interviewBy Boco Edet
The National Examinations Council (NECO) says it requires more funding to conduct its final year public examinations. Who would bear the cost? Parents, schools or government? Registrar of NECO Professor Promise Okpala explains more and unravels the controversy around the mass failure for students who take its examinations. Excerpts:
12 years in the business of conducting examinations and NECO still appears to be a hard sell to Nigerians why?
Education is interested in the concept of access, equity and quality. Access involves provision of teaching facilities so children don't have to go so far to go to school. While we are discussing access as per number of schools we should also discuss it in terms of assessment. The fact that we started our development with one exam body doesn't mean we shouldn't have our own because Nigeria provides about 90% of the candidates for the West African exams.
The children should be given opportunity to have a choice. When it was a monopoly you would realise that when you do not pass a particular exam you have to wait for almost 12 months so is it not better for the Nigerian child to have an option?
Choice is not compulsion. Some parents may not even have the money to pay for the two. The important thing is that opportunities are there. Monopoly is not good for a consumer.
When NECO was initially set up in 2000, for some years there was a high success rate, then it became massive failure. What happened?
Malpractice effect and proper valid description of candidates result are inversely related. Nigerians have been saying and to a good extent it is true that when you meet secondary school leavers they can't write a good essay and the person is scoring A in Literature and English Language so something is wrong somewhere. It implies that the description wasn't proper and so many things must have happened. A good part of this wrong description is caused by malpractice. If exams are properly conducted the way they should then you reduce examination malpractice.
We have seen that malpractice is rampant. As NECO is battling to fight malpractice, we would be getting closer to the proper description of our students. We also use Nigerian lecturers to monitor our exams and they visit these schools at least three times during the exams. Most of these schools, the teachers feel you are also examining them so they are attached and are ready to cooperate with the students. We do daily distribution of papers, they don't sleep in police stations and banks that is why we start our exams by 10:00. We have also moved in biometrics into the halls so it may boil down to our procedure is tighter. If you talk to students they don't feel free with us because to them our problem is much.
Talking about certificate forgery, recently a syndicate involved in NECO certificate forgery was busted and three of your staff were involved?
We had a wind about a syndicate. The security operation in town came strongly into it, the credit should be given to them. It took time before they could alert us that they had succeeded in getting a handful of information. Along the line it dawned on everybody that three of our staff were involved and of course legality had to take its course. They were properly prosecuted and verdict obtained.
Certificate forgery is one of the social malaise in any society it is not typical of Nigeria. Examination industry cannot block certificate forgery, what they can do is to ensure that you do not forge it correctly so it is not within our reach to say, you behave well wherever you are. What we are trying to do is to make sure you never get it correctly. When you see the certificate you would laugh. They photocopied the original certificate and started deleting all the original imprint. So it is possible for someone to take someone's original certificate and manipulate it. They couldn't get the original colour. My point is that their forgery is laughable.
We have so many security features on our certificates. It is more difficult to forge our current certificate than to forge a currency because the technology involved, it is being produced from a place where you see they produce duty stamps of the best five countries of the world. We have up to 15 security devices on the certificate so the assurance we are giving our clients is that while we cannot stop an individual from forgery, all we are assuring people is that it is very difficult for them to get close to the original.
As many people we get in a behaviour of this nature, we would not take it lying low even if they are members of staff. At a point this year it was a long drawn battle for me to re-organise specific locations where members of staff work. The computer which houses our data is a very sensitive place and we were bent on making sure that only trusted people stay there and that is why we have introduced the policy of you cannot work in a particular place for more than 10 years because we notice that over familiarity comes in. That is why we initiated the process of transfer from time to time so you do not constitute a tin god in a particular area.
The council has been crying that revenue for conducting examinations is not enough. If it is improved who bears the additional cost?
If only we can see the unit cost of conducting a major public exam. We use as many as 80,000 graduate workers to mark the essay. These people when they come here they can work for three or four weeks, when we check what we pay them it is not the best of earnings. The only thing is we encourage them that when you come and mark you get the experience and since you are a practicing teacher it would enable you to see how to direct your students in responding to questions - that is a major encouragement. But if you see it in terms of an adult graduate has gone to work for four weeks and he is earning N20,000 you would not rush to that job.
We also know that quality of carrying out a job may be related to amount you are being paid; when you pay so poorly there is no sufficient motivation and the person may also offer you poor services. Last year we looked at what we paid them and there was about 40% increase.
We need good services from our clients, professional development is not enough. We are not saying parents should pay or government or any other party but for us to carry out quality assessment as demanded by the Nigerian society we cannot do it very well without touching on the finances.
Our duty is to say this is the realistic cost and let us agree that substantial increase in efficiency demands human and material resources. Let us not get involved in who pays it and lose sight of this fact. Let stakeholders come together and decide what percentage would go to government, parents, schools and any other important stakeholder.