By Helen Ovbiagele

When I protested to a mechanic that his charges were increasing by the day, he said his expenses were increasing rapidly too, and he has to increase his charges in order to cope.

“Madam, na school fees dey kill person so o!”

“Primary and secondary school education is free in this State.  How come you pay school fees? ”

“Ah, madam, my children dey go private schools o!  I no fit send dem go government school where plenty children no dey pass WAEC and JAMB later, and dem no fit speak English well.  Me, I want make my children sabi speak beta English, no be de type wey me dey speak so.  I need plenty money for dem school fees.”

I commended him for being a responsible parent, and wished him well.

I was impressed that he was ambitious for his children, and was aware that they need to have a good grip of the English language in order to be successful at their studies.

Some of us who have been classroom teachers are sad about the quality of education in our country at present.  Standard have become so low that you don’t expect a primary school pupil in many government schools across Nigeria, to speak good English.  Some can barely express themselves in that language at all.

In fact, I find that some people who were educated only up to the primary school level over fifty years ago, speak better English than some of today’s university graduates!  Some of the latter find it difficult to string the right words together, or get their tenses, adjectives and adverbs right.

There are of course, some government schools (apart from Model schools, Federal Government schools, missionary schools, etc.) where standards can compare with the high quality private schools; but it’s usual for us not to expect great things from the majority of state schools.

There’s the issue of dilapidated buildings, poor sanitation, overcrowding, lack of teaching materials, shortage of  staff and books, poor teaching skills, etc. These are all things which tend not to make many schools conducive for learning.

Some from the old school may say that in their days, lessons were sometimes held under the trees with no meaningful teaching aids, yet, they scored high in both local and international examinations.

That could be true, but then, most children then were brought up to take life seriously so that they could excel in life; teachers were of good quality and they took their jobs seriously. A teacher was judged then by the percentage of  his/her pupils who passed well.

Parents and teachers joined hands to shove and push their wards as much as possible to success; using whatever means they deem relevant for the desired results.  These days, these ones are too stressed out to play that role successfully.  For them, if the child is not doing drugs, engaged in criminal activities, and attends classes, then he’s alright. They make sacrifices to send their wards to the best schools they can afford, and feel contented.

It’s when poor performances at external examinations like the Common Entrance, WAEC, and JAMB surface that there’s alarm and panic.  To save themselves this unwanted stress and the disgrace of having a child who’s not got admission hanging around the house indefinitely, some parents may condone ‘expo’ and examination malpractice; convinced by a child’s whining of  ‘Mum, dad, everyone is doing it.  It’s no big deal.  It’s the only way, unless you know the right people.’ The end result is that you have graduates who are not masters of the courses they studied!

I was delighted to read recently that the president has ‘approved the recruitment of 1000 English and Mathematics teachers for the nation’s 104 Federal Government Colleges.’  The report says ‘Minister of State for Education, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, dropped the hint yesterday in Abuja at the opening of the first phase of the continuous professional development programme for Mathematics and English Language Teachers in the Federal Government Colleges.

The Federal Ministry of Education is training 144 Mathematics and English Language teachers in inclusive teaching approach.  The presidential approval was aimed at improving the quality of education offered by the Federal government colleges.

“Though every subject is important, you all know that Mathematics and English Language occupy a special place in the nation’s education system, because of their relative importance.  Arguably, across every career and every discipline, the relevance of Mathematics and English Language is self evident and will only continue to gro
w. This is why as a matter of national policy, these subjects remain compulsory.”’

Precisely!  As it is the norm with us in this country, the Minister had said all the right words on the subject of Education.  What about the follow-up?  Will the training those teachers have received impact positively on pupils in those Colleges across the nation?  Will there be a marked improvement in their Mathematics and English Language?

Will another regime change this noble cause in a country where we have this habit of wiping out whatever our predecessor had started, even if it’s a good programme?  What about State Schools and Private Schools?  Will the Federal Ministry of Education recommend same to them and enforce it?  I think it should, since we operate the same educational system.

Right from the Primary School level, we should begin to improve the quality of the teaching of Mathematics and the English Language, so that pupils can have a sound grasp of these subjects from an early age.  Bring back drills in time-tables and spelling.  Teach grammar properly, and bring back Composition.

Here’s hoping that the teachers themselves have a good knowledge of the English Grammar, pronunciation and spelling. GSM texting has adversely affected these.  An H.R. person told me recently that she received a letter of application mostly written in text language from a graduate.  She was shocked because the person claimed a 2:1 in the course undertaken. Well! Well!

The use of text language in school work, should be resisted by teachers and even punished.  As for Mathematics, pupils should be encouraged to use their brains for figures, and leave the use of the Calculator for later in life.

It’s pathetic seeing a young person reach quickly for a calculator when dealing with very simple Arithmetic that an illiterate can work out speedily in her head.


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