THE Nigerian education sector is in a state of crisis. It has been for quite a long time now. What Nigerians observe today as signs of the abnormal in the education sector are by no means new.

Malam Adamu Adamu Education Minister 

They are carry-over  ailments from the past. But what makes things critical about the crisis of Nigerian education is not simply that there are long time issues that require urgent attention. Indeed there would always be issues to address as even the best planned educational systems in the world also have their own issues to grapple with.

Rather what is frightening about our situation is the additional problem that those entrusted with the task of running the country’s education, the policy formulators and implementers, are at a loss as to what steps to take to address the challenges confronting the education of our youthful population, challenges which get more complicated by the day.

A case in point is the Federal government’s decision, announced last week, to scrap post-UTME tests. This decision follows years of long debate as to the relevance or not of these tests which were designed to bring more rigour to the process of selecting candidates for the country’s universities. We shall return shortly to the debates surrounding these tests but let us first examine those crisis issues that led to the introduction of individualised tests after the general one conducted by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board.

One major area of crisis in this country’s education is how to roll back if not halt what is blithely referred to as the fall in the standard of education. And this so-called fall is noticeable across all strata of the education sector, from the most basic primary school level to the tertiary education level. Indeed the rot which often becomes glaring at the tertiary levels have their roots in the primary level, gets transferred to the secondary and eventually on to the tertiary level.

Nigerian universities today reflect the rot one can easily see in the larger society where they haven’t been completely taken  over  by the more deplorable influences that are to be found in the outside world. Both students and their faculties are part of the rot but when attention turns to the question of falling standards it is often the students, products of these institutions, that are in focus.

Thus, when after decades of conducting matriculation examination into the country’s universities and products of these exams fail to justify the high scores often attributed to them by JAMB, universities started questioning the process through which the students were examined and how this could be contributing to the poor standard of those who find their way into the universities. University administrators and teachers were confronted with the bitter irony of students  said to have performed poorly in JAMB-moderated exams doing far better than those who were offered admission on the basis of their high scores in JAMB exams.

What this anomaly indicated was that there was something fishy about the process put in place by JAMB. The situation was not helped by reports and cases of mass leakages of exam questions or the placement of students in so-called special centres where exam malpractices are the norm. In all of this, the conduct of JAMB officials couldn’t be said to have been above board- no pun intended.

What many Nigerians, especially teachers who have to deal with the intellectual dregs disguised as scholars by JAMB- what many had to contend with was the question of how a respected body as JAMB that made so much from sales of form could degenerate to the level where its officials who had become gods in their own right connive to subvert the selection process they had created. It was no secret that rich parents and others with the right connections were buying admission for their children and wards through various means that all meant but one thing: JAMB was corrupt.

The corruption in JAMB coupled with the envy that the universities had of the killing it was making from the sale of forms were factors in the call for the scrapping of JAMB. JAMB, it could be seen, was making so much money even as it sent half-baked secondary school products for admission in universities at a time when these universities were struggling financially. JAMB’s gain was therefore at the expense of the universities. For a Federal Government that was bent on maintaining its hold on JAMB and perpetrating some of its objectives of ‘unity in diversity’, returning to the pre-JAMB years when each university conducted its admission exams would be a setback.

The universities would not give up their autonomy to select candidates for admission. What then came out of these disagreements was the compromise situation in which universities were allowed to conduct post-UTME tests, tests that to a large extent made nonsense of the general exams conducted by JAMB.

This seemed to satisfy many for a while. But like everything Nigerian, the post-UTME tests would themselves be the focus of criticism as they soon succumbed to the same ailments that bedevilled JAMB’- corruption. The reason again is partly money-related. The tests became avenues through which many universities made money through the sale of forms. A lot of the funds that came from these exams which are often conducted to scam candidates go into private pockets.

They are sources of bitter disputes among managements of universities, administrators and teachers. Entrance forms are deliberately sold far in excess of available slots. In the end more candidates, often through  so-called supplementary lists, are offered admission beyond the carrying capacities of the universities. The very purpose of the post-UTME tests are easily defeated because the focus is on making money rather than achieving improvement in the quality of candidates offered admission.

While universities smile to the bank,the quality of students offered admission get worse. Clamours started rising for the scrapping of the post-UTME tests. This was another way of asking for the return to JAMB’s monopoly of the tertiary education admission process. This is what is responsible for the flip-flop in policy, the kind that has now resulted to the scrapping of the post-UTME tests. Given what happened under JAMB before now, the latest decision may not represent any progress.

Corruption is at the root of our educational crisis and until relevant stakeholders learn to follow the path of rectitude and begin to think in terms of what is best for the country, making and implementing policies directed at the common good rather than servicing parochial interests, no meaningful gains would be recorded. The quality of our educational institutions, especially the universities will only get worse as one foolish policy replaces another. No progress will be possible until we disavow systemic corruption.

 

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