The dirty little secret behind the 100% success of most Cameroonian school in the GCE
“Doing nothing gets pretty tiresome because you can’t stop and rest”
A year ago, in the month of June, I took part in a wedding ceremony at the CBC. Its reception held at the congress hall and as an early comer, I was opportune to sit beside a guy (fellow guest) called Jonathan. As we waited for the other guests to arrive and occupy their seats, Jonathan and I started talking and in less than no time, we zeroed in on the GCE. He was a GCE candidate that year and I was amazed at his courage –lack of fear to give up a Saturday evening, wherein he could be studying intensively to attend marriage reception. That amazement nonetheless was short-lived, for, in the course of our conservation, he disclosed that: the subjects he had written prior to our conversation had all leaked and he was privy to have received them 24 hours before they went viral –giving him ample time to prepare. And that as we spoke, he already had the question papers for the next subject (which was his last subject) to be written the coming Monday. He had an appointment with his geography teacher the next day –Sunday for a final revision and answering of the questions he had received. Hence, no reason to sweat over his Saturday evening.
He clearly didn’t fathom my angst as he kept on disclosing these dirty secrets, but I had to maintain some sense of equanimity to dig up as much information as I could. We rounded the conversation off when he allowed me to look into the questions he was talking about, I memorized them and was bent on verifying if that is what actually came. That Monday I stumbled on a group of candidates who had just written the exam, I enquired from them what had been set, they showed me the question paper for that day and as I perused the question paper, I realize that just like in a fairy tale, Jonathan was right from start to finish. The same question paper he showed me two days ago, was the same question paper I held in my hands. I was shocked.
A few days later, I met an acquaintance on his way to the game house. Unlike Jonathan, this acquaintance called SIMCARD was in a state of angst and regret. As I spoke with him – still about the GCE, he confessed that he had received the leaked question paper for the subject he just wrote which was the English language. I feigned rejoice and gave an ironical comment about his eventual success in that particular subject. SIMCARD wasn’t particularly cheered by what I said but disclosed that he knew he was going to fail. when I asked him why? His reply was, he only received the questions at midnight, meanwhile, others received it a day or days before earlier – leaving him no time to adequately prepare or devise a clever strategy for success. Hence, he wasn’t going to fail because of the absence of question papers, but due to their delay.
I sat down to write this article a year ago but failed to do so, I felt that someone with a bigger outlet, who had noticed and done much more research on the topic was going to do so, but no one has – as far as I can tell. This year it got worse, it wasn’t just one random guy from a marriage telling me how the GCE was encouraging his success through social media. Or rather, an acquaintance who didn’t want to study in order to pass but relied on early question leaks to succeed. This year the phenomenon scaled, it became systematized and there was cheating at centre levels, school levels & social media levels just to name these. This piece is the result of my conversation with those who were either helped or hurt by the cheating, my listening to private conversations, my joining of WhatsApp groups run by students where GCE questions get leaked and a lot more.
In the sections that follow, you’re going to see how a school masterminded cheating, the impact of WhatsApp during the GCE, the bright and dark side of cheating and some possible solutions.
The road to 100% at the GCE: case study X Yaoundé.
Among the many GCE centres in Yaoundé is a school called X (X is a coded word). Their success rate the last two years has experienced an astronomical growth – spellbinding a good number of students, both far and near to scramble in desperation, in an attempt to join them. This year an amazing truth about this rapid success came to light – during this year’s GCE, an invigilator and teacher of the said institution was touring the Centre in supervision while the exam was being written. As he paced up and down, looking through the window glasses, he noticed something strange – something very, very strange; his colleague, a fellow teacher in X was seated in the examination hall writing the exam for a subject he taught. This struck the invigilator, but the first thought that came to his mind was that his colleague was probably rewriting the exams to improve his grades, and that his years of teaching might have made him wiser – so he thought. But as he focused his attention to the required-name section, only then did he realize that his colleague was taking the exam for someone else. It wasn’t his colleague’s name that was on the paper in order words, and that meant that a teacher – his colleague was partaking in exam fraud, in broad day light.
