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Nigeria’s Education Sector: Where Lies the Salvation?

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By Oriyomi Hope Marcellin (06-10-2015)

Recently, a former lecturer of mine whose child had performed poorly in an external/public exam rang me; obviously embittered, expressing how disappointed he was in a school’s “ridiculously poor” result in this year’s Basic Education Certificate Examination. He enquired: why would students perform “excellently well” in internal exams but do not justify the so-called feat in the ultimate external/public exams organized by National Examinations Council (NECO) and West African Examination Council (WAEC)? In my research as a stakeholder, I have had the ample opportunity to gather more facts about the many problems bedeviling our dear country’s education sector. I used the adjective “more” in the last sentence to imply that even before I had a formal platform in respect of the teaching profession, I had always been exposed to sorry situations of how decayed the education sector was and still is. It is therefore not illogical that, as it were, the generalizations here are provoked. As I did tell him, many factors have engineered and aided this disaster – factors that have been unfortunately taken for granted for years and, to my mind, may be impossible to effectively deal with now, except a sincere revolution in the sector is initiated.

To begin with and drawing strength from the rhetorical question: “if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do?”, no parent or stakeholder who has poor judgment of his/her child’s/ward’s academic foundation and monitored progress should expect successful performance for such child in external exams of the nature under consideration. The Basic Education Certificate Examination does not test candidates’ knowledge of only topics treated in the third year of junior secondary level but encompasses (especially) the three-year academic journey. Same applies to the senior school certificate examinations of both NECO and WAEC. And in judging how well students are actually performing and in advance should translate justifiably in external exams, a concerned parent-to-be teacher like me is never tempted to anchor this simply on internal examination results. A number of pertinent questions arise: What is the entry point like for these students? Were some standards not jettisoned? How has the students’ academic journey been like since the very first term? Are the topics, as dictated by the syllabi, well treated and appropriately completed? Are exams well invigilated and supervised? What sort of persons are the teachers and administrators in whose care students are? In all sincerity, can the parents actually say they care about their children’s academic progress? What mechanisms do they put in place to assess their input targeted towards enhancing their children’s education in the schools? Are candidates for external exams actually qualified to take the exams? How sincerely is the government attending to issues of inadequate personnel, teaching aids, motivations, training and capacity building? On the average, do teenager-students exhibit basic and good lines of reasoning commensurate to their ages – one of the vital ingredients to do well in (formal) education? For want of time and space, a few analyses should suffice as I do not expect my audience, who one way or the other are stakeholders, to be immature for the messages inherent in the rhetorical questions here and may want to benefit if they so hunger.

Arguably, larger percentage of teachers in private and public schools covers a group of frustrated persons who are neither not qualified in its true sense nor gifted and passionate about such undeniably noble career of the teaching profession. The phrase “in its true sense” as used raises a question such as: Is qualification simply determined by mere relevant certificates or should be further refined by sincere mechanisms put in place to critically examine veracity of claims? After all, we are witnesses of infected systems which produce questionable graduates who include holders of teaching qualifications. Besides, it is common knowledge that teaching is the commonest area of choice for so-called graduates who at least want to find consolation in being engaged in the meantime while they endlessly await better opportunities. As for those in the public schools who seemingly appear to be okay with teaching and would not want to leave, it is because they rather prefer a system which unjustifiably gives them opportunity to remain on the payroll and keep earning their cursed salaries while they explore other means at the expense of required commitment to their job. In that manner, they could not have survived in other systems where sanity reigns.

While I do not deny the contributory factor of motivation in engendering quality service-delivery in a system, I beg to disagree that its (seeming) non-consideration by the management of a school, be it with or without genuine reasons, should be a yardstick for teachers’ lackadaisical attitude toward their duties. There are form teachers who will not visit their students in order to relate with them, get to know their plight and communicate to appropriate channels. They in fact manufacture marks for students’ attendance; even marking present a truanted student who might not be in school for a week. There are subject teachers who won’t regularly go take their lessons and even when they do, dish out inadequate academic food unlike as required by the syllabi. They will not also attend to students’ questions and have consequently discouraged them from asking. Teachers set laughable questions for tests and exams because they do not want to give required time and mental energy to do otherwise. In giving of notes also, they will not be bothered about what students copy. And unfortunately too, such teachers ‘generously’ award students marks in order to fool unsuspecting stakeholders that their students are doing fine in their subjects. Many more instances abound and have been linked with lack of motivation as to why they thrive. Such teachers have no ethical and logical arguments in this regard for the fact that there are no known laws conditioning them to remain in the employ of government. After all, there are a few others in the same system who, in spite of similar challenges, still carry out their duties with clear conscience; and many more out there who, if given the opportunity, will not cheat the students in their care. It is even more annoyingly absurd that the so-called teachers, some of whom give better attention to their personal businesses which include private schools, at least smile to the banks for their salaries. Can one plant maize and expect to gather okra?

Apart from annoying instances of laziness, the mere fact that many of them cannot even operate a PC such as the laptop or desktop computers in order to enhance their job is already an insult on the profession, given the age we are. The so-called twenty-first century teachers cannot (effectively) surf the Internet, download or upload information or even word-process a simple document and print, in spite of the fact that they must have, somehow, been exposed to IT workshops or practical computer training. Were we to have promotion examinations for teachers suddenly computerized, alarming percentage would already beautifully fail before taking the exams!

Ironically, parents have also encouraged the situation in the education sector. I have always said that it is ridiculous of any parents who do not care about what their children are getting as it pertains to the curricula and syllabi. Parents are too busy looking for money to expend on these children’s education at the expense of demanding that they get value for their efforts. It is not out of place, for instance, if parents under the auspices of the parent teacher associations request that copies of the syllabi be made available to them; to act as one of the monitoring mechanisms of how well students are being attended to. To this end, special committees could be set up by the P.T.As. to demand sanity. It could also be through open days. Besides, let parents create an atmosphere whereby their children can sincerely report observed anomalies in schools to them which they can verify and demand that such anomalies be remedied. From my research, I have discovered that even students know the good and diligent teachers and if it were possible would want to perpetually be taught by them as they progress to higher classes.

