Last week we discussed how students paid service charges to write WAEC, how a teacher was sacked for not aiding academic fraud, how students had no idea of recommended texts for JAMB exams and yet were certain of admissions, and how a tutorial centre guaranteed 7 credits at a sitting in SSCE and at least 280 in JAMB. We also wondered how students without a culture of reading and a Machiavellian orientation to academics and exams would survive in universities. The fact is that most of the students that come into the universities do not know how to read and write or even what to read. They do not know what it means to study and it is common to see students in the classroom with just their mobile phones!
The woeful performance in WAEC and NECO exams in the recent past has been in the public domain and recently Rosemary Nwangwu informed us that the monitoring of learning achievement tests conducted in Nigeria in 2006 among primary 4 & 6, JSS2 & SS2 show that the children are unable to read and write, failing in literacy, numeracy and life skills. She concluded: ‘These children are sadly lost…. They have been processed into nothingness and are of no use to themselves and the society’ [Guardian, 1/6/13, p.24]. Part of the problem is the quantity and quality of teachers at the primary and secondary levels. In Gombe State, for instance, a committee headed by A. Sambo, a professor, reported in 2011 that only 16,000 teachers were available to teach 153,000 pupils in the primary schools; that 9,400 of them [more than 50 percent] were not qualified, going by the national minimum standard; that 3,783 teachers in the secondary school system did not pass the secondary school exams [WASC]; and that 143,000 students in secondary schools had only 196 English and 55 Mathematics teachers [‘Gombe Educational Conundrum’, Thisday Editorial, 25/1/12, p.17]. That was a peculiar case but it is a sample of what obtains in the North and to a certain extent across the country as teachers at that level are not enough, not qualified, not motivated and not committed.
There are other contributory factors. Subsequent to this year’s poor JAMB exam outing, stakeholders itemised as the reasons for poor performance laziness and inadequate preparation on the part of students who rather resort to cutting corners and the social media for answers that are never really there; involvement of exam officials and even parents to secure cheap high scores for their words; nefarious activities of coaching centres and their owners; dilapidating facilities and inadequate trained staff to man these facilities; general craze for paper qualification and easy means to success; inadequate supervision and monitoring of officials; lack of will power to enforce discipline, as well as corruption [Guardian, 11/5/13, p.9]. Ujah, a professor at Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, has also insisted that parents and students are to blame for poor outing at the pre-university examinations as parents arrange with miracle centres to buy question papers for their children and influence their admission into choice universities with certificates acquired dubiously. Furthermore, some students spend many hours holding night vigils in prayer houses to pass exams for which they are not prepared, even though both the Bible and Koran condemn prayer without work [Daily Mirror 14/7/11, p.21]. How can they pass when they do not read and cannot even read?
You also have the issue of fashionable schooling. People go to school because their neighbours, townsmen, church members, friends or in-laws are in school. This is more so with the part-time programmes. A barely literate fellow who runs a roadside canteen does not need a university degree; she/he needs entrepreneurial skills which a 6-month weekend programme can provide. Bringing her to a university to discuss Porters 5-forces framework, talent optimisation, queuing theory or the symptoms of groupthink is frustrating both for the teacher and the student. More disastrous is the fact that after spending 8 years for a 5-year programme, she may seek and actually obtain formal employment as a graduate!
Thus, we have situations wherein people who are not qualified to be in universities, who do not want to be in universities, who do not have the discipline, commitment and mindset needed to go to universities, who have no need to go to universities somehow find themselves in the universities and expect to somehow obtain a certificate after spending 10 years for a 4-5-year programme. When the ‘raw materials and spare-parts’ available for the universities are deformed, defective, unusable, disused, unserviceable, then, there is little the infrastructure, lecturers, TETFUND interventions can do. The universities muddle-through with what they have. What about the post-UME exams? It is based on making the best of what is available; engaging a butcher when you actually wanted a surgeon! This is not suggesting that universities do not have their own problems: far from it!
The evidence of this scenario abounds. Thus you see a final year student in Literature who has not read Arrow of God and could not finish it in a month, when another does not know the difference between drama, prose and poetry, and when one mentions Shakespeare as an authority in Contemporary African Literature. You see year one students engaging in desperate cheating strategies, or a final year student writing one paragraph as her submission for two 30 percent take-home assignments [and doesn’t see anything wrong with that!], or where 80 students out of 100 submit the same answers in an essay assignment [word for word].
At the grand finale of UNN 50th anniversary celebrations, President Jonathan declared that the educational system of our desire is one whose graduates are really employable, equipped with entrepreneurial skills for self-employment, and are trained on the value of ethics in the practice of their profession. This is a good dream but it will remain a dream if we do not start from the elementary and primary school where the basics are taught and where the culture of reading and the value of education are inculcated. Unless this is done, even if we hand over the entire federal budget to the universities, not much will be achieved!
Muo is a lecturer and management consultant in the department of business administration, Olabisi Onabanjo
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