In about three months, the 2018 edition of the WAEC organized WASSCE will commence in earnest after which the scripts will be marked and the results released by the foremost examination body. As has become the tradition in our country, there will be fallouts depending on the national outcome of the results. If the outcome is so spectacular, the incumbent government and the opposition will both take the credit.
They will enumerate what was it that they had done to improve the learning outcomes. The candidates themselves will pat themselves at the back for what they consider, ‘their self- sacrifice, hard work, smartness and brilliance,’ with little or no credit to the teachers who taught and prepared them. On the other hand, if the outcome turns out to be not-too- good, trust that the teachers who taught these candidates will be at the receiving end of attacks, blame game, public backlash and professional condemnation. Some will talk about how teachers are lazy or incompetent. Comparisons will be made with the private schools, and eventually, the devil will lie in the age old, ‘lack of supervision in the public schools.’ Predictably, the discussion or evaluation of the outcomes will leave out of the equation the main examining body. There will be very little or no focus on their work. Instead, the schools, managers of education, government and political parties will all be blamed, maybe because, WAEC is not considered a part of the solution.
Education, as an important social good, has multiple stakeholders, just as assessment does. Assessment is a critical component of the educational enterprise, so what we do with it or do not do with it will define the learning outcomes of our schools. The stakeholders of assessment include teachers, learners, school managers and supervisors, curriculum experts and policymakers, the examination body and parents. It appears however that our postmotern analysis of WASSCE or BECE results does exclude the role of WAEC even though some of its actions and practices contribute to some extent to the nature of results churned out each year.
One main factor that contributes to the not-too-good learning outcomes or results is the lack of standardized textbooks in the respective examinable subjects. The curriculum does not only include the how of teaching ( methodology or pedagogy), the means of assessment, but more importantly, it includes, what to teach ( content). Content informs assessment and eventually determines learning outcomes of learners. For decades, the pre-tertiary educational system which includes the Basic schools and the Second cycle schools of all forms, has been exposed to two different syllabi – one for WAEC and the other for the GES. Whilst teachers are expected by their employer and regulatory body – GES- to teach based on the GES syllabus, external (summative) examinations are set based on the WAEC syllabus which is not necessarily the same as the GES one. So, what has been happening especially at the Basic education level is that teachers in the public schools tend to focus on the GES one whilst some of their counterparts in the private schools also concentrate a great deal on the WAEC one by solving a lot of past questions without necessarily doing teaching and learning. This partially explains why the private basic schools appear to do better in the BECE than their public school counterparts.
What is troubling about the situation is that there are no common textbooks in any of the subject areas. What we have currently is a list of recommended texts for each subject. WAEC does not have any common and standard textbook for any of its examinable subjects. Its tall list of old and sometimes outdated content of recommended textbooks is largely unavailable in the libraries or the bookshops for teachers and students. Consequently, teachers and students are constantly doing wild goose chase of ‘genuine content’ to be taught or learnt ahead of external examinations.
The situation as it stands means that, different schools use different textbooks some of whose contents are even in doubt because they may not have been approved by WAEC nor the Curriculum Research and Development Division (CRDD). Subjects such as Economics have no common textbook. Innocent and unsuspecting students acquire and studiously learn the content of these materials, go to present them in examinations only to be marked down by examiners because their points are not contained in the WAEC marking scheme which is drawn using a given textbook, though most schools are not privy to these mostly old and rare textbooks. In some cases, only the chief examiners have access to these textbooks, yet teachers and students are expected to do magic by teaching and learning the special content of these special textbooks.
The effect of all these is that, although teachers do their best in teaching and students also get themselves prepared for the examination, their answers are declared wrong by the marking scheme, hence they perform poorly in the examination through little or no fault of theirs. Going forward, if we as a country, are interested in improving the pass rate of our candidates, then it behoves us to demand a change in the operations of WAEC. The body must reinvent itself. It ought to collaborate with the Curriculum Research and Develoment Division (CRDD) of Ghana and the pre-tertiary content regulatory bodies of other member-countries to produce a common and standard text materials in the respective examinable subjects. Textbooks are critical components of syllabuses. It is not enough to just recommend textbooks without ensuring that the books are available and accessible to teachers and learners.This request of WAEC to collaborate with other stakeholders in producing textbooks for the schools should not be too difficult for a body which boasts of a wide array of expertise and institutional knowledge.
