how to stop rot
In Nigeria, the West African Examinations Council and National Examinations Council are the organizations that organize the examinations for the upper secondary certificate. The results serve as proof of completion of secondary school in Nigeria. They are required to qualify for certain employment opportunities and contest certain political offices. They are also required to secure admission to tertiary institutions within and outside Nigeria.
Thus, great value is placed on passing these exams. Some candidates use illegal and unethical means to succeed. They are helped in this by the so-called “miracle examination centers” – special secondary schools that encourage such embezzlement. These centers have institutionalized cheating in school certificate exams.
Despite efforts by the government and examination bodies to suppress them, they continue to thrive and enjoy the patronage of people from different classes of society.
Nigeria’s education sector has been ranked among the top five most corrupt sectors in Nigeria. Test center practices cast doubt on the quality of students admitted to higher education, the quality of the workforce and the quality of policymakers.
Despite the harmful impact of these centers, they have not been systematically studied. As a member of Anti-Corruption Evidence Research Consortium led by SOAS University of London, we conducted a systematic review existing literature on their nature, drivers and proposed solutions to the problem. Our work is the first in-depth study on the issue.
We hope our review will help researchers and policy makers understand and combat exam malpractice.
SOAS anti-corruption evidence approach aims to find out what might motivate people to change their rule-breaking behavior in specific contexts and also whether these actors have the power to effect this change. This is different from conventional anti-corruption strategies which simply try to enforce the rules.
In line with this approach, we looked at the drivers of the hubs and the opportunities for solutions that can be achieved by grassroots actors interested in bringing about change. These actors include parents, students, school owners, teachers and community members. Examination bodies, ministries of education, security agencies and government can also make significant efforts.
Our desk review was supported by community visits in Abuja, Anambra, Edo and Kogi states, where the centers are prevalent. We also held workshops and interviewed over 175 people, including providers and users of the test center “services”.
Operations and drivers of “miracle centers”
We found that “miracle centres” tend to be in private schools (although some are public). Either they help leak the exam questions ahead of time or they compromise the exams once the quizzes hit the site.
Parental and peer pressure, as well as ineffective teaching and learning practices support the existence of these centers. Other factors are complicit school management practices and community protection of rogue schools and their operators.
The most immediate drivers include the activities of students, parents, and community members or groups. Some community members collude with people’s centers by hijacking outside supervisors or inspectors.
Profit is a major driver of private schools in general and centers in particular. Due to high attendance, the prices for their rogue services might exceed 300% of the actual registration fees as stipulated by the examination bodies. Tutoring centers provide candidates to the most reliable “miracle centers” and the “success” of their candidates attracts more students to enroll with them.
The distant drivers of these practices revolve around educational policies, institutions and formal structures guiding school-related activities. Rogue examiners employed to oversee examinations use their position to protect illegal activity, acting with the owners of “miracle centers”. Our review found that punishment for this was rarely reported, suggesting institutions may be complicit.
The curricula on which the examinations are based seem difficult and sometimes not taught in class. This is another factor that allows centers to thrive.
What needs to be done?
Top-down enforcement, withholding or overruling results and blacklisting suspect centers, seems to be the approach favored by examination boards and the Ministry of Education. But the centers continue to exist, so it doesn’t work.
There are proof that when local actors are properly engaged, they can catalyze change and ensure that perpetrators are duly punished. For example, civil society groups, faith-based organizations and community leaders should be involved in campaigns against “miracle centers”. Parent-teacher associations, members of the National Youth Service Corps and student clubs should also be involved. Owners of private schools can sanction offending members and form advocacy groups that could get the government to act. Whistleblowing mechanisms can be made available to the public to quickly report suspicious schools.
Overall, the goal is to see people apply the rules in their own interest rather than for fear of punishment from the authorities.