The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is a non-profit-making examining organization whose aims are to conduct examinations in the public interest and award certificates that does not represent lower standards of attainment than equivalent certificates of examining authorities in the United Kingdom.
To fulfil these aims, it organises yearly standardized test for junior high school students (Basic Education Certificate Examination, BECE) to progress into senior high schools, while West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), is the exam taken by senior high school students to get into tertiary institutions.
Preparations were far in advance to writing this year’s WASSCE which usually starts at the later part of March. Timetable covering details of the conduct of the exams was released and the exams were to commence on the March 30, 2020 and will end on June 12, 2020.
In Ghana, the WASSCE 2020 examination will see over 500,000 students graduating for the public schools who would be the first batch of candidates produced by the free SHS policy introduced by the Akufo-Addo government.
However, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, WAEC announced on March 20, 2020 that it has put on hold the conduct of the WASSCE for school candidates, 2020 until further notice. This decision was made to support the protocols put in place by governments of WAEC member countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Liberia) to avert the spread of the virus.
WAEC is yet to design and release a new timetable for the conduct of the examination which will be made available to all stakeholders when we have normality with the health situation.
This article looks at another way WASSCE, 2020 can be organised looking at the peculiar situation the coronavirus pandemic has put us in.
The Ghana Education Service ordered the immediate and indefinite closure of schools hosting final year students in both Junior and Senior High Schools effective March 23, 2020.
At that time, it was left with only a week to start WASSCE, 2020 according to the timetable released by WAEC. The implication of this is that all senior high schools should have been done or almost done with the preparation of their candidates for the exams a week to a major examination.
Not much teaching was expected at this time and whatever tuition candidates needed for the exams should be in the concluding phase.
On the part of WAEC, all logistics for the successful conduct of the exams (setting test items, answer booklets and scannable sheets) should have been ready one week to writing an international exam. I am saying all this to say that WASSCE, 2020 was put on an indefinite hold not because of WAEC unpreparedness or because candidates’ were unready but to avert the spread of the novel coronavirus.
For those schools who will complain of not being ready for the exams, Ghana Education Service can fill-in the gaps by concentrating on topics in the latter part of the curriculum on its TV learning channel which is already being aired for all candidates even as learners are at home OR WAEC can decide to take certain topics expected per their syllabus to be taught in the last semester out of the test items they will set so all candidates will have a fair ground and there will be no complains.
Now, coming to the conduct of the exams itself when the health situation improves, the alternative I suggest is; candidates should not travel all over the country to their respective schools just to write the exams. This can even be a risk post-pandemic situation as the virus can enter into a second phase of infections. Candidates should be allowed to write from their homes at exams centres i.e. various senior high schools close to them. Almost every district has a senior high school and hence this is achievable. The exam is therefore going to take a similar format as the Nov/Dec version of WASSCE.
This means that a candidate who is a student of Asamankese SHS and stays at Achimota will not have to travel back to Asamankese to write the exams, but his centre for the examination can be Achimota SHS. Likewise, a St. Peter’s SHS student who stays in Konongo will also not travel all the way to Nkwatia for the exams but can also write it in the closest SHS in Konongo.
WAEC examinations are standardized with specific directions for administering and scoring the test. Directions are so precise and uniform that procedures are standard for different users of the test at different geographical locations. Therefore the school or the location a candidate writes the exam is not expected to influence the outcome hence it is not a factor for consideration. The same exams are written by Wesley Girls SHS as well as Bepong SHS. Why then should we risk students travelling all over the country in a pandemic situation just to write same exams being written in a nearby school?
The above approach will reveal the true strength of candidates and schools at large because of the following:
First, a Legon PRESEC candidate who stays in Nkawkaw is going to write his exams at Nkawkaw SHS and use whatever resources they have there and vice versa. There is no reason to complain about this because we have been convincing ourselves that irrespective of one’s school or resources, all candidates should write the same exams without being affected by the environment. It will inform us whether the availability of certain resources (e.g. science resources) is really a factor which influences the results of candidates in the different categories of school.
Second, this approach to writing WASSCE, 2020 will help cure the mischief that some schools assist their candidates during examinations. Candidates from different schools will be converging at a centre so no single school can have the chance to help its candidates. A neutral examination centre would provide a fair ground with no home biases just like BECE.
Moreover, every candidate has a unique index number for the exams which captures their school’s code hence no matter where a candidate writes the exam, their score will feed into their school’s data and added to their cumulative records. Candidates’ index numbers rather than their names are used by WAEC.
We are in uncharted territory; the coronavirus pandemic has placed education and exams in a novel situation which demands novel thinking and considering all alternatives. I believe this approach is appropriate on both academic and health grounds hence worthy of perfection and consideration.
Solomon Nana Kwame Ansong is an educationist with Biochemistry background, who has interest in educational and social issues.