Refuse to cooperate

One evening last week, I got a call from Christian, giving me his weekly update on school and life in general. He’s studying for WAEC exams in May that will decide his final results from secondary school and, hopefully, put him on track to attend university. I asked the usual boring questions about how hard he was studying and whether he was making the most of his time. Then, he mentioned that he was required to pay yet another fee and told me the amount.

Immediately, I was annoyed. When I paid his fees at the beginning of term, I was assured that there were no more fees, surcharges or anything else to come. The line was breaking up as he tried to explain the so-called ‘cooperation fee’ to me. “Who are we supposed to be cooperating with?” I asked, “And what do you get in exchange for this extra charge?” Before he could answer, the network failed completely and I was left confused. Sensibly, Chris sent the number of the vice-principal, suggesting that I call him for a better explanation.

The next morning, I called and spoke to a man whom I found hard to believe was educated, much less an educator. He struggled to explain but did make clear that his school would not benefit from this new demand. Instead, the money was going to a ‘committee’ of teachers and students. He ended the call abruptly, recommending that I call the principal if I wanted further clarification. Another number, another call and this time the person sounded like he could be a senior educator. He was more articulate and I began to get a clearer picture.

Principal: “It’s an external exam and can be difficult for the students, so we try to assist them as much as possible.”

Me: “What kind of ‘assistance’ are we talking about – mock exams or extra tuition?”

Principal: “Well… it’s more like assistance with the exam itself…”

Me: “You mean inside the examination hall? Isn’t that cheating?”

Principal: “Well…. we just try to help them with the answers, to make sure they pass…”

That was enough for me. I thanked him for being honest and told him that I would not be ‘cooperating’. In addition, I asked him to ensure that Christian would not be victimised for the lack of payment. I hung up feeling quite shocked. 

The next morning, I mentioned the incident to a colleague at work. “It’s normal,” she said, matter-of-factly. “There are lots of special ‘learning centres’ that guarantee exam passes for your children, as long as you pay the exhorbitant fees.” She went on to explain how these special schools helped both primary and secondary students to ace critical passing-out tests, by a tried and tested method – giving them the answers. In addition, they turned a blind eye to blatant copying and collaboration, as long as the children did it quietly. During her own time at school, she had been offered this service and turned it down. I guess there were some principles back then.

Slowly, it dawned on me that I had been so naïve. No wonder Christian’s relatives were so keen for him to switch, mid-year, from St. Patrick’s in Calabar and go to this new school. I was told that they had an excellent track record in preparing students for these exams and I agreed on that basis. Now I know why they came so highly recommended – they know how to cheat. 

Suddenly, some of my early experiences as an employer in Nigeria came flooding back. Back then, I could never understand how candidates, often with Master’s degrees, could appear so highly qualified on paper but be so hugely disappointing in the flesh. Inarticulate, with poor grammar and a tentative grasp on subject matter they were meant to be experts in, interviewing them was always a depressing experience. I can still remember the double-Master’s guy who was dumbstruck once we asked him to switch off his brilliant presentation and face our questions without referring to the slides. Then there was the ex-beauty queen whose thesis was a complete mystery to her, when I invited her to recall any aspect of what she had written to gain her degree.

Several years ago, when I decided to sponsor Christian, this shy young boy from a village high in the Obudu mountains, it was to give him a chance to succeed in life – but nothing was guaranteed. I would pay and he would study hard – that was the deal we struck. He’s had his challenges and I’m sure there are more to come, but he will have to learn that success cannot be bought and that you shouldn’t try to cheat your way through school or life. 

I have no idea what will happen in these upcoming exams but I pray that Christian is studying hard. The most important thing for me is that he tries his best and keeps trying until reaches his goal. I’m hoping he is learning that if someone offers you a shortcut through dishonest means, you should always refuse to cooperate. 

“The more people rationalize cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle. Because suddenly, if everyone else is cheating, you feel a need to cheat, too.” Stephen Covey

For more on Christian’s journey, read ‘Just do what you can‘ 

16 thoughts on “Refuse to cooperate

  1. It’s appalling what happens in these so called ‘miracle centres’. They are doing a great disservice to this Nation and destroying our future generation. Parents and guardians who patronize this practice are equally culpable. Government should clamp down on such centers and bring their owners to book. Until people get purnished for this evil, it will go on. The beneficiaries carry results they can’t defend. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!

