Nigeria and its declining education– the way forward, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Nigeria’s decline in education, though incipient, is impossible to miss. In the past, there was always a countervailing force in our traditional society; there was in existence a Nigerian stew of shame and pride that kept thieving impulses walled off. In a single generation, we lost our set of traditional mores that sublimates inordinate aspirations to the demands of meritocracy. Sadly, we lost all that in a single generation. We became a society of ever fewer behavioural norms. Welcome to the unmoored age, where parents (yes, parents) pay fifty thousand Naira to register their children at special centres; examination centres where answers to questions are handed to candidates. According to Justin W. van Fleet of the Brookings Institution “There are seven countries in which 40 percent or more of children do not meet a minimum standard of learning by grades 4 or 5. In countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia, over half of in-school students are not learning basic skills by the end of primary school”. How is that?
Declining Student Performance in WAEC, NECO and JAMB Examinations
Year over year from the mid 1980’s the quality of Nigeria’s educational system nosedived and has become totally dysfunctional. Student performance in public examinations, such as West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO) and the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB), has been in consistent decline with high failure rates. Below is the data on candidates who obtained credit passes in WAEC May/June examinations in at least five subjects including English Language and Mathematics, within the period of 2005-2012:
YEAR PERCENTAGE (%) PASS
2005 — 27.53
2006 — 15.56
2007 — 25.54
2009 — 25.99
2010 — 24.94
2011 — 30.99
2012 — 38.81
2013 — 44.66
Don’t be fooled by the progressive increase in pass rate 2011, 2012 and 2013 results. Those are either head-fakes or a dead cat bounce because nothing on ground suggests significant improvement in learning and learning outcomes. Cases of malpractice is so widespread as to debunk the “improvement” in percent pass in the last few years. Actually students are better at cheating in the age of mobile telephony and exams are leaked more than we have ever seen. Prof. Dibu Ojerinde himself admitted the fact. A cursory look at the performance of the candidates in the November/December, 2010 conducted by NECO shows unprecedented failure rates. In 2011, NECO Registrar Prof. Promise Okpala said; “Of the 256,840 registered candidates, 256,827 sat for the examination. No fewer than 51,781 of 235,933 candidates (20.16%) passed English Language; while 87,508 0f the 234,959 candidates (34.18%) who sat for Mathematics had credit pass”
Lamenting the abysmal failure in school certificate examinations in an interview granted to the Vanguard Newspapers on April 5, 2013, Professor Ngozi Azuka Osarenren of the Department of Educational Foundations, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos said; “In a subject like Mathematics, there are four key concepts which many of the Mathematics teachers themselves do not know. There are some aspects of the syllabus which come out in their examinations that are not taught by teachers because they do not even know it themselves. For all I know, some of these people study on their own. There are many schools in this nation that do not have Mathematics teachers. In some cases, a whole school with SS1 and SS3 having about 1,000 students, may just have one Mathematics teacher. What can that single teacher do? If we do not invest in education, we will not reap in education. We are not talking of providing funds for education but investing funds in education. It is all about investing funds in those key areas that will enhance productivity and success. Teachers should go for training and retraining to enhance productivity.When was the last time, any state of this nation did recruitment of teachers, or when last did they conduct retraining exercise for their teachers? This is a nation where people obtain certificates without attending class. That is why some universities do not admit NCE graduates from certain institutions.”
These depressing statistics captures the severity of our educational crisis. Collins Uduh in his paper on managing examination crisis in Nigeria listed a number of factors that are responsible for the poor performance in examinations. The main factors are:
a. Insufficient preparation and coverage of the syllabus by students.
b. Lack of adherence to instructions.
c. Poor comprehension of questions due to poor reading culture.
d. Bad handwriting, poor spellings and text speak invasion.
e. Shortage of qualified teachers.
f. Inadequate facilities.
g. Lack of good school environment.
h. Examination malpractices.
Collectively as countrymen and women, we refuse to accept that we cannot go under the palm tree, head raised, with our mouth wide open anticipating steady drops of palm wine when we have not cut the flowers. It does not work that way. We must cultivate work ethics and respect for hard work if we are to succeed as a nation. Unfortunately we are sinking deeper; a generation grew up on us without a good sense of right and wrong.
