WAEC: REAL REASON NIGERIANS FAIL
Mrs. Mulikat Bello is, no doubt, an angry woman. As Registrar, West African Examinations Council (WAEC) at its headquarters in Ghana , she could not stomach what has been staring her in the face in recent years as regards Nigeria 's woeful results in WAEC examination.
But as a mother, she would not put the blame on the students, rather she directed her anger on those who failed to make the nation's education sector worked.
At the 25th annual conference of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), held at the Osun State University (UNIOSUN), Osogbo, Bello gave vent to her pent up anger in an exclusive chat with Daily Sun.
Although, she insisted that there was little or no difference in Nigeria 's outing in WAEC compared with other West African countries that are participating in the examination, the fact that lip service was being paid to the problem confronting education sector in her country made her to worry:
'What is the problem with us in Nigeria ? What is the problem? We should be the one leading. We should be in the vanguard. It is not because I am a Nigerian, Registrar to WAEC, but because Nigeria is blessed, more blessed than any other country in West Africa
'Is it in term of size? Is it in term of physical geographical size? Is it in term of population? Is it in term of quality of resources available to us? You know, I can't see the reason why our children will not excel.'
Bello challenged all involved in the education sector -government, parents, teachers, regulatory authorities, society at large and the students- to wake up to their responsibilities before the problem gets out of hand.
According to her, the issue of mass failure was not 'a reflection of something wrong with WAEC' as some people would want to believe but rather 'a reflection of something going wrong in the education sector' of the country and by extension West Africa.
How would react to the problem of mass failure of students in WAEC examination especially in Nigeria?
'I get surprised when people asked me questions the way you have asked it if you look at the percentage of candidates that passed in the last May/June examination, it was an improvement over the previous year's percentage of candidates that passed. I would rather say that we are achieving the aims we set out to achieve by disseminating the information.
'You know in the past, we were not given as much details as we give these days when results are released. In the last three years or so, we started given full details of the numbers of candidates that registered for each examination. The number of candidates that presented themselves for the examination, that is, showing the difference between those registered and those that actually sat the examination.
'We give details of the number and percentage of students that passed at Grade E8 and above. We give further details of the number and percentage of candidates that passed at Credit 6 level and above, in six subjects; and in five subjects including English and Mathematics.
'And what you will find is that the dissemination of this information is achieving one aim which we had always wanted it to achieve.
It is sensitizing all stakeholders to the need for greater attention to be paid to the education sector in Nigeria because everybody now, at federal, at state, at local government level, even among the media, everybody now is interested in knowing 'why'.
'But some people will wonder and wrongly believe that this is a reflection of something wrong with WAEC. But no. It is a reflection of something going wrong in the education sector. We are giving the details so that everybody who is a stakeholder in the education will sit back and ask the question: Is whatever effort we put into education an expenditure or an investment?
'If it is on expenditure you just get by and you go on. You expend whatever resources and you go on. You don't look for result. But if it is an investment, you expect some results, some dividends. That is what we want everybody to ask. Are we getting from education enough dividends from the resources invested in it? That is why we are asking that every stakeholder should now ask what actually has gone wrong. Why are the candidates performing woefully? And the answers are obvious.
'The answers are very obvious. A lot has gone wrong. The school environment is no longer as conducive to teaching and learning as it was in the past. The structures are not there. The infrastructure is not there.
'You have schools that are presenting candidates for science subjects and there are no laboratories. Where you have laboratories, there is no equipment. There are no workshops in schools that are presenting candidates for vocational and technical subjects. And yet, we expect miracles to happen.
'What is more? Even for the Arts and Social Sciences subjects, you have schools that don't have libraries. Where you have structures that you call libraries, there are no books.
'The worse of all, the teacher factor. For how long are we going to be talking about this teacher factor? You ask the question, everybody is asking the question but what answer are we providing?
'The question is: What is the situation with teaching in schools? Are the teachers there in the right number? Are they there in the right quality? Are we standing up to the stipulations of the national policy on education?
'For years, we have said that even for the primary school, the minimum qualification for teachers should be National Certificate for Education (NCE). But in how many of our schools have we met that? There are still in the system teachers, whose qualifications are below NCE.
'Even for those that are NCE holders and above, what is the quality of teaching? And when you ask about the quality of teaching, don't look at the effect, look at the cost. How well are the teachers recognized?
'When I was in school, when you were in school, teachers were teachers. They were dedicated, they were committed. That was because they were recognized. They were recognized, they were celebrated, they were rewarded. But what do we have today? Teachers are not recognized. They are not well remunerated and so the commitment is not there to teach as they should teach at all levels. How will you give what you don't have?
If the students are not taught, how will they perform?
