The recent directive by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), to review its registration fees downwards is a welcome intervention, hence a right step in the right direction.
The directive will no doubt serve as a relief to poor and vulnerable parents/guardians who over the years had paid through their nose to ensure that their children/wards registered for their public examinations.
Speaking penultimate Monday, in Abuja, when WAEC’s Governing Council, led by its Chairperson, Dr Evelyn Kandakai, paid him a visit, the minister observed that “many parents and guardians complain about the exorbitant fees charged by the council, as their children/wards fail to write the examinations upon completing secondary education”.
There is no gain saying that over the years WAEC fees have been rising and out of the reach of many parents and guardians. Unfortunately, the exorbitant fees have forced thousands of students across the country out of the school. Ordinarily, the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is a proof that the student successfully completed his secondary education, which also determines his further education pursuits at tertiary level.
It is worrisome that many indigent but brilliant students have been denied further education because of the exorbitant fees charged by the council to register students for WASSCE, which is a basic requirement for university and polytechnic admission. Presently, parents who cannot afford the cost are withdrawing their children/wards from schools to learn a vocation or assist in domestic chores in many homes. Sadly, the scenario undermines the student’s right to education and on the long run, constitutes a problem for the country.
However, the good news was that many state governments came to the rescue by taking responsibility for the bills annually and this saw many students from less-privileged background complete their secondary education until the state governments too became bogged down by economic realities and the project was stopped. Although critics of the state governments picked holes in the project on grounds of corruption and non-transparency, the scheme, nevertheless, was laudable, because it ensured that indigenes of any of the states that engaged in the exercise did not drop out of school.
Take the Niger state government as an example, annually, the government registered students for WASSCE at the cost of N800 million. But recently, the governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, announced the state government’s withdrawal from the scheme, citing dwindling financial resources as a reason for its inability to meet the obligation to the students. Consequently, the state government cancelled the project and dashed the students hope. Currently, it cost between N11, 350 and N15, 000 to register for WASSCE. And with state governments’ largesse withdrawn the poor parents/guardians are left on their own. But this time around the economic crunch resulting from the economic recession has compounded matters for the parents.
Lamenting the situation, former Commissioner for Education in Ebonyi state, Mr. Ndubuisi Chibueze-Agbo, said the steady rise of WASSCE and NECO fees was a sad commentary about the nation’s education.
Describing the hike in public examinations fees as outrageous, Chibueze-Agbo said in Abakaliki that the development posed danger to the education sector, because “the situation could deny children from less privileged homes from writing these very important certificate examinations”.
He noted that NECO was established in 2000 to break the monopoly of WAEC which has been conducting public examinations since 1951, adding that “NECO came into being in 2000 to provide alternative to Nigerians and also to break the monopoly of WAEC and exorbitant fees charged by the examination body. But it’s regrettable and sad that NECO has been in the forefront of championing examination fees hike in Nigeria from 2001 to date.”
Aside forcing indigent students out of school, another problem associated with the exorbitant fees being charged by WASSCE/NECO is that it contributes to examination malpractice. Of course, over the years the scourge of examination malpractice has refused to be tamed, rather, the phenomenon is on the increase because more students are patrons of this vice. Undoubtedly, the exorbitant fees drive the students to do anything including malpractices during examinations, to pass at all costs and damn the consequence.
By and large, the minister’s directive on downwards review of WASSCE fees is a double edged sword that will also go a long way to addressing the problem of examination malpractice as well as checking drop out of school.
We, therefore, urge the minister to ensure full implementation of the directive.