Why would a teacher do such a thing in the same school he teaches? It’s dumb. Three ex-X students narrated the event to me and went really deep into the details, so all I’m doing here is relaying the facts as they gave them to me. But before I continue, let’s have a quick look at how this happens because as you will notice in a moment this is not just an isolated case, but a whole fraud-enterprise, subsuming a host of schools and teachers. This teacher was just the unlucky one, there are many who have and currently still do what he did in and out of X, but the reason I chose X is because they are experts in the domain and they experienced their 99th day as thieves. Let me work you their process.
Step 1 Selection
Before the GCE registration process, X makes the students in examination classes go in for a pre-mock (exam), and like most schools, those slated to write the GCE as regular (internal) candidates under the X center are those who make it in the pre-mock. Reason being that X like most schools are striving for 100%, and to do that, you sometimes have to apply the strategy analogous to; “having the right passengers first before the bus takes off is the best way to have a successful journey.” Hence, the chosen ones are those who will give them the desired outcome and they are generally between 20 – 30 % of students.
Step 2 Options auction
Once step 1 is done the school out of its avarice will invite students who failed woefully during the pre-mock exam and whose cases seem hopeless that is between 50 – 60% of the class to a secret meeting. During this meeting the administration often confesses to the students or their representatives their probable fate at the upcoming exam – which is failure. Once this is done, they suggest 3 possible solutions in the form of bundles:
Bundle 1: Pay a fine between 10,000 – 30,000 FCFA to get the GCE questions a day or some hours before it is being written
Bundle 2: Pay a fine between 50,000 – 75,000 FCFA to have someone who has made it already take the exam for you
Bundle 3: Pay a fine between 90,000 – 150,000 FCFA to have teachers take the exams in your place.
Step 3 Picture switch
At this stage that the registration proper of the GCE, if you chose bundle 1, then you have no preferential treatment at this phase. For those who opted for option two & three, you are required to bring your GCE requirements, and the person who shall be writing the GCE for you, for picture taking. The person writing for you is the one whose face will appear on the timetable – a document necessary for your entrance into the examination hall. This is a loophole in the GCE because the certificates issued after success have no section for photos, making this loophole usable by those who write for others.
Let’s say for the sake of example that you have a brilliant friend in the university and you want him to take the GCE for you, all you have to do, is bring him along, register as you but let him take the picture in your place, some even go as far as exchanging pictures in ID card recipice’s such that the paid writer will do the complete registration without being noticed. Then the day of the exam he/she gets a free pass to the hall as everyone else.
Step 4 Execution
During the writing of the exams it is alleged that most centers especially X, experienced a shortage of exam question papers. What do you think happened to these question papers? The truth is opening a sealed document is gradually getting tougher and tougher, so what these centers do is to steal the whole envelope. These questions are then distributed (mostly in picture form – WhatsApp) to those who signed up for bundle 1, most of the times with answer and supplementary sheets, so that they can answer back at home, go to the hall and pretend as if they’re writing and just pass their papers like everyone else without being noticed.
In some cases, if the teacher feels the need to make more money, he will organize an extraordinary revision class to answer these stolen questions.
Step 5 Celebration
After the GCE has being writing the game players (teacher, students and parents) will all immerse themselves into some form of patient enthusiasm, awaiting the proclamation of the results. Unlike candidate of prior years, current candidates like those described above hardly feel any exam fear, they are generally bold and enthusiastic about the results – as you already know there is no reason to be scared. The day the results are released, calls are being made among the groups concerned, more money is being given to the masterminds for the job well done and at that point, two things happen; (1st) the truth leaking by the dumb students who can’t conceal the truth about their success and also, publicity to future writers who seek to succeed that joining them is the safest and surest way. (That’s how I got most of the info for this piece)
Back to our story, after seeing his colleague in the act, the invigilator rushed to the superintendent to report what was happening. The superintendent was conversing with the principal, but that still didn’t stop him, he blurted the whole truth out and that’s when trouble began. The bystanders on the spot were other students, policemen and invigilators. The superintendent was in utter panic and probed to find out what was happening and he immediately realized that the whole center was rigged and the principal was part of the game. It is at that point that he called for the police and ordered for the arrest of X’s principal. Nonetheless, another strange event took place, the principal spoke to the hearing of everyone who cared to listen, accusing the superintendent of having taken part in the whole fiasco in previous years and it wasn’t because he had declined partaking in it this year that made him a saint. He ended up swearing that he would make every other teacher go safe, but if he was going to fall – the superintendent was going down with him.
