Public examinations in Sierra Leone: Public perception and the truth

Ibrahim Sheriff: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 September 2019:

When results of the 2019 WASSCE examinations were announced in Sierra Leone, they were received with mixed perceptions.  Some say that public exposure of the results was very bad for the country. Some say it was good for the country.

Those who perceived the results as bad for the country attributed their perception to the fact that the massive failure in the exams negatively exposes the country to ridicule and public shame, especially to other countries where the exams took place; and to the international community who now see Sierra Leone as a country of lazy teachers and students.

They also perceived the massive failure as a loss to the candidates of the exams and their parents, as they have spent huge sums of money to get their children to the point of taking the WASSCE exams.

Sierra Leoneans who perceive the massive WASSCE failure as a good thing, attribute their perception to the fact that the lack of quality education is one factor that has hugely contributed to the decline, degeneration and stagnation of the state of Sierra Leone.

They believe that corruption in the education sector is endemic and sophisticated to the point that, the dangerous ploy needed exposure to properly understand the graveness of the situation.

They also think that until the issue of human capacity development through education is addressed as presented and undertaken by Government, that Sierra Leone as a nation will continue to go down the drain. So they think that issues associated with the plunging state of education in Sierra Leone must be exposed, to clearly see how deeply the problem has become.

These are honest and genuine perceptions of Sierra Leoneans over the issue of examination malpractices and the subsequent massive failures in the WASSCE results.

As the Communications Specialist for the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, I have had my own experiences with these exams too.

I was a witness to the rude and violent crowd of students of the Muslim Brotherhood school who were pelting education officers and monitors with stones for not allowing them to spy in the WASSCE exams. Officers had to run for their lives.

There have been instances where heads of schools and principals are extorting money from parents, even though they receive school subsidies enough to smoothly run their schools.

Though Government has banned syndicate classes and examination camps on school premises, teachers, heads of schools, principals and some parents are conniving to create camps in homes where issues such as rape, teenage pregnancies and examination malpractices are organized and perpetrated.

When one calculates how much money teachers, heads of schools and principals make each time these exams are on, you see the reason why only heavy handedness can attempt to tackle the sophistication of academic crime.

A parent willingly pays about Le600,000 for one subject to be taken either by a proxy candidate; or questions specific to that subject to be answered by a group of teachers placed in special rooms for that parent’s child.

So if a child is to pay for 8 subjects, that equals to Le4,800,000.

Now consider if a school is carrying out the crime for say 100 students. That particular school, with the help of the principal and senior members of the school receiving help from outside groups, make about Le480,000,000 (US$51,343) approximately.

That is a lot of money to be made in a single shot. So one can see how sophisticated and lucrative the crime has become.

As the Ministry charged with the responsibility of successfully implementing the Free Quality School Education (FQSE), our job is to ensure that the four core components of the President’s flagship program are upheld and enforced at all times.

The components of access, equity and completion, quality and relevance, “Integrity”, and system Strengthening are part of the package. Through social mobilization, radio and TV discussions, training, workshops and other means of public engagements, the Ministry has communicated to all stakeholders about the determination of government to use education as a spring board for improving our human capacity.

Hence, the government can stop at nothing to hold violators to account for their actions when they violate any of the rules surrounding the components or the entire program.

When culprits are caught, the Ministry is required to hand them over to law enforcement and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for further processing of the law. What both law enforcement and the ACC decide to do with culprits falls outside of the control of the Ministry.

At any rate, Sierra Leoneans, including those of us working at the Ministry must be happy that the country is moving in the right direction, where we are determined to continue to uncover deceptive actions that have held our country in stagnation; where a Sierra Leonean who assumes passing a WASSCE exam cannot defend his/her results; where a University graduate cannot write a simple letter; where people are employed in offices based on their academic qualifications, but who have no idea how to operate such offices, etc.

These criminally manipulated deception perpetrated by fellow Sierra Leoneans within and outside the education sector, has eaten into the fabric of our nation, and we must use radical approaches to fight its sophistication.

This, is in no way a supporting view or a condemnation of the action of the ACC or law enforcement on the public display of alleged perpetrators of examination malpractices in Central Freetown on September 9th, 2019.

Some people maintain that examination malpractices are as old as far back as the 1970s, so why stop it now. We are better aware and understand now than ever before, that examination malpractices are a deception and a catastrophe to any nation which condones them unabated.

There comes a time when it must stop so as to allow our country to grow. And that time, is now.

About the author

Ibrahim Sheriff is communications specialist in the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Freetown, Sierra Leone.


  1. This is a war we are fighting as a country. The only way we can win is to get everyone on the same page, being the students, teachers, parents and even the government. We need to imbibe the mindset of success into these students. We have to engage them with the right materials and in every platform possible. We have to give listening ears to the students: what is their cry? What are they lacking? How can they get themselves best prepared for these exams? Exams should be fun for students not intimidating or freighting. We need talk shows in school, social media. We need symposiums, free lectures in mathematics and English language. We need to act fast now because these massive failures are eating up our future.

  2. It doesn’t matter if this is an old fashioned practice, but it’s now ACC wants to be in action to stop such bad habits. I for one support the idea. The exam they are talking about, I took 1984 and never made it. But I did it the second time and with hard work I made it. So what’s wrong with our children nowadays? Do they want stuff the simple way while taking themselves to their bad lifestyle? Drinking and partying in bars and other places. Bravo ACC for your good job exposing rough team of teachers.

  3. I am a university professor in another African country where the quality of education is high. Teaching in a graduate school I had the opportunity of lecturing, setting up exams and grading students (three of whom were Sierra Leoneans). The Sierra Leoneans were granted scholarships by an African Research Institution. One had a First Class Honours Degree from FBC, the other had a Division 1 (Distinction) Degree from NUC and the third had a Second Class General Degree from FBC. Guess what? The first 2 failed the coursework component of the Masters Degree. The last with Second Class General Degree excelled.

    I was initially hesitant when the student scored an ‘A’ in the course that I taught. But after hearing that this student has scored three As and three Bs in other courses I asked why the excellent students have performed so badly. The answer is; the Second Class General Degree student worked for and earned the degree genuinely, while the others were given grades either because of their closeness to the lecturers, or buying their grades or sleeping with their professors. From their performances, graduate applicants from Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia with second class degrees were preferred to Sierra Students with First Class Honours Degree.

    International Educational Institutions have lost confidence in Educational Certificates from Sierra Leone. The credibility in our country’s educational system can only be restored by making sure that grades are merited and not bought. As Sierra Leoneans we should put our efforts together; from teachers and examination bodies (authorities) to examination candidates and parents to achieve the “Quality Education” which is on the agenda of the current President.

    Please be reminded that the current president’s leadership would long ended before the actual return on the policy of “Quality Education” is realised. Therefore, this message is a call on future presidential candidates to throw their weights behind this policy.

    Zimbabweans may have lost economic sanity in their country, but they are still the brain basket of Southern Africa. This is because Late President Mugabe did everything possible to ensure quality education in Zimbabwe.

  4. Education in Sierra Leone is poor since long time. I remember the GCE O LEVEl during the 90’s: very poor facilities; not even good teachers, because teachers were not being paid for long time. But we were very hard working students. We studied hard. But almost all the students failed english language with grade 9. What a shame.

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