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Dishonesty: A new Core Subject in many Ghanaian Schools

…Somber Reflections by Fr. A. B.C.

PREAMBLE: From 25th to 30th April, 2022, the Association of Catholic Heads of Higher Institutions (ACHHI) held her National Conference in Navrongo. The theme for the Conference was “Examination malpractices in Ghana: A challenge to national development”. I was at that Conference and that is the trigger for this reflection.

EXAM MALPRACTICE IN GHANA: It is now common knowledge that exam malpractice is rampant in Ghana. In other words, there is hardly anyone in Ghana today who does not know that exam malpractice is the order of the day. Even though this may be a rather sweeping statement, I maintain that it is true. It does no good to pretend that all is well in this regard. An elephant cannot hide in a room. The cancer of exam malpractice in Ghana is wide, deep and extensive, thriving at all levels of education in Ghana— from basic schools all the way into our universities. Only a few schools are still standing up against this malaise in our education delivery.

Ask anyone who is connected in any way to education in Ghana—as parent, teacher, student, or just an interested observer—and you will hear disturbing stories about what is going on in our schools when it comes to assessing students. Managers of our education and administrators of our exams cannot claim ignorance—or innocence. They are fully privy to what is going on. Sadly, exam malpractice is no longer seen as the offensive conduct we have all always construed it to be. It is now commonplace and common practice; it has gained both notoriety and wide acceptance. It is as if that is what everyone is expected to do to move on in life. Those who refuse to join in this dastardly practice are viewed as strange or foolish— or worse. They are seen as threats that need to be eliminated. Upright educational leaders are judged and condemned as unhelpful to students. They are threatened and made to suffer physically, psychologically or otherwise. A school Head (at the ACHHI Conference referred to above) said—jokingly, but not unreasonably—that Government should consider paying school Heads “exam malpractice risk allowances”. The fact is that educational leaders in Ghana today are exposed to risk and threats if/when they try to stem the tide of exam malpractice.

EXAM MALPRACTICE IS NAKED DISHONESTY IMPARTED IN OUR SCHOOLS: There is no way to describe exam malpractice than that it is dishonesty, purely and simply. The fact that it has gained this level of spread and acceptance does not change its identity. Exam malpractice, in all its forms, is “cheating to pass exams”.

My contention is that many schools in Ghana no longer fight exam malpractice. They have lost the fight and thrown in the towel. The tide of exam malpractice became too strong and turned into an avalanche that threatened their comfort or very existence and so they had to give way.

I contend, further, that far from fighting exam malpractice—many schools now encourage it, for various reasons. These reasons are many, varied, and usually damning. Given time, I may do a sequel to this reflection on some of these reasons. Just a little teaser, though: Schools—especially the so-called Grades A and B schools—are under pressure; parents are under pressure; students are under pressure; managers of education are under pressure; politicians are under pressure. The last two are under pressure especially in regard to the state of the Free SHS. More anon.

Finally, and concluding from the foregoing, I contend that many Ghanaian children learn dishonesty at school, just as they learn English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. It is as if dishonesty has become a new core subject. This is why I gave that curious title to this write-up. Let me illustrate. I am at a school complex in Chamba (Nanumba North Municipality) that includes KG up to SHS. In April, during the end-of-term exams, several primary school pupils were caught in exam malpractice. Some had writing on their thighs while others were hiding pieces of paper with written answers on them. They were then hiding and referencing the writing in their attempt to answer the exam questions. Now, we are very strict about these things at our school complex, so we could not help asking the following questions in relation to this incident: How did these children come by this idea to cheat? Who taught them that dishonesty is the way to success? Who gave them those answers to bring into the exam hall? If some people did, how did they get the questions in the first place? Did the persons involved in all this matter consider that they were doing something wrong? Were these children aware that they were engaged in a wrongful act? If not, were they not being schooled that that is the right way to go about things? Would such children not go through school convinced that dishonesty is actually the smart way to proceed in life? I dare say that this is the kind of orientation that many of our Ghanaian children are currently receiving in our schools. Honesty no longer pays. Dishonesty is the means to success, and the end justifies the means.