We have a growing youth population whose world view are shaped by meaningless swagger corroded by the twisted logic of crass materialism and demented social values. We have continued to nurture an anti-intellectual environment that glorifies everything but learning. Throughout my work life in the United States, I have never been asked to produce my certificate. Yes, I always list my qualifications but the emphasis has always been in demonstrable competence. In Nigeria, the reverse is true. Too much value is placed on certificate rather than performance. This is the underlining factor for the college and certificate for a fee craze. Can students engage in widespread culture of examination malpractice alone? No! A number of factors connive to aid, abet and propagate malpractice. These factors are:
a. Teachers who do not teach well and/or cover their syllabus
b. Parents who buy grades for their children
c. Parents who bribe admission officers to secure admission letter
d. Exam supervisors who sell questions before the date of examination.
e. School proprietors who bribe invigilators to look the other way while they assist students so their school can look good.
f. A Government that underfunds education and infrastructure and expects good results.
An example can be found in the puerile logic by the former Minister of Education, Prof Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, who was quoted by the Vanguard Newspapers of December 11, 2012 as saying, “We all know that States have greater role to play in turning round the massive failure in our examinations, especially when viewed from the fact that basic and secondary education are controlled by the states.”
No one seem to understand the implication our education deficit has for national development. How can we hope to fare well in an increasingly competitive world with uneducated human capital?
With the current situation, Nigeria cannot meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) even in the next 20 years. Unfortunately the MDGs will shape the future of social, economic and political progress in Nigeria. Most unfortunately, Nigeria is failing to develop its youth physically, mentally and psychologically. The country’s leadership is consistently mortgaging the future of its youth by promoting primitive wealth acquisition, cultural devaluation and erosion of values. Is there any future if the country averages about eighty percent failure rates in these examinations?
The future is bleak indeed. Before the 1990s, the Nigerian university system enjoyed international recognition and respect the world over. During my time, we had students from all over the world and students from other African countries are a common feature in our campuses. Independent assessment of our universities are unflattering, they have been sullied by political patronage, mediocrity and sustained neglect over the years by successive governments. Nigeria now spends about 1% of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education. How can we stem this steep decline? The government must sincerely commit to education and make an emergency declaration matched by action. The following are my recommendations:
a. Nigeria must devote at least 20% of its GDP on education. This can be done over a period of 5years starting from 10% of GDP up. They must hire private accounting firms to do independent audit on disbursement and utilization.
b. The federal government must guarantee equal access to quality education by working closely with the state and local governments on uniform standards and infrastructure maintenance.
c. The nation must go back to the training and recruitment of committed teachers from the primary school level.
d. Schools must maintain a teacher-student ratio of not more than 1:25 and train teachers on the use of specific and behavioral objectives to measure syllabus coverage and learning.
e. Certificates should be awarded as an attestation to learning and character.
f. Teachers and parents should take their job more seriously. Parents these days are more attuned to the rat race of keeping up with the Jones’s than raising well behaved children. They have ceded parenting to teachers and teachers can’t fix broken children.
g. Nigerians need value re-orientation. We all must do self upgrade on moral values, ethics and renewed belief in hard work and dignity of labor.
The Last Word
Decapitation is not the cure for headache. Government must put genuine effort into empowering and monitoring NECO, WAEC and JAMB performance instead of seeking to scrap or merge their functions. This cut and paste attitude must stop. These outfits are not the problem, the government is. We know every successive government is a do nothing government. What about the docile Nigerian middle class? What are they doing? No country ever record any meaningful change without a vibrant and politically engaged middle class. Today the middle class sustains the status quo in every way. The politicians cannot loot without the active connivance of the middle class. The middle class constitutes the middle and upper management of the civil service. They write the memos that siphons the money for the politicians. They are in the banks where they help facilitates money laundering. They are in the judiciary where they help in perverting justice. They are in the press where they form a band of chorus singers to the power elite. The middle class is content being a government by itself, rather than demand probity, responsibility and accountability. The middle class in Nigeria represents an irresponsible collective. If there is no portable water, they dig borehole; no security, they hire armed guards; no electricity, they buy a high powered generator; no passable road, they buy a sport utility vehicle. The upper middle class can afford steep fees (N1.5million per session through early childhood and N4.5million per session through secondary school) charged by the elite schools.
It is doubly shameful that we are not attuned to the risks this chasm poses to our own children. When we spend this humongous amounts on our own kids and some others are languishing, we have no where to hide. Our children will pay dearly because these children cannot continue to live in cocoons all their lives. They will end up having to live and work with the people good education left behind. How about University education? Employment after school? Yet, we do not care about our legion of intractable problems.
My heart bleeds…always. With population approaching 200m and median age of 18, I am afraid…very afraid.
Email: olufunmilayo @ gmail.com