By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
Since Sierra Leone recorded her first Corona virus case on March 31st, this year, fear of transmission of the highly contagious and deadly virus led to shutting down of schools throughout Sierra Leone.
As Covid-19 starts to show signs of receding, government recognises the need for the resumption of some academic activities.
To that end, the re-commencement of classes hitherto banned was waived.
First West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) kicked off on 11th August in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a public examination conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) for pupils in last stage of senior school education in Sierra Leone and other West African countries.
The examination is seen as a rite of passage from senior school education to tertiary level.
Despite its image crisis in recent years, WAEC is still recognised as the sole authority for pubic exams in the four West African countries.
The examining body awards certificates comparable to those of equivalent international examination authorities.
With such responsibility, the council is expected to significantly contribute to the development of quality education.
The council is expected to give the people of West Africa a vision for great potentials which lie beyond examinations.
However, over the years, threats to WAEC`s reputation and delivery of quality service are becoming increasingly worrisome.
The institution needs to redeem itself from the seemingly intractable problems of irregularities and examination malpractices.
In a pandemic period, many WASSCE candidates have failed to pay the required attention to studies.
Situation was worsened for those who had little or no access to Radio Teaching programme initiated by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MBSSE).
With over 150,000 candidates expected to face the exams, WASCCE candidates in remote commnunities such as towns and villages were virtually deprived.
Despite the increase in mobile penetration in many hard- to-reach communities, having a mobile or radio set is still a luxury.
In public examinations, it is not uncommon for children to trek several miles to access examination centres. Some roads are even inaccessible, prompting parents to make prearrangements for the pupil to have safe accommodation in larger towns with WASSCE centres.
Covid-19 restrictions and uncertainty in the date for the exams were causes that made WASSCE candidates to relax.
The candidates’ preparation for the WASSCE has been afflicted by many turbulent circumstances, thereby raising the stakes high for them to indulge in examination malpractices.
This unfortunate trend in WASSCE exams is often aided by parents who provide financial inducements to aid their children in dubious games.
Some misinformed parents go the extra-mile to ensure their children cheat the exams because facing WASSCE even by unlawful means is generally regarded as a stepping stone to immediate success.
In fairness to WAEC, it is not a profit-making institution.
The council depends on two main sources of revenue for funding its operations.
These include: government subvention and examination fees.
It is clear that the revenue accrued from these sources has considerably dwindled in recent years and WAEC is not allowed to charge economic rates for its examinations despite the country’s inflationary trend.
These funds from government, most times, do not meet WAEC in time as it comes in tranches.
The exams body, for instance, is yet to receive payments from government for the 2019 WASSCE.
It should be noted that the conduct of examinations involves a lot of processes which entails money to pay examiners, supervisors, invigilators, air tickets, printing and air freighting of question papers.
It goes without saying that adequate and timely funding of WAEC operations would always guarantee better performance.
For female students, overcoming WASSCE is quite challenging owing to the vulnerability of pregnancy.
Data surveyed by MBSSE in five districts in southern Sierra Leone shows that about 25-30% of girls are expected to be missing out on WASSCE as a result of pregnancy.
In ideal terms, the percentage should be scaled down to zero if promoting equal opportunities for female and male candidates is to be made in Sierra Leone.
The enactment of tough laws backed up by the recent launch of Zero-pregnancy by MBSSE for school girls; alongside the ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign has not reduced teenage pregnancy.
The prevalence of the current situation implies that the policy of retention and graduation of girls in the education sector is still unattainable.
It will be a repugnant irony for a government that sees education as its mantra to see school girls dropping out of school at an alarming rate.
The recent ugly development has stifled the progress of girls in the academic environment, a situation that has puzzled the MBSSE minister.
“Communities should decide whether they want to see their girls as dropouts since parents and neighbours see their children in the dark and turn a blind eye,” The Minister admitted.
These problems can be factored in to Preparations regarding WASSCE which has been constrained by some logistical and resource challenges.