Why Won't They Fail?

Going through secondary school, I wanted to be a lot of things: an engineer, a writer, maybe even a farmer. My best friend, Ifeanyi, just wanted to be a farmer, he just wanted to feed the nation. Today, we are both medical doctors because my father made the same argument as her mother: being anything other than medical doctors was a waste of our brains.

My mother is a teacher, and my father was a teacher, as was his mother before him. Ifeanyi's mother was a teacher too. Yet we had to be doctors, we had little choice. And therein, in open secrecy, is why our students fail, is why the standard of Nigerian education has since fallen and yet does, is why our graduates are schooled but not educated, or educated but not learned!

More and more of our children fail standardized examinations, even while the textbooks continue to be better written, simpler written, and written for the lazy, even dummies! "Mathematics Made Easy", "Statistics for Dummies", "Key Points", "Exam Focus", and we continue to encourage laziness and promote mediocrity while we close our eyes to the root of the problem: the internal brain drain!

While I await a housemanship opening, I have taken it upon myself to tutor a neighbour's daughter, an endeavour that has proven most frustrating. I have failed to inculcate in her the steps and precepts that were instilled in me by my teachers before me. I am constantly overwhelmed by her strange methods and means, and inculcated resistance. Worst of all, I am continually reminded of how her methods and means are not entirely unfamiliar to me.

You see, back in secondary school, our teachers identified us as groups based on how compliant we appeared, how teachable we were: there were the very brilliant, the just brilliant, the average, and the others. If you didn't employ the teacher's methods, then you were either very brilliant or you were "others". In truth, the "others" barely, rarely, passed exams only because they were unable to replicate the tutor's standard methods and their own methods were mediocre, confusing, and often unexplainable, even by them.

Years later, the non-others become doctors and engineers and architects and lawyers and so, but what do the others become? More often than not, they become teachers, if they don't drop out of school before SSCE. And there in plain sight is our problem as a people: in our universal pursuit of better remuneration, each generation eventually gets tutored by the runt, the waste, the leftover of the generation before it!

Teaching is a noble profession. No profession can survive without teachers. Yet by paying teachers peanuts and neglecting their welfare we discourage our best brains from teaching. As at today, no teacher wants to parent another teacher; and we have left our children untaught. Everyone wants to parent doctors, even those that are always at loggerheads with us. Who then will teach?

I left secondary school ten years ago with nine WAEC distinctions (7 A's and 2 B's) and a JAMB UME score of 288; both at first attempt. Back then we wrote UME without calculators, WAEC did not issue calculators, and we did well, very well, because we had quality teachers, teachers that were nearly the best of their sets, teachers that chose to teach and were not blackmailed by the lack of employment alternatives, as we now find!

As the learned say, Nemo dat quod non habet: no one gives what he doesn't have; if we continue to divert our best brains away from teaching, then we should not expect exceptional students or excellent results. As for me, I'm reeling in guilt and reconsidering my ways with the consolation that all hope is not lost, that I can still impart the generations behind me, that doctors teach doctors best!

Yes, it is noble to save lives: from death, as a doctor; from jail, as a lawyer; from debt, as an accountant; from fail, as an engineer. Yes, I am proud to be a doctor now, and a farmer after, like my ogas in their spare time saving us all from hunger. Yes, it is more noble to save coming generations by being a (good) teacher, particularly of the young and tender, the very leaders of the morrow...

Ayokunle Ayk Adeleye writes from Sagamu. He holds an MBChB from the Obafemi Awolowo College of Health Sciences.

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Articles by Ayokunle Ayk Fowosire