Anxieties are mounting about the upcoming West African Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), kicking off in April. Stella Eze and Taiwo Ogunmola report that teachers, and other stakeholders are worried about what becomes of the exams, the results of which have witnessed continual poor performance in the past five years, with untold embarrassment to the entire nation.

s students prepare for 2011 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), there are anxieties over the persistent poor performance of students in the external examinations in the past five years. School authorities, administrators in education sector as well as state governments are already imagining what would become of the next results to be released by the various examination bodies; the West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council, and the National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB). Stakeholders at different fora had resorted to buck passing, blaming one another for the ugly situation in the nation's education sector, leading to massive failure that has caused the nation a great embarrassment. The results of the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations of candidates who obtained credit passes in at least five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics over a period of five years is on the downward trend is shameful. For the year 2005, we had 27.53 per cent, 15.56 per cent for 2006, 25.54 per cent for 2007, 13.76 per cent for 2008 and 25.99 per cent for year 2009.

While government points accusing fingers at the teachers, the teachers in turn blame government at all levels for failing to provide a good learning environment necessary for quality learning and which would have led to general success of the students. Students as well as parents also have taken part of the blame. But an educationist has heaped the entire blame on students' lackadaisical attitude towards academics. The preparation of students towards the coming examination, he noted, is not encouraging looking at different activities that occupy the students' mind. Social activities, such as night parties, Street dancing competitions, facebook, twitter, yahoo and other anti-social are usually some of the things that keep them busy, more than studing. With these distractions, maximum concentration on academic activities becomes an almost impossible task.

A teacher in one of the secondary schools in Lagos (name withheld), expressed worries that students do not take the internal examinations serious because in most cases, parents would have assured them of providing the means for passing the external examination.

Narrating what he observed about the attitude of some SSS 3 students in his school, he said they have not exhibited any seriousness, which may lead to another mass failure in the May/June examination.

He wondered: "What exactly is the problem with our students? That is my concern and my question to them. I could remember when I was to write my final examinations in school, my father told me that if l failed to study hard for my exam, he would stop me from continuing my education, and this motivated me to take my studies serious. I read as if I won't read again and I discovered that I passed all my papers. But these days, parents encourage their children not to read, giving them assurances that all will be well without reading. Most students spend their time in the cyber café chatting with friends or viewing pornography which contributes nothing to their knowledge. Some will even use their precious time to visit friends who are playful like them. The Holy Bible said, 'there is time for everything under the earth, time to cry and time to laugh'. It should be known to them that time lost can never be regained. Past leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnmadi Azikiwe devoted their time reading and studying hard before they became successful in life".

Efforts should be put in place to encourage reading culture in Nigeria especially among youths. President Goodluck Jonathan recently launched an initiative to encourage reading among students. But critics observed that the effort was not targeted at those in need of such encouragement. But the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola recently trained 507 teachers for special intervention programme to prepare students for the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE).

The programme was meant to reinforce commitments made by Fashola's administration especially that of providing job opportunities, rehabilitation or construction of schools, laboratories, provision of textbooks, training and re-training of teachers amongst others, which are meant to improve the education sector's output.

Governor Fashola has been trying to tackle mass failure in the state with series of programmes, which he is intensifying now that the exam is approaching again. He also paid for extra coaching classes to assist students to perform better. If government is performing its responsibility and students are not ready to compliment the efforts, then what would be the result? Parents even worsen the situation in the sense that they want their children to go to university as early as possible which leads them to employ machinery to write exams for their children.

In the same vein, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Secondary Education Board (SEB) is also organizing extra coaching classes for students in readiness for the upcoming examination. The board chairman, Hajiya Ramatu Ibrahim told LEADERSHIP Education in Abuja that the management of the board is worried and leaving no stone unturned to ensure the students in the FCT make brilliant results at the end of the exams. She noted that mass failure has become an embarrassing phenomenon, which the SEB in collaboration with the various school authorities were ready to tackle head on.

"Actually we have made the move. We started about three years ago. When the result of the 2008 was released, we discovered we had mass failure in English and Mathematics. The problem we are having in Abuja is not mass failure in all the subjects; it was only in these two subjects. With that in mind, the management of the Secondary Education Board (SEB) decided to sit down with the school principals to look at the analysis of the results presented by the Education Resource Centre (ERC). So we realised that if only our students could make it in English and Mathematics, then we would have almost 100 percent of them ready to go for their degree programme. So we all agreed that we should concentrate in the past question papers. We concentrated on conducting extra classes for those that are in SS3. So, when the 2010 result came out, there was an improvement but we were not happy with that result. So, we met again and asked ourselves, what can we do? Because repeating of past question papers will not give the most effective results we want from the students. So, we met again and came up with this idea of cluster teaching.

"The SEB is employing the strategy of training and re-training teachers, to be more proficient in whatever subjects that they are teaching so that students learning achievements would be higher, and subsequently, results would be better. Another strategy is to ensure the class is participatory. This means that students would not just be passive listeners, they would make their own contributions to make the class lively and learning becomes more interesting as well."

