It was a normal Sunday afternoon in late August, except there was no ‘fufu’ to eat. Football was offering Chelsea versus Arsenal, but with no television to catch even a glimpse of the match, I resorted to looking at updates on Twitter.
Even before I could log on, notifications from my Telegram messaging app came flooding in: “Payment ongoing for French Orals confirmed”, “Financial accounting questions are not out yet”, “Those writing GKA should text me, posting questions here isn’t safe.
For security purposes, if you know you are writing, text me for it.” Attached to the messages were phone numbers, so you could reach out to purchase the “apor”.
The notifications came from three Telegram platforms – GRANDMASTERS WAEC LINK, WAEC AND GES NEW FILE and 2021 WASSCE ROOM.
Each group boldly displayed the West African Examinations Council logo as its profile photo.
For an instant, I blanked. “When did I join these platforms?” I wondered. Then I remembered last year when I signed up to research an investigative news report on the examination black market.
The effort was cut short when I contracted COVID. All my energy was channelled into getting myself out of isolation and kicking against the long-term complications of the nasty disease.
For years, reports have surfaced of WAEC “apor” – exams leaked hours or even days before papers are written. WAEC has occasionally had to cancel examinations so that candidates can rewrite them.
It happened in 2002 when Basic Education Certificate Examination papers were cancelled after widespread leaks.
It happened again in 2015 when five BECE papers were cancelled, again after widespread leaks. In the 2008 Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE), WAEC had to cancel whole subjects.
Even before entering the exam hall, teachers and students in certain schools across Ghana have been known to share solutions to questions from papers up for examination. And the target questions have cropped up in the exams, just as promised.
Widespread use of social media and mobile phones by Ghana’s WASSCE candidates exacerbates the problem.
Students can browse leaked questions at leisure. Every year, when it comes to their final exams, whether BECE or WASSCE, pupils are sure they will get “apor”.
They believe it is their right as a candidate and will go to any lengths to obtain advanced knowledge of exam questions, soliciting funds to cover the costs.
There have been allegations and counter-allegations about how and why the leaks keep occurring.
How does WAEC keep track of the printing and packing of exam papers? Who distributes them across the country? And who keeps an eye on them once they reach the districts where the exams are held?
In an attempt to unravel the mysteries behind exam malpractice, an education think tank, Africa Education Watch, independently assessed the 2020 WASSCE and confirmed that the questions for last year were leaked to candidates.
In a report published on 16 June 2021, the think tank said the questions were leaked at dawn on the day each paper was to be sat and sent to various social media groups.
Africa Education Watch accused certain forums, including Telegram groups, of being sources of leaked questions.
Confidential personal information about examiners was also exposed, leading WAEC to file a complaint with the cybercrime department of the Ghana Police Service.
Not long afterwards, WAEC disputed aspects of the Africa Education Watch findings. At a press conference, it insisted that portions of the report which touched on a mathematics paper leak, exam methodology and publication of examiners’ details were fraught with inaccuracies.
WAEC said it was considering suing Africa Education Watch over the report.
Fast-forward to Friday 20 August 2021. Kofi Asare, the executive director of Africa Education Watch, again alleged that some WASSCE examination questions had leaked. He wrote:
“Today’s Food and Nutrition Paper 3 which was scheduled for 1:30PM was leaked on social media at 6:00AM yesterday and 11:06AM today.
“We reported to WAEC at 11:10AM, and can now confirm it is indeed a genuine leak. The paper is just starting at the Centres.
“Eduwatch is monitoring WASSCE 2021 with the support of OXFAM, and will continue collaborating with WAEC to improve accountability in the Education Assessment Sector.”
Unsurprisingly, at another press conference on Monday 23 August 2021, WAEC denied the Africa Education Watch claims that details of the Food and Nutrition practical examination on 20 August had been leaked.
The impasse worries me. Why is WAEC always so quick to issue denials when people complain about leaks? Scarcely a year goes by when there aren’t such allegations yet WAEC pretends they don’t exist. It seems more interested in protecting its already tarnished institutional integrity than in assessing students credibly.
I am not deeply shocked by these recurring developments. There is no alternative for exams: we have no choice but to resort to WAEC every year.
I visited Kofi Asare after he invited me to see evidence his think tank had gathered in the build-up to alleging that the Food and Nutrition practical questions had leaked.
At his office, he projected screenshots of chats with a Mr. Osafo, a WAEC official, detailing how the Food and Nutrition paper got out.
The screen projections also flashed snapshots of what could be the place where the leak had occurred.
“This is one of the papers that was written, and these are questions that were leaked,” Asare said.
“So, the question we sent to WAEC was two hours before the paper, as shown in my WhatsApp conversation with Mr. Osafo, a test officer at WAEC.
“It is the same questions that appeared in the exam at 1.30 pm on Friday, and Mr. Osafo called me to confirm that indeed those are the questions.
“If you look carefully at the picture I am showing you, you can see the boot of a security man in the background.”
Asare explained that WAEC’s attempts to deny these leaks only makes it obvious that they have failed to address the problem.
In August 2020, the then deputy education minister, Dr. Yaw Adutwum, now the substantive minister, questioned the wisdom of maintaining a WAEC monopoly over the primary and secondary education examination system, given the leaks that have marred WASSCE examinations.
Both Dr Adutwum and President Akufo-Addo have hinted that there are reforms to the education assessment system in the offing. This commitment alone is an admission that indeed there is a problem.
Many people have advocated eliminating human intervention from exam administration. This would mean that until results are released, most of WAEC’s exam tools and procedures, from well before an exam to the point where results are announced, must be computer-driven.
Peter Ante, the acting executive director of the Institute for Education Studies, another policy think tank, has proposed that Ghana should develop two types of certificates to offer proof of 14 years of universal education: the Senior High School Leaving Certificate and WASSCE.
This, he argues, will ease the pressure on students and parents, who will seek all ways and means to excel in the WASSCE so they can secure employment.
Ante proposes that, to achieve this, there should be a framework that takes into account the student’s formative assessments from at least Basic 7 to their final year in senior high school.
A comprehensive assessment system of this kind would give a true picture of the abilities and competencies of all students, Ante says.
The student would then have to write one comprehensive paper, which could be termed a general paper, touching on all he or she has studied in 14 years of education.
This would form 30% of the student’s overall assessment and would be coupled with an internal cumulative assessment (70%) to qualify him or her to obtain the Senior High School Leaving Certificate.
Africa Education Watch says taking steps to break WAEC’s monopoly over assessing students and administering exams in Ghana will improve standards.
Though WAEC should be held accountable for any exam leaks, we also need to focus on reorienting Ghanaians’ moral compass as we look into collectively eliminating the problem of cheating. If not, it will get to a point where a WAEC certificate from Ghana will mean nothing.