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Mass failure as total indictment

By Josef Omorotionmwan
THERE  is this hue and cry about the huge failure rates in this year’s Senior School Certificate Examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examinations Council (NECO).

In the past, the system allowed the student to perm one from two. Sometimes, the two entered; and sometimes, only one entered; and the student was still a winner.

But this year of the celebration of our golden jubilee as an independent nation, none of the two permutations entered.

Those who received poor results from WAEC were temporarily consoled that they would make up with the results from NECO. NECO results have since arrived and they are even worse.

One common argument has been that the students did not meet the required standards, and thus were justly failed. Even on the basis of the two examination bodies, we have had our reservations all along and these reservations permeate our entire educational system.

Evidently, the standards of the two examination bodies have not been the same all along.

The same thing holds true in our universities. When some universities have 40 percent failure rates and others have 10 percent rates, it follows that the failure from one institution could easily have been a big success in another.

Clearly, the huge fluctuations between various failure rates indicate one thing: Our existing system of examinations is a random process of selection.

By our own estimation, in just the same way that President Goodluck Jonathan regards the October 1 bomb blast near the Eagle Square as a blessing; we also think that this disaster of mass failure will eventually turn out to be a big blessing.

After all, as Shakespeare puts it: “Sweet are the uses of adversity…”. At least, it is becoming clearer that all eyes cannot remain focused on the students alone.

This year’s mass failure is an indictment on the entire system – the examiners and the examinees, the teachers and the government. It is time for a holistic assessment.

Whichever way you want to look at it, what we have just seen is a cumulative effect of past rots.

A failure on the part of students is a failure on the part of teachers. If students fail to do well, it can only be because the teachers have not taught them well. An assessment of the students is an assessment of the teachers. What do you expect from a system where the teachers are sometimes worse than the students that failed?

There is the case of that student who has been under torture for a very long time now, his sin being that he corrected a simple mistake made by the teacher on the blackboard.

He has since become an over sabi and his punishment will never end. What do you expect from a system, which has, in the past 10 years, permitted its teachers to go on strike at will and to remain on such strikes indefinitely? What do you expect from a system that has experienced more school closures than openings?

What do you expect from an educational system that has allowed itself to be consumed by private schools of all shades and colours, where regulation is totally lacking and where sharp practices have become the order of the day?

And what do you expect from a system in which teachers are told that their reward is in heaven? Some teachers have given this a tacit acceptance and such have remained bodily in the system.

All they have done is to throw the government’s duty roaster overboard and have drawn up their own under which they do us the favour of going to school twice a week while spending the rest of the week hustling for contracts and other businesses, trying to keep body and soul together. The end result is what we are getting now.

Again, examinations can be specifically attacked from two vantage points: One, the reliability of examinations.

This approach accepts the assumption of the present system but challenges the accuracy of the results; and two, the relevance of examinations, in that they do not test intellectual ability and what they test conflicts with the liberal aims of the education.

In the case of the reliability test, the examiner’s judgment is a notoriously hazardous business.

Among the factors undermining the authority of the practice of marking are discrepancies in the range of marks awarded, differences in marking criteria, differences in the standards expected by different markers, and of course, other marginal but relevant factors such as the temperament of the examiner as well as his health and mood at the time of marking any particular paper.

True, examinations may operate as a minimum incentive to construct tunnels of knowledge leading to the examination hall but this can never be a substitute for a genuine interest for education.

The major incentives to work hard are the interest in one’s work and a sense of public obligation that this work must take priority over private pleasures. In the particular case of Nigeria, the children look at the world out there and what do they see?

They see emptiness; and they see negativity. They see themselves graduating into unemployment, anyway. So, why work hard? It is a fatal irony that the student is held responsible if he fails and the system that is both the judge and the jury, with all its weaknesses and imperfections, still adjudges itself completely innocent.

These were some of the offensive details that informed the actions of Tom Fawthorp, in 1968, at the age of 21, when he tore up his final examination papers in Hull University, England and proceeded from there to lead students’ occupation of the University.

In most of the advanced democracies, teachers are the best paid workers. That makes sense. Why would anyone not pay the very people through whom all professionals – teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, politicians and the rest – must pass?

If you want to leave their rewards in heaven, you must also be prepared to leave their products in heaven. Let it be said, too, that those advanced democracies permit zero tolerance to half-baked teachers.

Teachers must be properly trained and constantly retrained to be up-to date in their various areas of specialization.

WANTED URGENTLY, A STATE OF EMERGENCY ON THE NIGERIAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM! The situation before us right now is the moral equivalence of war. It is totally unacceptable.

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