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The dismal performance of students in the recently concluded NECO examinations should be of great concern to the nation at large. NECO report says 234,682 candidates sat for the examinations but only 4,000 got the minimum requirement of credit in five subjects, including English language and mathematics, indicating a 98.2% failure rate. This, to say the least, is very alarming!

I have read through Ike Onyechere's piece titled 'The trouble with NECO statistics'' 'This Day' newspaper of April 13, 2010, which extensively talks about the lack of organizational integrity and competence of NECO as an examination body, thereby suggesting its results 'should be taken with a pinch of salt.''

I believe that while investigations into all allegations against NECO are being conducted by relevant authorities, and measures put in place to improve our learning environment, everybody needs to take giant strides towards curbing this disturbing trend. NECO is currently responsible for organizing 5 major examinations on a yearly basis-

(1.) National Common Entrance Examinations for admissions into Federal Unity Colleges; (2.) Junior School Certificate Examinations for candidates in Federal Unity Colleges, Private Schools, Armed Forces Secondary Schools and other federal establishments. (3.) Internal Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE); (4.) External Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE); and (5.) Examinations in all states and FCT for selection into Federal Academy for gifted children, Suleja. This means that further academic pursuits of our pupils and students to a large extent, depends on NECO, therefore, we have to take some positive actions to secure a better future for them.

'A National Calamity Called NECO Exam' written by Yusuph Olaniyonu, also published in This Day newspaper of April 9, 2010, discusses the exasperation this issue poses for our beloved country. Recently too we heard the news of an undergraduate student of the Ambrose Alli University, who committed suicide owing to cult activities and frequent carryover of courses. This is rather sad, but the question is how did he get there?

Reasons for huge failure in examinations could be attributed to factors like minors' indulgence in late night programmes such as: movies, cartoons and other entertaining programmes on television; computer games on Play stations 2, 3, X Box, focusing more on sports than their studies, etc.

Everyone agrees that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,'' just as anything to excess is bad; hence moderation is the key. A major problem is free midnight calls where they spend the whole night talking to friends on phone instead of having well-deserved sleep so as to be refreshed for the next day's activities. Minors and teenagers are perennially glued to face book, yahoo, gmail, hotmail, twitter, and so on; chatting endlessly with friends, browsing web sites, downloading music, videos, games, etc. Thus, the advent of technology has its advantages and disadvantages, while parents and guardians are too busy pursuing their careers to provide for their family, hence, hardly know how their children and wards cope with their school work, exposing them to peer influence, and often times, sparing the rod only to spoil the child!

I believe that parents and guardians have a huge responsibility towards their children and wards. Here, mothers can emulate the simple yet workable plan of Dr. Ben Carson's mother. When she discovered that her two sons were doing very poorly in school, she gave four simple instructions- that they must: (1.) visit the local library to read two books every week and write the summary for her, (they never knew she could not read); (2.) turn off the television set and watch their favorite programs only two or three times a week; (3.) stop playing games and sports, and (4.) assist with the household chores.

Although none of the rules appealed to them and her friends thought she was being unnecessarily tough on them, she was firm and today, the older son was an engineer while Ben is a successful neurosurgeon. For a woman of little means with no education, this was a clear demonstration of bravery, wisdom, focus, determination and commitment! Her goal was to ensure that her sons become very successful and rich and she achieved it.

I recall the strategy I used during my Advanced Levels program: I gave myself a target of reading all my books daily and it got to a point where I already knew what is in the next page before turning there, because I had read it over and over again, of course I made the best result in the finals of my set! I applied the same principle in my job- I just kept reading my training manuals and all relevant materials until I understood everything about the job; I got very close to my colleagues that had been there before me and were doing very well and learnt so much from them, this helped me gradually climb up the ladder.

Considering that Junior Secondary School (J.S.S3) Senior Secondary School (S.S.S3) students are preparing for their May/June finals, all hands must be on deck to ensure that performance is improved. Some simple guidelines could be useful: Parents and guardians could draw up a daily to-do list which should specify time to talk to their children and wards about school, go through their homework, ensure that they are reading, do a test at the end of their reading sessions or just ask questions based on what they have read.

Constantly relating with our children and wards will help boost their self-esteem that they can perform excellently well in their school work, assignments, continuous assessments and examination because their state of mind will be more stable from knowing they have their parents' and guardians' moral support as against their having to face every situation on their own. We can engage teachers to take our children through extra lessons, not just for examinations' purposes but to fully cover everything that has been taught in school and more. We can also encourage our children to watch educative, informative and instructive television programs like news items, documentaries, 'Zain Africa Challenge', 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire', The Weakest Link', Local Quiz Competitions; etc.

Students should cultivate the habit of forming discussion and study groups where each member will contribute his or her own understanding; ask questions on areas that they do not understand so they can get clarification and generally share examination success tips. These will go a long way in helping them learn more and prepare adequately for their continuous assessments and examinations.

We practiced these in school and the result was always amazing as we would remember what we talked about! Teachers can help by going the extra mile to ensure that all necessary learning materials are available to all students, organize extra classes, split the students into different study groups and have them present different topics. Students themselves must get used to reading all their school books along with other materials like journals, magazines, newspapers, dictionaries, encyclopedias; etc, over and over again because this is the easiest way to broaden their knowledge and get to the top.

They can equally volunteer to participate in quiz competitions, debates, etc, as these will help them research deeply into the relevant subjects. Counselors can go round schools to offer professional advice to students. The more people we have contributing to this aspect of our nation-building, the better results we would have.

Our children are the brightest and the best, they are tomorrow's leaders, the future looks good, with a little more prayer and effort, we can help take them to the top. If we can get all our school children to aim for the highest grade, then we would record fewer 'Pass' and Fail'. Ultimately, they would be able to gain admission into tertiary institutions to study their preferred courses, graduate with the best results, after National Youth Service Corps, enter the labor market and contribute their own quota to the society. Let us rise up and make this work!

Okon writes from Lagos.