By Isaac Massaquoi
If we miss this opportunity to clean up the conduct of our public exams and the process by which the WAEC office in Sierra Leone conducts them, we should simply put up our hands and surrender to the dark forces of corruption and unbridled criminality who for long have been attacking our national integrity system at its very foundation.
The last institution to allow itself to be taken over by the criminal underworld is WAEC given the importance of the certificates they offer to millions of Sierra Leoneans who end up in leadership positions in this country and abroad.
A suffocating blend of sophisticated criminal elements ably supported by some rogue WAEC staff, school authorities including teachers, and desperate parents and pupils is wreaking havoc on our education system. These groups have conspired to cheat at all public exams, particularly the Senior Secondary School exams, which open the way to universities. This is big money business in which the abuse of modern technology and barefaced criminal tactics are the main ingredients.
I am satisfied with the utter outrage expressed by many Sierra Leoneans on social media about the disgraceful turn of events where from what we are now hearing from the police and other sources, some pupils decided to abandon their exams and stage an utterly senseless demonstration, attacking some public facilities and innocent people because the police broke up their criminal enterprise organized from a particular property in the general area of Oniel Street near Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood.
We also heard from video recordings some of the pupils saying the mathematics paper was too difficult. Some even threw it into the political by accusing President Bio of being behind the “difficult exams”. Nothing can be more ludicrous! So the man who brought Free Quality Education and is spending a huge amount from the annual budget to fix education, is the same man who told WAEC examiners to make the exams so difficult that pupils would fail en masse so pupils would have to repeat the same class three or four times? This is insanity!
We were driving down the hill from Fourah Bay College in a rickety old Mazda car on that day and saw about dozens of pupils running in all directions, while a handful of others were pelting stones at a small number of police officers from the Operational Support Division who had apparently fired tear gas into the crowd of pupils that dispersed all over the place as we approached the gates of Muslim Brotherhood Secondary School.
I saw a girl of about 17 years, being carried out of the school compound by two men who laid here in front of a small carpentry shop just across the road. Another girl of the same age was being taken away by a soldier almost as if she was under arrest. Just as some onlookers became interested in this sweating soldier taking away a distraught and crying girl and started asking questions while advancing menacingly, the girl shouted out to alert the crowd that the soldier was in fact her father. They immediately backed off. The soldier did not say a word.
When we finally made our way to Model junction by the Hillside By-pass road, the scale of what had happened became very clear. The pupils thrashed the whole place and roadside hawkers and ordinary people going about their normal business were obviously very badly affected.
This is the time we must confront some uncomfortable truths about what is happening in our schools. And colleges I should add. I am in a position to know how far the University of Sierra Leone for example has come in dealing with attempts to cheat at exams. A lot of work has gone into that effort – like sacking some rogue lecturers who lost their sense of mission and fell prey to student bribery, using CCTV technology to support other measures in place now. All of that came out of a ruthless review of systems and procedures, the kind of which we understand WAEC is blocking even when offered by a credible and professional body like the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Maybe we should erect huge billboards all over Sierra Leone telling our younger ones that there is only one sure way of passing any exam – they must study hard. Yes study hard as opposed to spending hours looking for money and sitting in dark corners plotting on how to use smart phones to cheat. We are living in times when movies, social media chats and mindless ‘chilling’ – hanging around entertainment spots doing nothing are the normal. Close supervision of young people by parents in particular is non-existent these days as the struggle for basic survival has become a 24-hour thing.
Parents appear to be under so much pressure to see their children in university that they are sometimes ready to spend a whole month’s house maintenance money on sending their children to very dangerous examination study camps organized by schools all over the city. What is really being taught in those camps that cannot be taught in normal schools is something people don’t understand.
I am inclined to side with those who say all the brazen acts of cheating going on these days are planned in those camps and executed by rogue teachers and exams officials. I don’t know if civil liberty questions would come up but a government policy banning those camps will be in place as a warning shot announcing the government’s seriousness about destroying the criminal network around WAEC exams.
As a further sign that the nation would no longer accept cheating in public exams, those now arrested and detained should be swiftly prosecuted and jailed if found guilty. Any negotiated release of possible criminals to satisfy some interests will be resisted. In other words if this goes the way of the Aberdeen case, then the whole business of killing corruption in WAEC exams would descend into a farce of ignominious proportions.
We must also have a parliamentary debate on the issue because it is so serious now that cheating pupils have become so brave that they can come to the streets to challenge the forces of law and order. In that debate MPs must avoid the intemperate language of partisan politics to confront this evil as one nation. That debate should be carried live on all radio and TV stations throughout the country and the resolutions should implemented in a quick and unambiguous manner with the necessary resources provided.
*WAEC SIERRA LEONE*
We have to be honest with this organization: It is not in anybody’s interest to see WAEC fail. But today, their credibility is sinking and if they don’t act really fast they may hit the sea bed. And bringing them back to the surface might be so expensive and time-consuming that we may simply allow those who presided over this titanic mess to remain on the sea bed while we put together a new and credible leadership for this exams body. What’s the point of having an examinations body that nobody trusts and whose certificates universities even in the sub-region would reject?
WAEC should stop paying their examiners those ridiculous service fees and weed out the rogues from their ranks – both staff at headquarters and contractors. And this practice of pupils taking exams in their normal school classrooms must end immediately. We must return to what happened many years back when only schools with the requisite facilities were used as centers and pupils made to take their exams out of their schools.
I know the numbers are big now but we are facing a dangerous enemy within that is difficult to dislodge, but dislodge it we must. Many people are happy about Free Quality Education. Yes Free at the point of access, but in the course of achieving the Quality this government should never allow political expediency to compel them to compromise in their fight against the criminals in the system who, it appears, now have nowhere to run or hide.
As I was writing this piece the information was coming through about horror show what the pupils acted out in a community around Waterloo. A day of shame indeed.