EXAM FAILURE, EDUCATION MINISTER AND THE DEARTH OF TEACHERS IN NIGERIA
Reading the statement credited to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai, recently, that "lack of qualified teachers" were responsible for the "dismal performance of candidates in public examinations" especially in Mathematics and English Language, though spot on, one will think either the minister was not properly briefed on assumption of office or she was just engaging in the unhelpful pastime of most Nigerian public office holders: blame game.
The minister was quoted to have said that "The dismal performance of our students in school leaving certificates and achievement tests in these areas (subjects) are traceable to unqualified teachers."
To buttress her claim, Rufai lamented: "Nigerian educational system had been under serious challenge by the inadequacy of qualified teachers in Mathematics and Science subjects and the very low skills on the use of information and communication technology among both teachers and pupils."
Incidentally, no mention was made of any strategic action plan outlined or policy framework adopted by the ministry to address this identified systemic challenge. This, however, is not unexpected given that, often, public officials lament and point fingers over issues that demand their policy intervention and well-designed redemptive action plan.
It is indicative of the way Nigeria’s bureaucracy is run that less than a year after her predecessor, Dr. Sam Egwu, masterminded the implementation of a scheme many condemned as wrong-headed and "ill-conceived", she is now lamenting the "inadequacy of quality teachers" in the country, which the same ministry inadvertently exacerbated.
Last October, the Federal Ministry of Education in a bizarre advertorial signed by its Permanent Secretary, Prof A.O. Afolabi, published in some national newspapers, invited "applications from suitably qualified candidates for recruitment as Mathematics and Science teachers respectively to work in the Republic of South Africa for a period of three years at the first instance."
The advertorial required interested Nigerian applicants to possess a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a minimum of Second Class Lower division or a postgraduate diploma in Education; to be registered by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria; be computer literate as well as be certified medically fit by a Government Health Provider, among others.
The programme, as THE PUNCH editorial rightly and poignantly noted then, "was based on the premise that Nigeria has enough science teachers", and can thus afford the luxury of characteristically giving out some, like the Big Brother it sees itself, to a "needy" sister country. This, it must be stressed, however, painted a false picture of the realities in the nation’s education sector, especially against the backdrop of the mass failure of students in public examinations. A 2008 World Bank report stated that "there are concerns across Nigeria about the overall levels of teacher competence, with the perception being that teaching standards are getting worse."
The resultant effect is that in the 2009 May/June Senior School Certificate Examination results released by WAEC, about 356, 981 of the 1, 373, 009 candidates, representing only 25.99 per cent, that took part in the examinations, had five credits including English Language and Mathematics. Put differently, 75 per cent of the candidates failed!
That poor performance turned out to be a child’s play when NECO released its own SSCE results later which showed that only 126, 500 of the 1,260,765 candidates, just 10 per cent of those who registered for the body’s exams, passed five subjects, including English and Mathematics. That has been the trend ever given that the 2009 November/December results NECO released earlier this year turned out more of a national embarrassment with 98 per cent of the candidates who sat for the examination failing woefully. Statistics showed that only about 4, 223 out of the 234, 682 candidates who sat for the exams made five credits in five core subjects, the minimum requirements for university admission in Nigeria. That means, only two per cent passed the exams with five credits, including English and Mathematics.
These mass failures of students prompted the minister of education to convene a stakeholders’ forum immediately she assumed office. But this seemed not to have yielded any result as the reports of the 2010 WAEC and NECO examinations released recently showed no improvement of note. The results of the June/July 2010 SSCE examination conducted by NECO released last week showed that 870,305 candidates who sat the exams failed to get credit passes in English.
One of the reasons experts adduce for this disheartening development has been the dearth of qualified teaching staff in Nigeria’s school system. Curiously, the immediate past Education minister was reported to have said, exuberantly, that "Nigeria was denying itself the services of its best teachers", notwithstanding their dire need and evident inadequacy in the country, "in order to assist South African Government salvage its educational system."
Whether the minister is aware of this inauspicious programme being implemented by her ministry, is unknown. What is, however, known is that the ministry appears unperturbed or overwhelmed, by the sorry state of the nation’s educational sector. Obviously, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry needs to debrief the minister the more, assuming Afolabi is still there, on this.
But, by far, what should worry everybody in the country, especially those charged statutorily with the management of the education sector, is how a country with 63 Colleges of Education, made up of four private-owned, 38 state-owned and 21 federally-owned, as well as about 100 universities, could be experiencing a dearth of quality teachers. In other words, does it mean the teacher-production line in these higher institutions has run dry? This cannot be the case as there are so many unemployed graduates in those highly needed subjects roaming the streets of Nigeria, many of who are not kindly disposed to touching the teaching profession even with the longest of poles.
So, what is responsible for the subsisting dearth of quality teachers in the midst of a surfeit of qualified but unemployed graduates? Or, why are many graduates of those needed subjects not attracted to the teaching profession? The answers are not far-fetched. The Education minister should be preoccupied with making teaching attractive and interesting once again to young Nigerian graduates as was the case in the days of yore. The first thing to do should be to pay enhanced and competitive remunerations to teachers. As they say, when one pays peanuts, one gets monkeys to work for one. The teaching profession seems to have been left for the dregs of the society because it pays peanuts to teachers, which explains the poor quality of teaching in schools nowadays with attendant poor results.
And, even when many are willing to contend with the constraints of poor pay, uninspiring work environment, de-motivating condition of service and lack of training and development opportunities in the sector, the endemic corruption that dogs recruitment of teachers across the country just would not let the willing and qualified get recruited. There are tales of hapless graduates who have been defrauded in an attempt to be recruited as teachers.
The view of government’s neglect of the sector through poor funding was alluded to recently by the Academic Staff Union of Universities when it observed that, "Indeed, poor funding is singularly responsible for the inadequacy in classroom space and staffing which have led to the perennial violation of the internationally acceptable teacher-student ratio. For, whereas it is internationally accepted (and Nigeria on paper subscribes to same) that the teacher-student ratio should be one teacher to between 35 and 45 students, the practice in Nigeria grossly violates this", with as many as 150 students in one class.
ASUU maintains, and rightly too, that the nation’s educational sector is "under intense threat from combined onslaught of gross under-funding and its attendant inadequacy as well as decay in infrastructure and poor staffing."
Sadly, the country’s education administrators seem clueless about how to go about this given government’s half-hearted disposition, its posturing notwithstanding. If not, why is it that despite education featuring prominently in government’s wish list at all levels over the years, especially in the FG’s Seven Point Agenda, the sector is still dogged by poor funding and inchoate policies?
The minister should be reminded that the nation has no business aspiring to be among the top 20 economies in the world by 2020 with a crisis-ridden and failure-laden sector that can not produce enough manpower even to meet its needs. Rufai should spare us her lamentation, and provide needed solutions to the many constraints of her ministry.