In a nutshell that is what happened leading to the arrest of X’s principal, but sadly as it may sound, that isn’t the end of the story.
Imagine for a second that what I just described is not a bug, but a feature of the GCE writing in our country. Other students of other schools who happen not to be of X have their own cheating methods. If you happened to have been around someone writing the GCE especially this year, you probably realized that every night as they were busy studying for the exam they had their phones beside them. The phones weren’t acting as distractors like some parents thought, but rather as shortcuts to success; because at any given time a question could leak and help you be specific on what you were studying. Students developed a name for this, and that is WhatsApp GCE. WhatsApp GCE has a number of characteristics, some of which are:
Connectivity: Insert yourself in as many student WhatsApp groups as possible and always be connected to receive leaked questions. Friendship have friends that are highly connected to circles in which questions are likely to be leaked. Specko-loving: always have your eyes and ears open for specko (consensus on what will be set in the exam) these are sometimes disguises given to leaked questions.
During the GCE this a guy went into the hall with full confidence thinking his specko was going to be set; but when he took the question paper to see what was set, he realized that he had it all wrong – he then exclaimed to the hearing of everyone “Jesus behind me, specko don bounce”. Unfortunately for him what he prepared for wasn’t what came in the exam. This is to expose the fact that specko is not always 100% true. Hence, out of X, you still have to work your face off.
Before the disclosure of the verdict passed on the principal, let me run a thought experiment with you. This experiment is aimed at answering one single question: when is exam cheating not bad? In what circumstances can we judge exam cheating permissible? But before I proceed, let me please ask you to drop your moral compass; enter this new section with a fresh mind and let’s see how it goes.
When cheating is not bad or better still understandable
In every exam we are being given a set of problems to solve. Most of these problems/ questions are often on paper; but there is another type of problem that others are often much more focused solving, the problem of going against the rules – without being caught. From this initial analysis of mine, let me suggest a definition of Cheating in an exam hall as the exercise of solving a different problem than that asked on the paper but which gets you closer to your goal of exam success that is breaking the rules without getting caught.
Have you ever heard of names like Gary Koon CEO of Golden Sachs, Richard Braxton CEO & founder of Virgin, Jacob Weisberg & Brian Grazer? Just to mention these. Most of them are billionaires and super successful individuals – following the modern and conventional definition of success.
Two things are widely known about them which are:
First, they are all dyslexic (a difficulty with reading and writing caused by the brain being unable to see the difference between some letter shapes); secondly, despite the disability mentioned above they were all successful in school.
As I listened to them talk about their childhood, I noticed that they were patterns in their stories, especially the chapter of their school lives. This is how the childhood story usually goes:
“I always thought I was a kid like the others, until I went to school. As most kids my age made progress, learning words and numbers, I always felt left behind. It was as if I was cursed, when my peers started reading sentences, and paragraphs, I never made the shift from words. It was a night mare in my years in secondary school (Cameroon standards) and unlike my peers, it often took me two days to read two pages of a book. My parents and society in those years (1960’s and 70’s) didn’t know what was wrong with me. There was no medical term for what was wrong with me, all they knew about me was I was a failure, since education was the only standard by which someone was assessed back in the days.
