I forwarded the questions to you so check and alert team members to monitor from all locations.” Between 6.05 am and 6.34 am, team members from other regions too sent me the same questions with some prepared answers attached.
Determined to scale up our surveillance, we forwarded the questions and answers to a number of trusted Assistant Headmasters in charge of supervising the exams in as many schools as we could. We had just one message for them all:
“When the papers start, cross-check if the questions we sent you are the same or similar to what the students are writing.”
We again forwarded the questions to about seven WAEC Officials in different regions to alert them of possible leakage. By 9.37 am, confirmation came from the Assistant Headmasters (Internal Supervisors) that the questions had actually leaked.
We then escalated our surveillance by informing the WAEC Officials through WhatsApp messages that our checks revealed that the Geography papers had actually leaked. Three, out of the seven WAEC Officials responded and four did not respond even though they read our messages.
The three that responded expressed shock and frustration about what was happening. We sought to find out whether WAEC would cancel the paper and the responses were that they were not in a position to tell whether it would be cancelled.
From our interaction with similar groups concerned about, and monitoring the conduct of the examinations, we came to an understanding of how the leakages might have been occurring.
There appears to be a secret collaboration among some irresponsible WAEC Officials, Assistant Headmasters (Internal Supervisors), and some compromised security personnel.
Various Telegram Platforms that accommodate over 120,000 members on one platform are the wholesale shops for the leaked questions.
The papers are marketed on these Telegram Platforms for between Ghc30.00 and Ghc100.00 per paper. Those who make payments are then brought from that general platform unto an Executive Platform to receive the questions many hours ahead of the scheduled time of that paper. From the buyers and those platforms, questions get to students and some invigilators on special WhatsApp platforms for many more students to have access to.
It is clear from the above scenario, that if WAEC and government are genuinely eager, willing and determined to stop these canker, they can easily collaborate with the National Investigation Bureau (NIB) and the Police CID to uncover the faces behind this examination fraud.
The problem, however, is the defensive and combative posturing of WAEC, MoE and GES toward these leakages. These bodies without exception, deny the question leakages for reasons that beat imagination. The battle cry seems to have always been that “the free SHS must succeed at all cost.”
2. Fraudulent Practices in the Schools
There appears to be well organized “Examination Cabals” in the schools determined to make a profit out of the WASSCE. These Cabals operate at various levels.
A) School Managements
At the apex of these cabals are the School Managements. Some Heads of School, with the connivance of their PTAs, have instituted a collection of illegal fees ranging between Ghc100.00 and Ghc400.00 per candidate termed as “Teacher Motivation”. A school with an enrollment of 1,200 SHS3 candidates collecting Ghc300.00 per student for example, will bag an amount of Ghc360,000.00 for the WASSCE.
Trusted teachers are put in charge of the collection of these levies by their Heads. Parents of examination candidates are in a hurry to pay these levies since their wards are assured of excellent WASSCE results. At the end of each WASSCE, the money is disbursed among all teachers. Intelligence picked by our Team indicates that in some schools, each teacher receives between Ghc2,000.00 and Ghc5,000.00.
Reports yet to be investigated by our team also indicate that some Management staff at the Regional Directorates and Headquarters of the GES are allegedly well catered for by the Heads of School with part of this money and this provides a shield to these unscrupulous heads from being sanctioned. When our team tried to probe further into this allegation, one informant drew our attention to a peculiar happening in the GES to convince us to accept his position.
He asked if we had ever seen Regional Directors and CHASS Executives going to GES Headquarters to plead for the reinstatement of Headmasters that were removed from office for speaking about challenges of the free SHS. Our response of course, was in the negative.
He asked if Regional Directors and CHASS Executives were not benefiting from the money, how come they always travelled to the GES Headquarters to plead on behalf of Heads sanctioned for collection of these illegal “Teacher Motivation” fees. The informant concluded that it was because of the benefits that spread up the ladder that Directors and CHASS Executives are always eager to intercede on behalf of Heads caught in the collection of the “teacher motivation” fee.
