FEATURE: Educational Albatross
Students writing a WAEC examination. There is no greater treason than to do the right deed for the wrong reason - T. S. Elliot
On May 4 this year, the academic progress and future of 15 students of the Kumasi Senior High Technical School, were rudely interrupted when they were prevented from writing the Physics Theory paper of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination for failure to pay their school fees.
An assistant headmaster of the school, Mr John Kumah, who claimed to have acted on the instructions of the Ghana Education Service, walked into the examination hall and drove the students, including one who allegedly established that he had settled his fees in full, away.
However, close to the end of the paper, the students were allowed to return, albeit too late to make any meaningful impact on their answers.
Commenting on Mr Kumah’s action, the Public Relations Manager of the GES, Mr Paul Krampah, pointed out that preventing students from writing their final examination was wrong. But, comments from the headmistress of the Kumasi Senior High Technical School, Mrs Mary Osei, and the President of the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools, Mr Samuel Ofori-Adjei, suggest that school authorities are sometimes compelled to resort to such unorthodox methods out of frustration.
However, a statement attributed to one headmaster that “once 25 minutes of your time is wasted, next time when you are coming to write the examination you will bring your fees” is sadistic and not a worthy alibi.
In the first place, it must be pointed out that the Ghana Education Service and the West African Examinations Council are different entities, none subservient to the other. If anything at all, WAEC is international. What it means therefore is that the contractual obligations between students and their schools on one hand and the WAEC are different.
Once a student is registered and given an index number, it becomes the responsibility of WAEC to provide the students the conducive environment to write the examination. Thus once a student complies fully with the demands of WAEC, the obligation falls on WAEC to ensure that qualified applicants are not disturbed by non-agents of WAEC from writing the examinations.
Indeed, payment of school fees is not one of the conditions for qualifying to sit for a WAEC paper.
Therefore in future, parents must be ready to take legal action against the WAEC for allowing intruders to invade examination centres to chase away students for reasons other than those set by WAEC.
This is so because it is the WAEC which selects the centres. And just as students who have duly paid their fees but have not been registered by their schools are not allowed to take their examination, those who are qualified should not under any circumstance apart from the rules of WAEC be denied taking the paper.
The legal implications must be established so that parents, school authorities and WAEC would be clear about their duties and obligations. For in the case of Mr Kumah, assuming the school was not a centre, how could he have gone there, as a non-agent of WAEC, to drive the students away.
What Mr Kumah did is similar to mob action, where the public lynch suspects with impunity rather than resort to the due process of the law.
That does not mean that fees should not be paid. The school authorities are the same who collect the examination fees. They can confiscate the money and ask the parents to come and settle all arrears before their wards would be registered. But once the students are registered, the school cannot use that as an insurance.
There are categories of students. There are some of them whose parents are unable to settle their fees regularly and are thus constantly in arrears. There are yet other students who collect their fees and use the money on other things. Parents have greater responsibility in ensuring that fees are paid so that deviant students would be exposed and dealt with appropriately and at the right time.
By all means, school authorities must collect school fees, but they must do so in the right manner. Driving a student from the examination hall may be right deed, but it is definitely for the wrong reason, as Eliot points out.
Our school authorities must find innovative ways of collecting school fees and parents must be prepared and ready to ensure that they pay their fees, for as Plato has noted, “no man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nurture and education.”
For many years, budding academics have had their future truncated by school authorities who are so greedy that they do not register them after collecting fees. Now we are having students denied the opportunity to prove their mettle because they owe their schools.
We all need to think how to ensure that parents and students are responsible without the resort to unorthodoxy to deny them their future.
But first, let WAEC take responsibility for the latest event and never to allow candidates in their custody to be mishandled by outsiders for even if Mr Kumah was an invigilator or supervisor, he was under the employment of WAEC, not the GES at the examination centre at the time he did what he did.