It is a matter of assemblying the best of its human resource and subject experts to write these textbooks for the schools. These books will then form the core of what is taught in the schools, where examination questions are set and how marking schemes are drawn. With these, we will be able to truly assess the performance of our schools as there will be uniformity in content. It is only then that we can take to task teachers who fail to produce very good grades. It is only then that we can apply any iota of criterion reference in comparing our schools. Until then, I plead that we exercise moderation in the way we condemn our teachers and the educational system, for they alone are not the source of the problem. This suggestion of common textbooks may not be the panacea to the age old problem of poor pass rates in our country, but it can go a long way in causing some positive change.
Further, WAEC must also change its assessment philosophy from assesment of learning to assessment for learning. It should blend the summative requirements of the examination with some formative principles . According to Lorna (2003), assessment for learning shifts emphasis from making judgment to creating descriptions that can be used in the service of the next stage. It provides feedback to both the learners and the the teachers. The focus of assessment should not only be on the candidates, but their teachers and the continuing students as well. Assessment should be seen as one in continuum. This means that WAEC assessment should not be considered an ‘end of the road’ one for the candidates, but one that both the teachers and the continuing students can learn from to improve performance in subsequent years.These feedbacks will then shape teachers’ observation of students, classroom questioning and student-teacher interactions.
To achieve this, WAEC should encourage its script makers to do remedial marking. This implies that the script markers will have to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate by indicating same in the scripts through comments. With this, WAEC will move away from its current system of omnibus chief examiners’ report which is silent on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual schools to the production of tailored-made reports for each subject and each school. This is to say that after each examination, WAEC should provide reports on individual schools. The report, which should encapsulate the strengths and weaknesses of candidates in a given subject should be disseminated to the respective schools for their study and remediation. This means that WAEC must find a more rewarding package for its examiners and script makers in order to motivate them to embrace this change.
Assessment for learning will also imply that WAEC should put a stop to its practice of holding onto the marked scripts of candidates. The marked scripts could be released to the schools after three or six months of marking because of application for remarking and possible litigation. Whatever the case, all or samples of the marked scripts should be released to the schools ahead of the next examination season. These released scripts will then help the teachers to unlearn some of their acquired content and relearn new contents to enhance their teaching and learning process. This practice will serve as an improvement upon a given year’s examination. These scripts will also guide the continuing students to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of some of their seniors, and reinforcing the strengths of these seniors. It is no longer appropriate for WAEC to be quarantining marked scripts of candidates if it considers itself a partner in improving learning outcomes.
In addition, WAEC must take a look at the way and manner it draws marking schemes. It is no longer apt for WAEC to rely on what it calls ‘Chief Examiners’ of member countries some of whom are retired teachers and so might not be abreast of some trends to be drawing marking schemes.The process of drawing schemes must be democratised to include practising teachers, senior lecturers and experienced retired subject teachers. The process should be opened up at the top to embrace a lot more experts in order to ensure that answers arrived at are valid and time tested. The body must also move away from treating marking schemes as some sacred documents that students must not be allowed to get access to. The process of democratization also implies that marking schemes must be made available to candidates and students if possible. After all, the students must be aware of the rubrics of each subject and what is expected of them by way of answers and the approach to questions.
It is important for WAEC to consider itself as part of the solution of improving students’ learning outcomes by producing common textbooks, decentralizing the process of drawing marking schemes, allowing access to its marking schemes and producing contextualised and school-specific chief examiners’ reports instead of the omnibus one.
Improvement in learning outcomes is not only a factor of good teaching and learning, proper supervision of teaching and learning as well as the formulation of good educational policies, it is also about what is assessed and how content is assessed. Let WAEC be guided by the principle that every examination should necessarily lead to an improvement over subsequent ones.
WAEC must change.
Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse,is Educational Consultant;
Political and Social Researcher and Analyst;
Teacher and Public Speaker.