The Role of the WAEC in supporting educational reform

Educational reform makes school education relevant. In other words, in the absence of educational reform, the educational system becomes irrelevant in the sense that it no longer serves the needs of a changing society.

As the needs of society changes, the educational system must change along with it so that school education will continue to be relevant.

There are two things which are crucial to any educational reform. First, assessment strategies should change to relate the format of assessment and content to new instructional outcomes which form the subject matter of the educational reform. Second, teachers need to respond to the new ways of assessing student achievement in order to make instruction relevant.  This requires continuous professional development.

Students of today face a world that demands new knowledge and abilities.  Ghanaian students need to understand more than basic contents and are required to be able to think critically, analyse and make inferences. Consequently, there will be the need for changes in teaching practices in our schools. If teachers are to remain relevant in today’s world, then they must be ready to adapt to new practices in the classroom. So also do our teacher training institutions need to be ready to adapt to new educational practices or these institutions also stand the risk of being irrelevant.

The Need for Assessment Reforms:
A test is a special form of assessment. A test is administered to determine the extent to which instructional objectives have been achieved, thus assessment begins with a determination of instructional objectives. There is the belief that what gets assessed is what gets taught and that the format of assessment influences the format of instruction.

There is the need for assessment reforms. Assessment reforms is a means of assessing more appropriate instructional objectives or goals for students, focusing on staff development efforts for teachers, encouraging curriculum reform and improving instruction. 

Many assessments test facts and skills in isolation, seldom requiring students to apply what they know and can do in real-life situations. Tests can encourage the teaching of less important skills and passive learning by the way tests are designed. Tests of that nature need to change for teachers to focus on other important learning outcomes.

WAEC in educational reforms and teacher development

The West African Examination Council (WAEC) has a role in supporting educational reform and teacher development since the Council is involved in the large-scale assessment of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). What instructional objectives should be emphasised in these examinations? This question is a subject of assessment reform. 

Although basic skills may be important goals of education, they are often over-emphasised,  just because they increase test scores. There is now the realisation that minimums and basics are no longer sufficient and there is a demand for a closer match between the skills that students learn in school and the skills they will need in leaving school. Education is not only about teaching students what to know but also how to think.

The mandate of WAEC should be expanded to include a periodic evaluation of the educational system as far as effective teaching and learning are concerned. WAEC should help in the setting of standards for teaching and learning through its assessments and must be able to point to specific areas of teacher development which are needed to enhance teaching and learning to meet the demands of our times. 

Examination results can provide feedback for this purpose provided that test items are constructed with this in mind. The challenge to WAEC is to be able to design test items which will bring out what students can do and cannot do in different areas of learning, both in the content and cognitive domains. As far as possible, the situation will have to be avoided where test scores only signify relative performance on an unrelated collection of test items that measure no definable learning outcomes.

In the same way that WAEC writes yearly Examiners’ Reports to guide the answering of examination questions by students, WAEC should be mandated and resourced to write reports to guide teaching and learning. 

It is important to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning to ensure that the educational system remains relevant. Assessment reform is thus important. It has been noted that changes in assessment will cause teachers and schools to do things differently and school education will be more relevant to today’s world. WAEC itself stands the risk of being irrelevant in meeting the needs of today’s world.

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