The mass failure of Nigerian candidates in the WASSCE and NECO examinations in the last couple of years has elicited feelings of frustration and outrage from parents, the candidates and the generality of Nigerians.
Understandably, it has generated extensive discourse in the print media. It is indeed sad that after six years of secondary education, only about twenty-five percent of the candidates can boast of five credit passes and above, whereas their parents and grand parents easily made Alpha and Credit passes in all their subjects in their time in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s.
Indeed, aggregate seven was very common then, and the competition between colleges was to have the highest number of candidates with aggregate seven results. Why has the story changed for the present generation of candidates? And what is the panacea for this national disgrace?
Our politicians and the managers of our public secondary schools have refused to grasp the fundamental fact that there are necessary inputs into the education sector that guarantee high-quality finished products. The school environment must be conducive for learning. Adequacy of classroom furniture and instructional materials, plus well-equipped laboratories and libraries, are a sine qua non for academic excellence.
In addition, the teachers must be professionally and academically qualified, committed and well-motivated to work hard. And, of course, a crop of students that are willing to learn. It is therefore amazing that politicians expect the payment of registration fees for candidates to automatically translate into good performance in certificate examinations.
Politicians should stop politicizing education. They should stop putting the cart before the horse. Common sense dictates that they should first provide the basic requirements for teaching and learning before addressing the issue of mass payment of registration fees. Is it not the cummulative effect of years of neglect of these basic needs in education that is responsible for the current poor academic performance of our students?.
Politicians must understand that success in certificate examinations is not achieved overnight, and certainly not through â€˜riggingâ€™. Success is the end product of diligent hard work of building a strong structure by putting one block of curricular activity on another over a period of time, on a strong foundation that was laid in the primary and junior secondary tiers of education.
If, however, this foundation was faulty, of course it is logical to expect a faulty output at the end of secondary education. This is why I consider it hypocritical that our politicians who send their children to the best private schools in the country, or even patronize schools abroad, neglect the public schools whose proprietors they are, only to embrace the idea of payment of registration fees in the last year of schooling.
What is the logic behind payment of registration fees for ill-prepared candidates to write examinations that they are bound to fail woefully? Could not those millions of Naira be put in better use for the provision of basic infrastructure and instructional materials? Or are politicians merely massaging their ego and trying to ingratiate themselves with the parents of the candidates so they (the parents) will feel obliged and vote for them again?
Viewed from another perspective, these millions of Naira could have been used to strengthen the Quality Assurance Department of the various Ministries of Education across the country. The Quality Assurance Officers, also known as Inspectors of Education, are specially trained to visit all schools below the tertiary level of education and ensure that uniform and minimum standards are maintained.
As the â€˜earsâ€™ and â€˜eyesâ€™ of government in the schools, they ensure that the appropriate syllabuses are used in preparing students for certificate examinations, that the teachers have the requisite qualification to teach their subjects and have a good grasp of the subject matter, that they use the appropriate methodology in the teaching-learning process, that there are adequate classroom activities and feedback as indicators that learning has taken place, and a host of other professional indices that guarantee success in the finished products. But alas, this all-important department has been rendered impotent as a result of the misplaced financial priorities of politicians.
It is a truism that an unhappy, frustrated and unappreciated work force can never put in their best. The fallacy that teachers should wait for their reward till they get to heaven has been largely responsible for the shabby treatment meted to them here on earth, especially in Nigeria. Many State governments are still playing politics with the Teachers Salary Scale. Teachers will certainly show more commitment to their work if their remuneration is enhanced, their work environment improved, and adequate working materials are provided. Teachersâ€™ work capacity should also be enhanced through regular workshops and seminars.
In this connection, government is advised to look more closely at teacher education, for the poor quality of our younger generation of teachers is a cause for grave concern. Indeed, the decades of rot in this sector has negatively affected both teachers and students.
Teaching is dynamic, and our teachers in the public schools should be exposed to new teaching methods and practices that have evolved with advancements in technology. I believe that a holistic approach should be adopted in solving this problem of mass failure.Â Hence the idea of giving cars to Principals whose students are perceived to have met their Stateâ€™s standard of excellence, or issuing threats of sanctions to those who have fallen short of the standard, could be counter productive. As a matter of fact, both approaches are disingenuous and could lead to Principals giving official nod to examination malpratices in their various forms and shades.
Thereâ€™s no doubt that governmentâ€™s poor funding of education is a contributory factor to this dismal scenario of mass failure, for neither the Federal budget for education, nor those of State governments comes near UNESCOâ€™s recommendation of twenty-six per cent of the annual budget of countries to be set aside for education. But then, government is not a sole stakeholder in the education sector. Parents, the candidates themselves, and the society at large all have their share of blame in this dysfunctional state of our education system.
Though the greater burden rests on the shoulders of government, all must cooperate in the onerous task of salvaging education from its present state of decadence, for the benefit of the present generation of students, and for posterity. I urge our politicians to set their priorities right in the education sector, and stop pursuing shadows.
Dr. Beatrice N. Okechukwu (Retired Educationist) Idimu, Lagos.