'Then, what about the home front? When we were in school, our parents were real parents. They were committed to the education of their children. They never left home before the children left home. They saw us to school. They might have been poorer than most parents of today but they had commitment. They believed in education. They would wake up early, they would wake up their children. The children would pray with them and they would ensure that you took breakfast before you went to school. They saw you to school.
But today, most parents leave the homes when the children are still sleeping and they don't come back before the children go to bed. Most parents don't see their children until weekends. Even at the weekends, what do they do. They don't ask about what has happened during the week in schools. Rather, they draw up a programme to take the children to the beach, amusement parks and so on.
'Schools in our time organized open days, visiting days during which parents went there. They would chat with teachers of their children. They were able to identify what the problems were and what solutions they could proffer. They bought books for the children.
'Today, we have politicized education. Every government will tell you we want to give free education, they will provide books, they will pay for tuition. Yes, they provide tuition. But I was chatting with a Commissioner for Education, but I won't mention the state but it is not Osun State . The commissioner said 'oh, in our state, the saddest thing is that we promised to give free education, free books and we committed so many millions'.
'He mentioned the amount of naira that was committed to the provision of book.
When he finished doing the analysis, I found that the amount voted for the provision of books, in fact for free education in totality, was not enough to buy more than one book per child for those who are in SSS3. And this is a system where every child that is in SSS3 is expected to sit an examination.
'If he takes WAEC for instance, the average child registers for a minimum of eight subjects and maximum of nine. Many of these subjects have three component parts. If he takes Chemistry for instance or Physics, the candidate is expected to have a book for practicals, a book for theory and maybe some other textbooks that will touch on testing and all that.
'If you are a government that is providing one textbook per child, do the analysis. Not one textbook per subject per child but one textbook per child. It means that if that candidate registers for eight subjects, you have given him or her one third of what he or she requires for one out of eight subjects. How do you expect such student to pass? So, we need to go back to the basis.
'Parents must come back and play their roles.
School authorities must stand up and discharge their responsibilities. Government must give the necessary support. Society as a whole must take an incisive look at itself and change our attitude to life and revisit and review our values. 'That is why I like the theme of this conference of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities. Except that it is touching only on tertiary education, except that it is focusing on the university. We would have loved to have it as a global thing to apply to education as a whole.
'We should be re-inventing education in Nigeria . We should be going back to what was in the system when I went to school; when you went to school. We should be looking at how we can make the environment in schools today as conducive as it was in our days. We must go back to look at how we can provide the type of teachers we had when we were in schools. Teachers, who would teach, teachers, who would ensure that you learn. They not only taught, they ensured that we learnt.
'I went to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife, Osun State. When I wrote my WAEC examinations in 1967, the culture in Oduduwa College was that if you wrote the mock examination, the grade you would score was going to certainly determine the grade you would record in the actual examination. You were sure that if you passed well in the mock examination, you had passed in the WAEC examination, because the teachers were so dedicated. But today what do we have? We need to go back.
'Re-invent the education system. Make the environment conducive to learning and teaching. Recognize the teachers. Reward them, celebrate them. Let them feel committed and then change the attitude of the children.
'They are talking about ICT. Are our children adapting ICT to learning? They are using it for other things than learning! The last thing they use it for is learning. And you will be surprised.'
WAEC is meant for West African countries. Is mass failure peculiar to Nigeria alone?
'You see, I think the situation in West Africa , and I probably will be one of the most qualified people to tell you. The situation across West Africa can be aptly described as that of common problems, for which we need to share solutions.
'The children in Nigeria are not far away from their counterparts in the other countries. Perhaps the only difference is that the society and the values of society are different from Nigeria . That is what makes us worst. It is not that the children elsewhere are excelling too far above our children but perhaps our children would have also done better.
'You know, what WAEC does is to celebrate excellence and one of the ways we do it is to identify the best performing candidates in our examination and to give them prices and to celebrate them.
'Sadly, even though I am a Nigerian, the last award which we gave in Monrovia for the top three candidates that performed best in the May/June 2009 West African Senior Junior School Certificate came from Ghana. The three of them came from Ghana . The same thing happened in 2009 when we gave the award for 2008. The best three candidates in West Africa came from Ghana .
'What is the problem with us in Nigeria ? What is the problem? We should be the one leading. We should be in the vanguard. It is not because I am a Nigerian, Registrar to WAEC but because Nigeria is blessed, more blessed than any other country in West Africa .
'Is it in term of size? Is it in term of physical geographical size? Is it in term of population? Is it in term of quality of resources available to us? You know, I can't see the reason why our children will not excel. But I think all those factors I mentioned earlier have contributed to what we have now.
'If we all contribute our quotas, we can change the system and that is why the theme of this
conference is very apt. We must re-invent the education sector in Nigeria. We must re-visit the schools. We must re-assess our roles as individuals in the society, as parents; as teachers, as school authorities, as government officials.'