Examinations are key in every educational system. It forms a major part of any assessment framework and it is important because it serves as a feedback for the teaching and learning process, it is an output variable in determining the quality of an educational programme and also serves as a basis for the placement, graduation, and certification of students.
In certain jurisdictions, teacher output is tied to the performance of students in their national examination. This is why the validity, trustworthiness, and sanctity of any examination, be it internal or external, is key for the continued sustenance of any educational enterprise.
In Ghana, there are two major external examinations written at Junior High School 3 (Basic Education Certificate Examination - BECE) and Senior High School 3 (West African Senior School Certificate Examination –WASSCE). These two examinations are conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC). Until recently, these two examinations were the main national examinations throughout the fourteen years in the life of the Ghanaian student. However, the new curriculum reform with its corresponding assessment framework proposes national examinations at Basics 2, 4, 6, and 8. This I must say is a very positive step in reforming our national assessment system.
Ghana has been struggling with examination leakages over the years. There have been rumours and in most cases confirmed instances of examination leakages for our two national examinations. With a policy shift of using the Basic Education Certificate for placement instead of the initial policy of certification, there seems to be severe pressure on acquiring a senior high school certificate to enable one continue with their academic journey. This has resulted in several cases of examination leakages across the length and breadth of the country. As an education policy analyst, I can say for sure that the causes of this perennial problem of examination leakages are multifaceted. Permit me to elaborate on this.
In Ghana, the lowest qualification a person can use to enter the world of work is the senior high school certificate. This same certificate serves as the passport for entry into any tertiary institution in the country. This implies that, technically, the success or failure of the fourteen years of education of a student depends on his or her ability to pass and pass well in the WASSCE.
This puts a lot of pressure on students and parents. I dare say that these two groups of people will find ways and means to enable the student to go through the WASSCE successfully. Again, in our communities and various schools, teachers' output and prestige are tied to the performance of their students. Teachers are hailed or booed depending on how their students perform in their subject area.
Schools are ranked based on their performance in the WASSCE. This again puts lots of pressure on school authorities, teachers, and interested parties like old students’ associations to ensure that, their students and schools come out on top. This is why, for me, the issue of examination leakages cannot be curtailed by undertaking either the annual nullification of some papers or a shambolic investigation which has proven to be ineffective because this problem is simply a demand and supply issue.
This has made it a societal problem that requires that curbs the demand side of the problem while sealing the supply aspect. Undoubtedly, WASSCE has turned out to be what many call “tertiary education entrance examination” and should be made to be so. This means that there should be two types of certificates after the fourteen years of a student’s education in Ghana: the Senior High School Leaving Certificate (SHSLC) and WASSC.
To achieve this, there should be an assessment framework that takes into account the formative assessments of the student from at least Basic 7 to the final year in senior high school. Such a comprehensive assessment system would give a true picture of the capabilities and competencies of the student. The student would then have to write one comprehensive paper which can be termed as a General Paper which touches on a bit of all that the student has studied during the fourteen years of his or her education. This examination which will form 30% of the overall assessment of the student coupled with the internal cumulative assessment of the student (70%) would qualify the student to obtain what can be called Senior High School Leaving Certificate (SHSLC) (or what the Minister of Education calls Higher National Diploma/High School Diploma) or any other name. This certificate would enable the holder to secure any form of employment in the job market after satisfying other requirements as advertised. We can even, design programmes in our various tertiary institutions that will award Diploma to holders of SHSLC who have relevant work experience in specific fields for three years or more after a few months of academic work (between 6 to 12 months).
Students can, therefore, decide to seek any employment that the SHSLC qualifies him or her to pursue and later sit for the WASSCE when he or she wants to pursue tertiary education. This will ensure that WAEC and other examination bodies introduced in the system can conduct WASSCE which would then be used strictly for admission into tertiary institutions. This approach coupled with other measures such as breaking the WAEC monopoly and meting out severe punishment to those involved in examination malpractices can help to reduce this problem to the barest minimum.
Embarking on this path and implementing an effective curriculum at all levels of our pre-tertiary education will be a way of improving the middle manpower level of this country. This is because the economic development of any country requires the attainment of a manpower mix suited for the development of the country. We would by doing this, succeed in restoring the sanctity of WASSCE and also create other paths for those who would want to enter the world of work after their senior high school education.
***The writer is an Education Economist, Education Policy Analyst, Researcher, and currently the Acting Executive Director, The Institute for Education Studies (IFEST), an educational policy think tank in Ghana.