Saturday 18 April 2009

Nigeria: Why Candidates Fail Our Examinations - WAEC

I am usually amused when I view the search words of visitors to my blog and find some seeking WAEC questions for one subject or the other. They usually end up on my blog Nigeria: WAEC Exam leaks are unacceptable. [1]
Now, these searches might be innocent, just of people seeking examples of past questions in their subjects of interest but a news story for the first time highlighted an issue I have been at pains to discuss for a while.
In The PM News, with the by-line, ’Why Candidates Fail Our Examinations’—WAEC [2], the West African Examinations Council tries to explain with some interesting reasons that I would tackle below.
There were mass failures from the examinations taken in November/December 2008 and the council lists the following issues
Unpreparedness for examinations
As far as the Council was concerned the standard of the examinations have not changed over the last few years but the attitude of students has changed. Maybe the examiners have become more stringent in their marking but the lack of preparation is quite plausible.
A good example of how that pervades the whole Nigerian system was when ballot papers for an election taking place on Saturday were still in South Africa on Friday. The National Electoral Commissioner believing all the papers would reach polling station in a country that has poor transportation and logistics.
There are too many examples of how preparation is not passed down in example and practice for the youth to strive to, we procrastinate and then hope that we can allow God’s will to correct our folly and in the process earn a miracle of success – no, it is a recipe for failure.
Poor grammatical expression
English is the business language of Nigeria, it is the glue of Nigerianness, it then behoves any Nigerian who wants to express the unity of that entity to master the language of that entity.
It is also the language of education and though for a majority it is not their mother tongue, there is no other alternative to expression when sitting examinations.
As I wrote in A malaise of inexactitudes [3], the Idea la need context is not sufficient for communicating ideas that are reviewed in answers to examination questions.
My mother was a WAEC examiner for 30 years and sometimes she read out answers to some Commerce questions and we all drew a blank, it was just impossible to understand what the candidate was trying to say before she had to read a grovelling appeal to be lenient in marking the same paper.
How much time can an examiner spend on divining the mind of the candidate through telepathy or clairvoyance before deciding that the answer is not catered for in the marking scheme and red-lines the whole stuff leading to a failure?
Failure to expatiate on points
I found this interesting, because Nigerians are generally given to the verbose rather than the precise. The questions have an intent derived from a syllabus that is public domain, the objectives indicated in the syllabus gives general guidance on what should be learnt and understood to tackle an examination offered by an institution.
Questions are phrased in such a way as to determine if the candidate has grasped those elements can relate those ideas in the context of their understanding.
If the candidate has no grasp of what is being asked, it is unlikely they would be able to expatiate on the points they list and hence show that they have mastered the topic.
A marking scheme might score for mentions but the better marks are in the detail that accompanies the mentions.
Misinterpretation of questions
This, I can very well agree with, first, it is a matter of comprehension – if the candidate has done the required study and understood the subject onto whether the student has the wherewithal to tackle questions that probe that knowledge.
Attention is paramount; the need to read the question more than twice and note clearly what points are required to be answered cannot be overstressed.
I am afraid to say that many do not pay close attention to the question and go off on a tangent doing their own thing but not fulfilling the main requirement.
Misinterpretation of questions - Doing your own questions
For instance, just over a week ago, I set a test on months in the Yoruba language which only 2 people tried. In the process, one commenter published the right answers to the questions for public viewing, destroying the need for the test and others published their own answers to questions that were not part of the test.
For any examiner, it would be annoying and really a bloody waste of time if they have to read through a diatribe only to find that it was completely irrelevant. It is a Nigerian malaise, I am afraid, because it also appears in comments to blogs.
On the sudden death of the wife of a Pentecostal church leader in Nigeria, I thought I was going to read she died at 75 only to read she died at 57. I was quite shocked at the death and then at the circumstances with the testimony of power in Christianity and the question of healing.
Unfortunately, I failed to excite intellectual discourse as it got subsumed in emotive, sentiment and hysterical fawning – basically, I was not supposed to as that question.
Illegible handwriting
We might write for ourselves, but when others have to read our writing it must not end up being an advanced course of deciphering cryptographic inscription.
I really feel for examiners who have to indulge in crude graphology to determine what the candidate is trying to say.
The fact is, writing is also a mode of expression, poor handwriting is poor expression, it is strange how after the writing lessons we have in primary school we end up with writing no better than animal tracks in the bush.
In my view, I think writing classes should continue into the early years of secondary school because once writing develops its personality and character, it can be impossible to adapt and change for legibility.
Wasting of time on unnecessary preambles
That probably speaks for itself, it would be different if I could say that it is an element of intellectual arrogance creating blinding ignorance but I have to ditch the word intellectual. People are wont to showing their knowledge without necessarily addressing the issue itself.
It is a waste of time on the part of the candidate, it wastes the time of the examiner and basically, it is just a waste of time.
Preambles? If only we really had to time to read through all that too, you are answering questions in examinations that have a set time in which to tackle the required questions.
Poor diagrams
We are not being asked to be artist but candidates striving to be scientists who can only make doodles are on to a failure. Diagrams require a bit of practice, lines that need to be straight should be, curves need to be regular and there is a world of difference between a diagram and a sketch.
Read wide
The last paragraph reads, “tasking candidates to read novels and newspapers”. You don’t say? That would mean there would be no time for the Bible, as if many read that to any level of understanding or comprehension.
Chxta [4] my blogging friend has many a time lamented the fact that many do not read. Reading expands horizons, creates inquisitive minds necessary to ask to the right questions and obtain good answers.
It helps people participate in intelligent debate and hones expression in ways that being spoon-fed doctrines, traditions and customs cannot begin to do.
Ask questions too
But then, we are averse to asking questions because our paternalistic society considers asking questions a sign of disrespect. It was interesting that in secondary school; very few of us did not see teachers as demigods, unapproachable and fiercely evil.
Religiously, we consign everything to God’s will, though I do wonder if we really do know God’s will but use our fear to enquire borne of our human relationships as indication of disrespectfulness to God if we were to dare to ask questions of God.
My frustration on the question I asked about healing for today was fully vented when I asked for a Gamaliel [5] to step up to the conversation; I was already fed up of listening to the Sons of Sceva. [6]
In fact, that is why in a very religious Nigeria many fail in a lot of their endeavours because they tackle issues like the Sons of Sceva rather than a learned Gamaliel, we need to approach these things with a sense of authority which comes from preparation, understanding and application. If God put a brain in man, it must be there for a purpose – Use it.

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