Mass Failure And Our Future


By Michael Egbejumi-David
In the run-up to the last Ekiti gubernatorial contest of June this year, I wrote a piece about Fayose, a little reminder of some of the scandals that led to his being kicked out of office first time around.  To my shock, a lot of young responders on Facebook never got it.  They thought I was saying that because Fayose was once a cab driver in London, that ought to disqualify him from seeking office as Governor.  How they arrived at that bizarre conclusion was a feat only known to them.  But for me, that episode was a sad reminder that education has hit the buffers in Nigeria.

And when the West African Examination Council (WAEC) results came out a few weeks ago, no further proof was required.  It was a sight for sore eyes.  It was failure on a most disheartening scale.

It's been a gradual slide.  We fell off the cliff, I think in 2011.  That year, only 30.91% of all candidates who sat the WAEC exams passed (i.e., got at least 5 credits).  Later that same year, in Edo State, all the secondary school students who sat the National Examinations Council (NECO) failed.  All of them!  In 2012, the pass rate for WAEC was 38.81.  In 2013, that rate dropped again, to 36.57%.  2014 records a 31.28% pass rate with 8.61% of candidates alleged to have engaged in exam malpractices.

Hhmm…this is quite sobering and the whole thing reads like a bad joke.  Please think about what this means in raw numbers.  In 2014, of the 1,692,435 youngsters who sat the exams, 1,163,010 of them failed.  That is nearly 1.2 million students!

In this country, we've always had ministers and commissioners of education.  These people collect handsome salaries, live in fantastic mansions and have 24-hour police protection.  And since 2007, we've had educators as presidents.  What has been their collective impact on the standard of education here?

In contrast, our kids are excelling in schools abroad – particularly in the UK and the US.  They routinely come top of the class from primary right through to tertiary level.  In fact there is a joke in the UK that if you don't see a Nigerian and a Chinese in any particular university, do not let your kid go there.  So what has happened to education in Nigeria?

Well, the most obvious thing that stands out is that there is something wrong in the way education is delivered here.  I'm not certain that funding is the main issue; after all, a sizable chunk of those students would have gone to private schools.  And some of the teachers are hopelessly inadequate.

Another reason for these mass failures is this recent phenomenon called 'Expo.'  A few days to the exams, some websites would claim that they have the genuine WAEC questions.  A lot of candidates rush there.  They get access to the questions, for a fee, of course.   At this point, they cannot go to their teachers for help as they would have to explain from where they got the questions.  So they approach undergraduates and other people who themselves are products of previous mass failures.  Half baked undergrads provide half baked and oftentimes, outright wrong answers (for a fee of course) which students share among themselves in their group.  Furthermore, this being Nigeria, 419 practitioners have caught-on and they too set up their own 'genuine' WAEC questions websites.  The result? Mass failure.

Moreover, there are 'specialised' exam centres where some parents and invigilators join forces to cheat on behalf on their wards.  A lot of students have come to put their trust in such centres and in prayers rather than study well.  Wrong answers given in such centres permeates the whole group.

The frightening thing for me is that it would not be possible for all 1.2 million students that failed this year's WAEC to sit the exams again.  There is simply no scope for that.  So Universities and Polytechnics would have to lower their minimum admission requirements in order to get students because, quite frankly, those institutions need their money to stay in business.

This means that, by hook and by crook, and via our other miracle-working ways, people who cannot pass secondary school exams will in a few years become 'graduates' and flood the job market.  Goodness!  The implication and the multiplier effect on the nation's economy (and socio-cultural bearing) are dire.

Some of these young people will become journalists and editors, a few will find their way into the banks, some will become teachers, some might become First Ladies, while the rest will end up in Local Government administration.  And if this has been the pattern for the past twenty year or so, it is no wonder we are where we are today.

To redress this situation, I think we really have to look again at the curriculum with a view to revamping it.  We need to redesign our teacher training programmes (because what obtains at the moment is clearly failing young people), and perhaps introduce performance-related pay for teachers.  We also need to improve infrastructure and reduce class sizes.  And governments, from the federal to local council levels, have got to enforce minimum standards in school, not just colluding with school authorities and collecting bribe.

But the government cannot do this alone, and education is too important to be left entirely in the hands of government anyway.  Parents must play a more active role.  It is not enough to pay the school fees – no matter how expensive.  Some young people spend entirely too much time on DSTV watching football and Mexican soaps.  Parents have got to be more hands on. Conversely, some parents have to resist the urge to overburden school kids with disproportionate economic undertakings.

I know it is a rat-race out there and we have to put food on the table and live comfortable enough lives, but we've got to take care of the future too.  A look at the WAEC result table shows quite a few states in the North/Northeast at the root of the table.  These are the same states now in the worst grip of Boko Haram.  That's the link.  That's the future unless we begin to change things now.

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