Members of United Methodist Women in the Sierra Leone Conference have embarked on an anti-cheating campaign at United Methodist schools.
Cheating on high school exit exams is a national problem that has plagued the country for decades.
Led by Ethel Sandy, UMW coordinator, the women formed a team in June to engage students at United Methodist schools on the dangers of cheating on exams.
At Bishop Baughman United Methodist Church Primary School, Sandy told the students that the women were there because they were concerned for the future.
“You are the foundation of Sierra Leone. It is on you we depend for Sierra Leone to develop (so) that Sierra Leone will continue to be a great country in the name of Jesus,” she said, to a loud “Amen.”
“But we have noticed that you people don’t want to study. You prefer to cheat … I have a message for you: This is a Christian school. It is a United Methodist Church school and, fortunately, you’re sharing the compound with the church. That means that the Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is among you. Don’t cheat on exams.”
Many hands went up when she asked how many of the young people wanted to be doctors or lawyers. That was not the case when she asked how many wanted to go to jail.
“Nobody wants to go to jail?” she asked.
She then reminded the children that those who cheat were likely to go to jail.
“We are no longer joking with cheating,” she said.
A similar message was repeated at other United Methodist schools around Freetown.
Speaking at Albert Academy, a United Methodist high school for boys, Sandy told the students that the church and United Methodist Women were disturbed by what is going on in the country.
“We are taking this time as your mothers to go around and talk to you because we are concerned. … Cheating does not benefit you at all. What it does is, it shows that you are a fool. If you become an engineer through cheating and get a degree that you cannot defend, are you not a fool?”
She said that is the reason that the country is where it is today. “Certain people infiltrated our learning institutions and came out with certificates that they do not merit. They today occupy positions that they cannot handle well,” she said.
Winifred Kpange, head teacher at Goderich United Methodist Primary School in rural western Freetown, likened the cheaters to thieves.
“One who cheats in an examination is a rogue, a thief who is stealing knowledge that they do not have. … Cheating therefore cannot benefit the student. It only gives them a wrong sense of achievement,” she said.
Kpange explained how some children rely on relatives in secondary schools and universities to do their work for them. Right from primary school, the children are encouraged to be lazy, she said. Then, when it is time for testing, they cheat because they haven’t been studying.
According to results published Sept. 2 by the West African Examinations Council, over 95% of Sierra Leonean students who took the 2019 West African Senior School Certificate Examinations failed to score high enough to meet university requirements. The scores are the worst in at least three decades.
Only 3.4% — 4,000 out of 115,098 students — who took the exams scored the five credits needed to be admitted into universities.
Key among the reasons for the dismal test scores, many believe, is a government crackdown on institutionalized examination malpractices.
Fourteen persons, including candidates and test supervisors, accused of examination malpractices in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations faced court action June 26 in Freetown. The individuals from the Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood Secondary School and Albert Academy were standing trial for cheating and riotous conduct, among other charges.
Albert Academy Principal Morie Aruna said four of the school’s teachers, who were supervising the exams, were involved in the case.
In September 2018, the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission raided a building in western Freetown in the largest suspected examination malpractice ring in the country in recent years, where they arrested 71 suspects.
It was alleged that the candidates for that year’s exams were rewriting tests at night. The raid, a joint operation with the Sierra Leone Police, arrested examination candidates, teachers and some West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations staff.
According to Anti-Corruption Commission press releases, there have been two raids this month involving the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations, one at a secondary school in eastern Freetown and another at two private homes.
As students return for the new academic year this week, United Methodist Women plans to resume its campaign. Sandy said the group will travel upcountry to reach more United Methodist schools in the provinces.
After the school tour, the next step is meeting with community/teacher associations.
“We will take part in their parents-teachers association meetings. There we will talk to the parents, because the bad practice starts with the parents because they condone it,” Sandy said.
“We will let the parents know the real worth of education — that education is founded on the bedrock of truth and honesty.”
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
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