Our team uncovered some reasons why the collection of the unapproved “teacher motivation” levies are becoming the new normal in Senior High Schools. Prior to the introduction of the free SHS in 2017, students were paying a PTA levy of Ghc30.00 per year (Ghc10.00 per term) for Teacher Motivation. With the inception of free SHS, the government absorbed this fee and reduced it to Ghc20.00 per year (Ghc6.67 per term) and has now cancelled it completely. Heads don’t have any money to motivate their teachers.
The academic intervention fee instituted by the MoE for extra tuition of students have been paid only two times since 2017; one out of three terms in 2017 and one term in 2020. Apart from the gaps left in 2017 and 2020, no payments were made to the schools in 2018, 2019 and 2021.
The Ghc10.00 per student examination fee that the schools used to receive from the government has also allegedly been reduced to Ghc5.00 per student. Payment of the Ghc10.00 per student development levy to schools has also been abolished by the MoE/GES.
Thus, with dwindling funds for running the schools and motivating teachers, Heads, rather than discuss development issues with their staff, go to staff meetings to read the “Book of Lamentation” to their staff. They are thus able to carry the staff along to support them in the examination fraud under the guise of teacher motivation fees.
Benefit from the teacher motivation fees from the Head is a bait that teachers are unable to resist. One teacher even jokingly said President Akufo Addo had said teachers should do other things in addition to their teaching if they wanted to be rich so their Headmasters are doing what he termed “Financial Engineering”.
The money received by teachers from their Heads is enough to compromise them as invigilators in the exam halls.
Students are aware of the payment of these levies by their parents and are determined to demand their side of the bargain from teachers. Some teachers whose conscience does not allow them to condone and connive, opt-out of invigilation in some schools.
A few others who want to live by their professionalism do invigilate but refuse to allow students to cheat. They thus come under attack from fellow teachers and students. They receive written threats from students, surreptitiously posted in their pigeon holes in staff common rooms, or dropped on their vehicles parked in the schools, or in their houses by aggrieved students. Our team is in possession of copies of such threats.
The motivation of Heads to undertake this fraud is to get good results that will boost their image and that of their schools. Another reason is the fear of removal from office should their schools fail to produce good results.
The examination fraud has now become a pandemic affecting virtually every school including the big ones in all the regions. Obtaining good grades by whatever means has become a do or die affair.
B) Subject Teachers and Assistant Heads of School
Below the School Management level is a network of subject teachers and Assistant Headmasters (Internal Examination Supervisors).
Subject teachers, with the approval of their Assistant Headmasters, collect sums of money from students offering their subjects. Fees range from Ghc50.00 to Ghc150.00 per student. One student is usually put in charge of the collection.
Teachers compile the names of parents of these students and their contacts. Parents of students who have difficulty in paying the levies are called by the subject teachers and told to pay so their wards could be assisted in the exams. These collections are usually done at the blindsides of Heads of School.
The amounts of money collected by these subject Heads are disbursed among the Assistant Headmaster who is in charge of supervision of the exams, the police officer on duty, the subject teachers and invigilators of those subject papers.
With all these people compromised, the Assistant Headmaster, after issuing out the question papers to students, smuggles out one question paper from the remaining lot to the subject teachers who quickly solve them. The Science and Computer Labs are usual places where the teachers hide to secretly solve the questions under the supervision of the Assistant Headmaster.
The questions get to the exam halls in three ways:
i) Electronically through WhatsApp
Students are allowed to go into the exam halls with mobile phones by the compromised invigilators. Answers are then transmitted to them, or to their leaders through WhatsApp which are passed on to all students.
ii) Manual Transmission
The answers are written on pieces of paper and handed over to the Assistant Headmaster (Supervisor) who then goes around from room to room distributing them to students through their invigilators. In some instances, the compromised police officer on duty is the conduit. He goes to the exam halls to distribute the answers directly to students while invigilators turn their eyes away and pretend to see nothing going on.
