NECO: Moving Away From The Past

The registrar and chief executive of NECO, Prof. Promise Okpala, in this interview with KUNI TYESSI, talks about what the examination body is doing to check examination malpractices and also ensure that students are better prepared for the examination. 

Looking at the performance of students in NECO’s SSCE in the last three years, that of  this year is obviouly a tremendous improvement. What is responsible for this?

What is responsible is not just an immediate thing. Around 2009, the result of this organisation showed that performance was not anything good, it was below 10 per cent. It happened again in 2010 and it appears that Nigerians were jolted. There was a national outcry, many people initially wondered whether we were just out to embarrass everybody and we were called to various quarters to come and defend the result. But the whole result was so sensitive that the president had to call a summit which he personally presided for over eight hours. This had a multiplier effect- there was increased budgetary allocation. Some said he should declare a state of emergency in education having seen that type of level of performance.

On the part of my organisation, we insisted that we were describing what we had seen. We had to say we had evidence and the scripts were there for people to see. So people started reacting with a view to saving the system. A lot of national summits were called by the ministers of education and it had in attendance commissioners for education, traditional rulers and students. People came together and increased the effort they were making towards recovering the system.

Naturally, you know that the decadence started many years ago and it is more difficult to rebuild, particularly if it has to do with human resources. If it is physical infrastructure, once you have all the money available to you, a village can be transformed into a modern city within the shortest time possible. But it is not possible for you to recreate human behaviour that way and so at that time, we called for patience, we called for sustained interest from stakeholders and sustained input.

This year, when we were bringing all the data together and the adopted pattern started forming, we were excited because it shows we are in a recovery process. So as it is now, it is clear that if we are to measure quality education using student performance in public examinations, then this index is an acceptable index and we can say that we are at the recovery stage.

So it is the concerted effort of all stakeholders ranging from the president himself, the ministry officials, the ministers, the Senate and House committees on education, the commissioners in various states, parents, practicing teachers and students themselves. But while we have entered the recovery part, we should make sure that it is sustainable, we should not easily relax. It is easier to destroy a system than to recreate and recover a system, particularly if it is modifying human behaviour.

The highest level of examination malpractice in this year’s examination was noted at the examination and marking venues. How are you handling this?

What we can do is to discourage conditions that would encourage them. For instance, in the course of conducting the exams, we should ensure they don’t sit body to body because that way, you can create an environment that is tempting. On our part we would increase what we call accreditation and re-accreditation. .

As at today, we use lecturers in higher institutions to monitor our examinations. We also use Nigerian civil defence group to monitor and these are responsible people. The lecturers in tertiary institutions value the quality of certificates and they value education. So some of them are there using biometric machines, some are using paper and pencil and within the 40 days of the exams, they must visit each of the secondary schools under their jurisdiction three times and we expect a report which the supervisor in the school must countersign.

The civil defence group’s duty is to report on less difficult issues like taking note of when exams started, movement in and out of the halls and watching the general conduct of the exams. However the greater work should come from the teaching room. Fundamentally, no one would need to engage in malpractice if he is sure of what he has learnt. If they see malpractice support coming in, they would say we do not need it, we are sure of what we are going to write.

The parents also need to provide a conducive learning environment. For example, do they have textbooks and a place to study? Has the child slept and eaten well? So there are rules.

36 schools were sanctioned over issues bothering on examination malpractice and they were de-recognised for two years. Is this enough sanction and why weren’t the names of the schools made known?

The essence of it is not really to destroy but to recover. For instance, if you go and give five years, that school would not recover because as it is now, it means for two years they do not present candidates. It means that those candidates would leave your school if you can imagine what is involved. There is a limit to which you can go. Our ultimate intention is to use it as a teaching tool. We believe two years is good enough to jolt the managers of the school to know that there are things you do not do and we go that level when the malpractice is at the level of maximum cooperation with everybody involved in the school. Our target is to reform.

We follow a procedure. The first thing we would do is write the schools. They would have discovered that they do not have results by now. When we write them we give them a chance to respond. When they come with their evidence, they would come and we would sit and talk. Gradually, after all this, we would release the names but this way is a better management of crisis.

What challenges did you face conducting examinations in the North east considering security problems there?

Nobody studied how to conduct exams in a war situation but this is what we found ourselves in and we had to begin to adapt. We couldn’t make phone calls easily and communication is very important in our logistics. We took more risks but we were lucky. WAEC was not as lucky. People had to relocate to go and stay close to a school such that within the 45 minutes for the start of curfew, you would have rushed to the nearest place to stay. We thank God we did not lose any person as a result of insurgence but we spent more money in those states.

At the last National Council on Education meeting, NECO was directed to release backlog of certificates from 2008. Have you done this?

I told them that in the shortest possible period they would get 2009/2010 and then before their next meeting next year, they would get 2011/2012. As at now 2009/10 has been released and for the other ones, the various committees are trying to scrutinise them. My target is to clear all the backlogs before I sign out in 2015.

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