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  2. I don’t often get a chance to read your blogs or reply in a timely manner. A damn shame because they are always intriguing & insightful, sometimes challenging & convicting. I too pray that Christian will rise above this insidious, jacked-up culture, & learn to savor the value of honest achievement based on one’s own efforts, even if success is not immediate.

    This is the second Nigerian protege in whom you’ve invested your time, advice & funds. I further pray that although we know you are disappointed, your desire & enthusiasm to help & facilitate opportunities for others will not be dampened.

    “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” – Gal. 6:9 (KJV)

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    1. Thanks Wayne. You remember how hard we worked to pass exams because that was the only way. Somehow, I will help Christian to navigate these treacherous waters, in spite of the pressures of the environment. It’s not even the cheating that bothers me, because that’s everywhere, but it’s just how normalised it has become. A special school for cheating that guarantees results for a fat fee? That’s just beyond me. Stay well. It’s great to see you on my blog!

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  3. Corruption has eaten deep into the country. My fear about 10years ago was not to allow it be seen as normalcy to the young. But it is so bad that corrupt parents also buy positions in class for their primary school kids. somethint I don’t understand. We really need a radical mental revolution in this country of mine.

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    1. Hi Michael, that’s my problem with all this. Children do foolish things – kids in my school in Jamaica tried to sneak bit of paper with answers into tests. That’s a worldwide and timeless phenomenon. However, when it’s teachers and parents at the forefront, my mind boggles.

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  4. On the contrary though. Miracle centres exist in Nigeria but are not ‘normal’. In most cases where such centres exist are rural areas where the people there have very poor orientation to education.

    Lazy and unqualified teachers are the main reason behind such practices as they do not wish to go through the stress of teaching these students who in most cases find it hard comprehending the Lingua Franca.

    In places such as Lagos where literacy is higher such centres are not as rampant and it is often easier for government to fish them out and shut them down in few cases. Most folks who require the services of such centres often opt to carry out their exams in neigbouring towns or states where the practice is tolerated.

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    1. Hi Michael, I would love for you to be right but it’s Lagosians who have told me the worst stories about this phenomenon. It’s more prevalent than you realise and, as a friend told me today, it happened when she was in Bible college. Go figure.

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  5. Well “special exam centres” have existed for quite a while, and I believe it will continue to exist for as long as influential and not so influential parents and guardians continue to pay for their lazy wards to pass exams.

    Initially, it used to be an exam subject leaking just before the commencement of an exam or maybe the night before the exam. However, for the very lazy students there was seriously no advantage whatsoever to them. I mean the time gap was still too short that failure was certain. Students in this category are used to other people doing everything for them, examination should not be an exemption. Hence the need for special centres. My guess is that “special centres” was invented to meet the need of parents who don’t see the reason why their wards should face the rigours of studying to pass exams; parents and guardians feed the system, at least at the secondary school level, that’s why it’s still there.

    My worry is that some hardworking students no longer see the need to burn the midnight candle when all one needs is a place in a special centre.

    And this generation are going to be the next parents: think about it.

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  6. I think your guidance and example of how to live a principled life will be one of the best lesson for him to learn in life. You doing a good job keep it up and dont let these unprincipled people get in your way.

    Charles

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  7. What is required is more parents need to talk to their children about academic dishonesty early in their lives.
    By cheating, Nigeria is creating a country without integrity. By Nigerians seeing cheating as not wrong, people will suspect all Nigerians as a cheating country. Why wouldn’t they? It’s no big deal.
    What about the Nigerian surgeon who cheats on her medical exams, or the aeroplane pilot that cheats in flight school? What of the teachers who cheat and don’t bother to grade the paper that one has worked on for weeks fairly, but instead just assigns a simple C? Nigerian parents must stop devaluing the education of their children and their children’s generation, as that has been done of their own.

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    1. You’re right but it’s more complicated than that. For example, what’s the role of teachers who profit from the system and induce both parents and students to cheat? How is it possible that centres for cheating thrive without any government intervention? Perhaps they pay a hefty fee to school inspectors from the Ministry of Education. Just yesterday, a friend told me about her experience at Bible school and the blatant cheating in exams, while the invigilator took a convenient ‘break’ outside the room. Parents should discourage their children from cheating but would have to take on the system to have any real and lasting effect.

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