Objective question answers are faster distributed than essay answers. In the case of essay type questions, two to three varieties are worked out with slight modifications in wording and layouts. The answers are then photocopied and sent to students in the exam rooms. In some instances, subject teachers enter the rooms to dictate the answers to students with some even asking the teacher to spell out the dictated answers to them.
In schools where Invigilators refuse to be compromised by the Heads or their Assistants, answers are left in washrooms or urinals for students to go for. These answers are hidden by students in their panties, brassieres and shoes/socks and smuggled into the exam halls.
3) Political Inertia
Our team is in no doubt that the authorities are aware of this fraud being perpetuated on our education system. However, the monetization of the system, coupled with the politics in which the free SHS has unfortunately been embedded, is causing those who have the power to look away or feet drag on the issue.
The refusal by the MoE, GES and the political establishment, to accept that there are challenges with the Free SHS policy and its implementation that need to be addressed, is a major hindrance to tackling this menace.
Furthermore, the posturing of the above authorities and WAEC by always brushing aside any leakage further aggravates the problem. Teachers and Headmasters are emboldened and protected by the fertile political climate to engage in this fraudulent behaviour.
Teachers who don’t condone are branded anti-free SHS and anti-government. To push the agenda further, the MoE summoned Heads of School to a meeting with their Regional Directors a few weeks before the commencement of the 2021 WASSCE.
They were compelled to pledge percentage passes they hoped their schools would obtain in the exams. Back to their schools, Heads relayed these pledges to their staff and solicited their support in redeeming the pledges.
All hands are now on deck to achieve the results expected by the Education authorities. Heads who would fail to achieve their targets, they were warned, would be replaced. So Heads are working to maintain their jobs.
As long as the results are good to prove a case for the supposed success of the free SHS policy no matter how fraudulent the processes are, authorities will continue to cocoon themselves in a state of inertia and refuse to address the issue. It appears as though as long as the fraudulent system serves a political purpose, it needs not to be tackled.
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4. The Looming Danger
The success of any education system is not measured in the number of good grades churned through a compromised examination process.
The success should be anchored on the conducive academic environment provided for effective teaching, learning and supervision that provide excellent outcomes. Should this craze for good grades through fraudulent means continue, huge collateral damage will be done to our education system.
• Seniors tell their juniors about the assistance given them by teachers in the exams. What motivation than have their juniors to learn? They will no longer show seriousness in their studies knowing that money, rather than studying hard will in the end give them the needed results.
• Teachers, even serious and committed ones, will no more devote their time to effective teaching when they realise that it is examination fraud and not their effective teaching that will decide the fate of their students at the end. I wish colleague teachers knew how their importance, relevance and respect are being eroded before their students.
How does a student value your teaching if he does not depend on it to pass his exams? We are sowing the seed of our self-destruction by engaging in these fraudulent acts. Very soon, the politicians you are promoting will cancel the payment of your Retention Premium because you no longer have any premium or value.
• School management will also relax their effective monitoring and supervision of staff and students. After all, in the end, parents will pay money for students to be taught to pass their exams.
Everything will break down and our free education system will produce half baked scholars who, in the not distant future, will be a great threat to society. When we teach our young ones that they can obtain good results by fraud, we shouldn’t be expecting to have honest and knowledgeable Parliamentarians, Ministers, Judges, Accountants, Teachers, Medical Doctors and other professionals to manage this country in future.
If there is any better time to act, it is now! Let’s gather the political courage and cut off the head of this serpent of exam fraud destroying our education and our future leaders. If we fail to take action, the education aircraft with its crew (teachers) and passengers (students), will soon crash with disastrous consequences.
Dated: Saturday 2nd October 2021
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