Nonetheless, that plight didn’t last long I couldn’t give up in a system that had given up on me, so I devised a strategy that saw me through school till college. I can’t tell when I masterminded this, but I know it was a system I used in every new class I went to each year. So what was this system?
Whenever I enter a new class I don’t behave like everyone – my first task is always to spot the most intelligent person in the room. Once I’ve spotted that person, I make sure I sit beside him/her. I do this so that when exam gets tough, since it is always tough on me he/she will assist me.
The second thing I do is to multiply my chances that is I make friends with other smart kids in the room. As we become friends and they become aware of my situation, they end up doing my assignments for me.
The third thing I do is meet the teacher. Since, the first two strategies sometimes might not work, I often go and meet my teachers and negotiate with them, telling them how my situation is doomed and if they love me they would give me an average – but pass mark. Which they begrudgingly always did”
So that is how these successful guys, made it through school by breaking the rules. As you would already know their cases were different, they were people with disabilities and guess what? That cheating gave them skills that made them billionaires. What do I mean by that? Revisit this story keenly with me and notice the vital skills acquisition
Spotting the wise people: it is a gift to enter a room and know who the wisest person is, these guys all built companies and had to recruit and sometimes find partners to do business with, so who do you think they picked? The wise guys of course, since it was already an easy task. Delegation: the second skill they learnt was a leadership skill and that was the art of delegating difficult tasks to other individuals; in their companies, all they did was delegate the time consuming tasks. Negotiation: the last skill they learnt early on was that of negotiation. By convincing their teachers to give them passed marks they didn’t deserve, they learnt the amazing skill of negotiating with people and getting what they want.
When you contrast this with what is happening in Cameroon you will notice that the outcome of this systemic cheating has no benefit. The outcome is it make students dull and undeserving. There is no way we can judge what is happening in Cameroon as an understandable cheating, simply because even by my charitable definition the students are not the ones solving the tough question but teachers.
Public exams like the GCE have for years had a high regard, rubbing its image to the mud kills everyone, both those who passed through it and those who still are. We hardly rejoice at the mention of someone’s success in the GCE these days instead, we have an antipathy for those who excel and disregard for those who fail. There is this line which is gradually getting popular “If you don’t pass in these years where the exams is so cheap and easy to pass – then you’re case is really serious”. The system and security the GCE once put in place cannot compete with modern cheating methods, hence, the GCE has to upgrade its standard.
Some quick things the GCE Board should consider
- Adding pictures on examination timetables and synchronizing it with certificates where they ought to appear
- The board should add video cameras to zones in which the question papers are being stored
- Enter student WhatsApp groups and try to monitor the source of leakages
- The board should pay special attention to centers that have 100% in the blue. 100% should sound an alert.
All these measure as we all know won’t curb cheating but it will make it much more difficult, which is a victory. The government should remember our initial quote for it goes to both the board and students “Doing nothing gets pretty tiresome because you can’t stop and rest”
Did you get through this long article? If yes please in the comment section below and please suggest possible solutions to the GCE fraud, and how we can make the exam better.
Leslie Michael ACE
Wow! Great investigative piece, Leslie. This is an eye opener and solution seeking. People with great moral rectitude be assigned the tasks of superintending
Thanks for your suggestion Mr Awoh. We are all touched by what is happening and hope the powers that be may see our earnest strive to make things better
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I took out my Saturday to run binge-read articles on different topics. Needless to say, I was drawn quite instantaneously to your Title: How Schools Cheat. My immediate reaction was what? But I decided to let you take me down that path, like a fish carried away by heavy tides. I am an Educationalist and at the end of your piece, I am so appalled at what my colleagues in that Institution did. How I wish I could meet or chat with one of them to get their motivations. I love teaching and I can’t understand why those who embark on such a professional trip will do so void of love for it. I have been so informed by this that I guess I will use it for more reasons than you intended The Untold. I wish you write something about education sometime soon. I know you flow from one topic to the other as your freewill directs you, but if ever you decide to touch such a topic again, I will be your guess for any advice, resources, recommendations or condemnations.
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