Ibrahim further explained: "cluster teaching involves bringing together all the teachers and re-training them. After re-training, we send them back to one zone. Not to their own schools, but other schools. We were also able to find out that some of them have deficiency in some areas of their subject. For instance, there are some of them who are very good in English, but not so good in Mathematics. We did this with the present SS3 students. We started this student-teacher participation. In the class, the students as well as the teacher would be actively involved. We did this for about four weeks in Bwari axis. We have about 10 schools in Bwari. We monitored it and we were very impressed. The teachers even confessed that the cluster training was very refreshing and it really helped them improve on their teaching skills. They appreciated it. The students also were impressed. We discovered that a lot of students are running away from Mathematics, and that the problem is not with the subjects itself, but the way the subject is taught. After this cluster training, the questions that came from students were very encouraging, and you begin to wonder whether it is the same subject people run away from. We will continue this when our students finish their mock exams, then go to the other two zones," she explained.

At least, this is a noble way of encouraging students to concentrate in their studies to come out in flying colours in external examination. The negative impact of high failure rate robs off not only on the students and parents, but also on the school management and the nation at large.

The question is: why can't parents and care givers also tow this path, by encouraging extra lessons for their wards, instead of arranging machinery for them, even when they have not tested their brain? Some students write exams when they are even presumed to be too young to sit for it. Parents have become desperate and would stop at nothing to ensure they get all their papers even before clocking 16. The policy makers, especially the two examination bodies of WAEC and NECO are privy to the fact that some school authorities see nothing wrong in encouraging their students who are still in SS2 to write the external exams, basically designed for private students. Analysts have described this as a case of double standards in that, there are certain schools who frown at such move. In this category are most of the unity schools, who would prefer to arrange the period of their exams including the promotional exam at this period to check the bad practice of students sneaking out to write exams, when they are still sitting (regular) students in schools.

Another ugly development, which is rampant among private schools is the 'arrangement' with examination body officials, who connive with them to ensure excellent results were obtained at a sitting to attract more patronage to their schools. This remains the greatest undoing in the education sector. One is not unmindful of the fact that not all private schools are involved in such shady deals, but a good number of them are so desperate that they believe to remain in business and make maximum profit, they must surely get involved in examination malpractices. To them, it is only when students have 100 per cent success rate through any means that they would continue to enjoy good patronage from the students who want to be part of the magic wand but abhor the necessary hard work. To ones dismay, some of these schools are well known to WAEC/NECO officials, who are neck deep in corruption and would not act appropriately. The settlement syndrome is so pronounced that some private school owners would even boast and openly display their penchant for cheating. It is no longer news that teachers, inspectors, WAEC and NECO officials are partners in crime and real collaborators. Part of the most annoying scenario from the underlying factors, is the fact that the students who are practically poor academically in the class are seen brandishing 'their' excellent external WAEC/NECO result, which they must have obtained fraudulently. Such students would not allow other students willing to study to do that, they suddenly become arrogant and unruly even to their teachers.

2010/2011 West African Examination Council WAEC was so poor that Journalists had to challenge the body on the day it released the result, about what the body was doing to improve the performance of students because there was no improvement in the results. For Mr. Iyi Uwadiae, the exam body cannot help the situation except to provide the syllabus ahead of the examination. But he was quick to point accusing fingers at parents for the poor performance. Only 42 per cent of students, which represents 677,007 candidates of the 1,351,557 candidates that sat for the May-June 2010 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), obtained five credits and above.

Mr Uwadiae said only 534,841 candidates obtained six credits and above in the examination, while 337,071 candidates obtained credits in English language, Mathematics and at least three other subjects.

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) also said it has withheld the results of 77,168 candidates who sat for the May-June 2010 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE). Mr Uwadiae said the withheld results were owing to alleged involvement of the affected candidates in examination malpractice.

The council said that the results of 1,278, 843 of the 1, 351,557candidates who sat for examination were fully processed, while 72,714 candidates had few of their subjects still being processed.

"A total of 1,058,806 candidates, representing 78.33 per cent, have two credits and above, 936,470 68.84 per cent) have three credits and above and 806,583 (59.67 per cent) have four credits and above.

"Also, 677,007 candidates obtained five credits and above while 534,841 candidates (39.57 per cent) obtained six credits and above," he said.

He added that 451,187 candidates obtained credit and above in English Language while 560,974 obtained credit and above in Mathematics.

What every state, government agencies and school administrators should focus on is to device a noble means of improving students' performance in not only external, but internal examination, which is the window to the external examination. Just like the Lagos State government has taken the step to beef up learning activities and also re-training teachers to be efficient, others states could do so as to wipe this shame of massive failure among secondary school leavers. The culture of burning the midnight candle must be inculcated into students, because as the saying goes; no pain, no gain, and nothing good comes easy. There is joy in holding ones' result high with boldness, and this could only be possible if you have burnt candle in preparation for the examination. Government should not relent in their effort at providing necessary materials and provide more libraries to encourage students. It would take collective efforts to fight and win the mass failure war in Nigeria.