Friday, February 13, 2009

Exam racketeering

Ekene Iroghuma, 19, dropped out of school because he wants to make straight As in his Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination next year.

Sounds bizarre?

Ekene says he is dropping out from school so as to concentrate on his film rental business and make enough money to pay for passing his o levels in flying colours.

Educational consultants, posing as organizers of extra mural lectures for secondary school student intending to write any of the external examinations are helping candidates cheat to pass their examinations in every manner possible so as to get good grades.

They advertise aggressively and their banners and hand bills compete for space with those of the numerous churches that abound in the metropolis, from the dirty walls of public buildings to the grimy sides of garbage bins.

Pinnacle Education Academy, located at the Obelle Primary School, Lawanson, Surulere, is one such agent. The academy conducts remedial lessons and online registration of examinations such as WASSCE, NECO, UME, POST UME, etc. Proprietor Damilola Adewara sums up the agency's real business; "Our real aim is making sure those candidates that pay special fees pass the exams", he says.

Cheating in examinations is what agencies like Pinnacle specialize in. They provide answers, hours before the candidates enter their examination halls, and even, in some cases, write for absentee candidates.
"We call it NA, which is for non available candidates. Though I advice all of them to try and attend lessons and be at the exam, so that they will see what we are doing for them", says Rotimi Aseye, a co proprietor at Pinnacle.

He goes on to give a vague definition of their mode of operation as, "We arrange with the JAMB and WAEC people... security is no problem. Once you have your money, everything is possible, we even do aptitude test (Post UME) for our people at UNILAG."

The agency charges N5, 000 for three months worth of lectures and N15, 000 for fixing the examinations. However, paying this N15, 000 does not guarantee automatic success at the examination.
"80% of our people get their results; the rest either gets theirs' seized or are just unlucky", says Damilola. He is quick to point out that there are no guarantees and sums it up by saying, "When I wrote mine 10years ago, there was no ‘runs' advice to my students is always to pray, for Man proposes; God disposes."

Hundreds of secondary school students have begun to neglect their studies due to the availability of such agents. Some, who apparently have limited parental supervision, are even going as far as dropping out of school because they know they can always contract the services of the likes of Pinnacle.

"An SS (Senior Secondary)2 student, who lives opposite my house has dropped out of school saying he wants to save for 'runs' by next year when his mates start writing WAEC (Senior Secondary Certificate Examination). Look at how education has fallen in this country", says Desmond Ngorube.

The problem is not limited to Lagos; it appears to have spread across the nation. Like a cancerous growth, it is eating deeper and deeper into the fabrics of Nigeria's educational system.

Texas Institute is another of such agencies located in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State. The proprietor, Ifeanyi Umeh provides detailed insights into the workings of this cabal.
"We buy serial numbered online cards from our contacts at WAEC, NECO or JAMB so that all our candidates get to be posted to a particular school of our choice. We have private schools, especially on the outskirts of the town, where the proprietors work hand in hand with us", he says.

The next stage varies, according to the agency.

Some of them induce officials of the various examination bodies to leak the question papers to them, days before the examination, which they solve and distribute to their candidates on exam day.

It will be recalled that WAEC cancelled and rewrote, some papers during the last May/June Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations because of widespread leakage of examination papers.

While some of them, especially the big ones like Texaco or Pinnacle decide not to gamble. They hire experts (especially undergraduates) majoring in the respective areas to solve the questions on examination day and pass on to the candidates, for example, an Accountancy undergraduate is hired to solve mathematical questions while an English undergrad does same for English Language.

The corrupt proprietors of these private schools collect bribes from these agents and look the other way.
"As for the WAEC people (examination invigilators), we leave them to the school owners to settle (bribe) them. We pay the school owners to make sure the school is conducive for our business, they have to make sure invigilators, security and other people involved get their own and comply", says Ifeanyi.

Teachers of public schools have also condemned the corrupt practices going on in some of these private schools and say it taints the image of the profession.
"Some of those private schools engage in sharp practices which give teachers generally a bad name. Government should look at those schools and investigate what some of them are doing", says Rashidat Balogun, who teaches at Anglican Girls Seminary, Lagos Island.

Ifeanyi scoffs at the possibility of being run out of business.
"When they introduced online registration, some people thought we will fold but we got around it. Whatever they come out with, we will sit down and fashion out how to address it. It is difficult to refuse the money we offer them", he says.

Ekene is working hard, and saving hard, to be able to afford the services of the likes of Pinnacle and Texaco come June next year.

He hopes to make grades good enough to enable him gain effortless admission to the university to study his dream course - Law.