One evening in September 1985, my heart did a somersault and landed on my tongue as I watched the 7pm news on GBC-TV. The GCE ‘O’ level results had been released and candidates could check from the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) the next day.
Of course, there were no mobile phones back in the day, and so, the option of texting via a short code to obtain one’s results was the stuff fantasies were made of. That night, I tossed and tossed in bed.
By 7am, the next day, I was on my way to the WAEC offices at Ridge. The short walk from the Ridge Hospital to the office was probably the longest of my teenage years. The yard was quite crowded, with many others nervously peering at the list of results that had been posted on the boards.
After some scanning, I finally settled on my results. Aggregate 14. Grade One. Relief! Thank God I was on my way back to my beloved OWASS for my 6th Form.
When a young relative called me the other day to inform me WAEC had released this year’s WASSCE results, but that he was too nervous to check his, my mind went back to my own nervousness as I approached WAEC’s offices 35 years ago.
After some gentle persuasion, he managed to gather the courage to check. His grades were decent.
I think that this year’s WASSCE results have been the most eagerly awaited of its kind in many years by parents, candidates and political watchers. The reason is not far-fetched.
This year’s candidates form the first cohort of the government’s flagship Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, which has seen fierce debate on either side of the political divide, especially as we approach the general election in less than a month.
The fundamental question is whether education quality has been adversely affected as the critics of the government posited. Interestingly, just before the release, scurrilous yet fake stories appeared on the media horizon, claiming that the performance was so poor that government was negotiating with WAEC to hold on to the results until after the election.
With the release, those shrilly claims have been stuck in many dry throats.
A brief analysis of the results seems to tilt the scale in favour of the government and provides clear justification for the programme, because on almost every single indicator, there has been an improvement in the scores.
For instance, in all the four core subjects,-English, Mathematics, Integrated Science and Social Studies, for which candidates must secure between A1 and C6 to secure a prospect of proceeding to tertiary education, the evidence shows credible performance, with English, for instance, witnessing an impressive jump from 49.06 per cent in 2019 to 57.22 per cent this year.
Mathematics, usually a challenge for many students, saw a 67.2 per cent performance rate, up from 64.23 per cent last year. Indeed, from a dismal 32.4 per cent of students getting between A1-C6 in Mathematics in 2015, the figure has crept up steadily over the years.
While Social Studies and Integrated Science saw a dip from last year, this year’s performance ranks creditably against that of earlier years.
Significantly, 2020 is the only year in the last six years that more than 50% of candidates have scored between A1 and C6 in each of the four core subjects.
When all the four core subjects are consolidated, the A1-C6 score stands at 40.73 per cent in 2015, climbing to 46.91 per cent in 2016. However, in 2019, the figure stood at 62.90 per cent and this year, it stands at 60.40 per cent.
Perhaps what is positive news in all of this is the fact that whereas before Free SHS, aggregate 36 was the cut-off point beyond which a BECE candidate would not be placed in any public SHS, the NPP government, under Free SHS, removed the cut-off point, leading to criticism that it was compromising quality education by so doing.
Preposterously, they even suggested such children should be farmed off into TVET to learn a trade.
In that context, the performance of the Akufo-Addo graduates, as they have become known, against those who entered SHS a few years ago with strict cutoffs in place is commendable.
From what I gather, which is yet to be established officially, many of the children who had average grades and yet gained admission to our top senior high schools under the 30 per cent equity policy for BECE candidates from public school backgrounds obtained decent grades, which goes to show, again, that interventions and remedial measures work to turn rough, uncut diamonds into polished, gleaming ones.
If the results tell us anything, it is that the fear expressed in some quarters that quality would be dumbed down due to the introduction of the Free SHS programme has not been made out this year, to the extent that the examination results are anything to go by in the quality education debate.
Of course, it took some hard work to ensure all of this. The several interventions government put in, including free core textbooks to every student, training for Science and Mathematics tutors in difficult topic areas, government-sponsored academic interventions for all students and support for low-performing schools, among others, appeared to have paid off to help improve these positive results, giving credence to the government’s argument that there is nothing like an innately dumb child, and that given the opportunities and the right support and intervention, a child is likely to perform creditably in school.
Particularly, given the destabilising effect of the postponement of the WASSCE weeks before it was due to start due to the COVID-19, the students’ performance ought to be applauded as mentally it unsettled them for about three months before they were able to return to school to prepare for the examinations.
On their return to campus to prepare for their examinations, the disease and its attendant concern must have weighed on those young minds, plus the fact of having to write all their papers in face masks.
Of course, there is more work to do to ensure that students achieve even better scores in the years ahead.
Clearly the government has every right to feel vindicated by the WASSCE results, and the Akufo-Addo graduates have reason to be proud of themselves. I wish them well in their future endeavours.