Even from notes students copy, a significant observation could be raised in good time by parents, concerning fundamental problems which, if not tackled, will degenerate. How does one explain a situation whereby senior school students (so-called graduates too anyway) would consciously write proper nouns such as Monday, Nigeria, Buhari and the likes beginning in lowercase? Why would they begin a paragraph in lowercase? Why would they not correctly apply basic punctuation marks such as full stop and question mark? Why would they have so many unpardonable spelling mistakes? Why would they not appropriately and correctly hyphenate words at ends of lines? Informed parents, who of course are not also products of similar systemic flaw, can quickly raise an alarm which will contribute in bringing about academic salvation if quickly arrested. Even as a computer studies teacher, I am particularly allergic to bad writing and my students know me for this and have been programmed, as it were, to particularly be careful while generally writing for me because for every unpardonable mistake in grammar, spellings and mechanics, I deduct marks. They are better for it! I have therefore theorized that if English Language teachers were that meticulous and not unduly lenient with their assessments, we would not have such poor writing mess which is already a monster.

The broad societal issue of intellectual penury is another factor. It is not within the scope of this article to pinpoint how we came by this, but it is obvious to the educated (not necessarily literates) that students lack fundamental ability to reason appropriately. In other words, an appreciable level of intelligence/critical thinking is required to enhance good performance in formal education journey. We observe that students pass by their teachers and do not think it necessary to greet. They need to be pursued or punished for them to respond to obvious ringing of the bell requiring them to go for assembly or for prep as the case may be. They expect to be told always to sweep their classes every morning and not perpetually have first periods ‘disturbed’ as is the case. There are myriad of instances and I have always opined that such students cannot be seen to do well in their studies let alone being educated. They will not be able to ask probing questions and even take steps in verifying information they consume or courteously challenge unethical manifestations telling on their studies.

For instance, without getting angered by their usual absurd reactions and arguments pointing that they ‘know’ certain expressions are correct because that is how they were taught and how even “educated people” say them, I would request of them to assume that I was wrong by my corrections while they go gather facts for their defence. A few examples will drive home my point. What does it mean that people “write WAEC, NECO or JAMB?” Are those acronyms names for the exams candidates sit or they refer to institutions? Where is it recorded in the bible that when Jesus was born “three wise men” came to pay homage and presented him gifts? What is the correctness of the expression “ATM machine”? Why would there be the need to include, say “P.M.B. 001, Yaba, Lagos State” in the writer’s and recipient’s addresses for a formal letter written by a student addressed to his form teacher? Why, in spite of repeated instruction, would about thirty students of the one-hundred and forty-six not save their work during a practical computer external exam and by implication had nothing to show for assessment as far as that paper was concerned; even when they knew how to save and had been exposed to similar situation during the mock exam? Why would a student, in spite of three times written instructions in her notebook to copy previous corrections not do it until having to be punished? As a whole, my point here is that students who lack fundamental ability to reason appreciably cannot be observant of many challenges telling on their studies – challenges which should be passionately decried and attract stakeholders’ attention or even be handled by themselves.

I do advise prospective public exam (especially SSCE and UTME) candidates long in advance that they should assume they know nothing so that proactive steps be taken in good time for success. But this advice can only be meaningful to those of them who are not already intellectually diseased as to see sense in my recommendation. In nineteen ninety-eight when I was supposed to take the SSCE, common sense dictated that I needed to be exposed to the WAEC and NECO syllabi. And when I did, nobody needed to tell me sincerely that I was not yet ready to sit the exams. I thought I knew something but if I had sat for the exams, I would have failed beautifully! In fact, I deliberately decided to wait for when sincerely I could do well. That realization provoked me to, even as a self-sponsored candidate, independently and rigorously train myself in preparation for the exams – SSCE, UME and MPCE. Of course I did not flunk, having then scored credit passes, 257/400 and 202/300 respectively at first attempts. The import of this story is that it is only laughably illogical on the part of candidates (and their so-called concerned stakeholders) to expect good performances in exams they are not, on the merit of it, truly qualified for. There is no big deal about external/public exams; it is just that some things have to be taken care of in advance. Prospective candidates: it does not really matter that you have found yourselves in this mess; what matters is how you wisely deliver yourselves from it and not allow it to negatively alter your dreams.

Of course the administrators of schools cannot be exonerated in the academic plights under consideration. If the administrators’ hands are tight as the saying goes, are their legs and mouths too? Besides, given experience over the years, it will amount to administrative amusement if the principals, their deputies, heads of departments and units claim ignorance of many of the problems bedeviling their schools. One would therefore expect that if they too are not paradoxically engineers of the ugly situation we have found ourselves, who have regrettably risen to such positions, radical mechanisms should be put in place to sanitize the system. Quite frankly, the challenges confronting them are not that huge to be immune from aggressively creative and result-driven applications of intellectualism. But we cannot give a goat yam to keep!

The government is not unaware of the challenges confronting the education sector. Analysts have cried out; commentators have voiced them; activists have decried. They keep saying it; they don’t stop talking it. The sector is underfunded; no adequate and qualified personnel; no teaching aids; no effective monitoring systems; no strong mechanisms put in place to scrutinize those being employed; no training and capacity building. Those who are at the helms of affairs and strategically placed in the sector are not uninformed; they know what to do if they choose to. It is high time they knew that no excuse is tenable in not bringing about a desired Buharian change.

These matters matter.

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