SOME CONSEQUENCES AND CONCLUSIONS: The picture I have painted is somewhat bleak. However, if we attach some measure of accuracy to it, we must begin to accept that we cannot sidestep certain consequences and conclusions. If exam malpractice is so widespread, how did we allow ourselves to get to this point? Since we all looked on while successive generations of school goers continued to slip down the scale of honesty, we all have to accept responsibility—in the varying degrees of culpability— and begin to consider how we can redeem the situation. If we don’t want the world to laugh at us, we must begin to do something about this problem. It does no good to blame the problem on those who point it out, like I am trying to do here. We are all part of the problem.

In summary form, we can identify some consequences and draw some conclusions from the mess we have created for ourselves. They are many but I will mention those that readily come to mind, in no particular order of importance:

  1. Our academic credentials are fast becoming suspect and would no longer carry weight or command respect, even within the country. (“You got 8 A1s, so what; how did you get them?“)
  2. Our students are losing motivation, impetus and interest in learning. If they can pass without acquiring the required knowledge, why bother to study? Consequently, academia or academic excellence would no longer attract many. Bottom line, we are grooming intellectually lazy students/youth.
  3. We are also grooming a work force that would be lazy and unproductive. Our workers will focus on the salary and not the work. The orientation acquired in school will be brought into working life.
  4. There would be shortage of principled professionals. For example, our security forces will be populated by persons who can easily be induced to misapply their power for crooked interests—unprofessionally. Even our hitherto respectable armed forces will have a price.
  5. We are building our country on sand, not on solid foundations of high integrity.
  6. Our fellow countrymen and countrywomen that we call our leaders will negotiate deals with other countries and international enterprises on our behalf. Sadly, we will realize that they do not have the moral strength and integrity to get us fair deals. As a result, we are rich but will remain poor.
  7. Meritocracy will no longer have meaning in our homeland, the way things are going. We will have many square pegs in round holes—much more than before.
  8. Everyone is being assigned a price. People no longer hesitate to approach anyone with a dishonest deal. (It’s like we are all so steeped in dishonesty that honest dealing is no longer expected from anyone.)
  9. Morality is thrown to the dogs. In place of seeking to do the right thing, what we now have is: succeed by any means; get rich quick; take advantage of anyone and everyone if that helps you get what you want.
  10. We are getting emboldened and hardened in our crookedness. No lie is too big or too despicable or too farfetched. Even when caught red-handed, we are not ashamed to lie through our teeth. Lying is the order of the day—just like exam malpractice itself.
  11. No criminal thinking is too outrageous. Planning to kill and actually killing fellow human beings is no longer any big deal. The effort to cover up murder engages people’s sensibilities more than the murder itself. “Thou shalt not be caught.” Just be ready with clever lies, distortions, corruption of investigating officials, etc. and you are okay.
  12. Family life is being affected: Husbands will cheat on wives and wives will cheat on husbands. In their dealings, there will be dishonesty between Mom and Dad and children will imbibe this dishonesty; they will then get it reinforced in school, then pass it on to their own children—and the cycle continues.
  13. Our leaders will be misleaders: Our politicians and public servants will be corrupt and dishonest. Our pastors and religious leaders will be devious and deceitful opportunists.
  14. With time, there will be only few honest people left to lead the charge. We stand to lose the battle.
  15. Etc. Add your own…

Some may think that linking exam malpractice with all these ills is farfetched. Well, I do not. The harm we are inflicting on ourselves now and on future generations by allowing and promoting exam malpractice is incalculable. We need to ask ourselves some questions: Is this what we want? Is this the kind of society we should be contributing to build? Is this the country we can be proud of?

If you think that society is moving in the wrong direction and you are as unhappy as I am about it, let us team up to fight the teaching and imparting of dishonesty to our youth in Ghanaian schools by pushing to eliminate exam malpractice in our schools.

(Rev. Dr. Camillo Abatanie Bonsuuri is a Catholic and Headmaster of Holy Spirit Senior High School, Chamba.

Email: cbonsuuri83@gmail.com

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