May 4, 2024

University entry age is about nature and nurture, by Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

I read a story that the “Minister of Education, Prof Tahir Mamman, has released a directive that admission to tertiary institutions should not be given to candidates less than 18 years. The Minister said that “the 18-year-old benchmark is in line with the 6-3-3-4 system of education. 

When I went to school in the 70s and 80s, we spent six years in primary school, five years in secondary school and a minimum of four years in the university, depending on the course we studied. In the 80s, some of my contemporaries entered the university at 16 and graduated at 20 years. The entry age at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I studied, was 16. It was strictly enforced. 

I also know a girl she got admission at 16 in the University of Ibadan where she graduated with second class upper. She went on to have a brilliant career and remains the only African to get to the position of vice president in the multinational company where she worked until she retired. She is happily married with children doing great in their various endeavours.

Like their mother, these children graduated between 20 and 21 years depending on the courses they studied, but they entered the university at 16 to 17. I know some other students who entered the university at age 16-17. Some rose to become CEOs of financial institutions and manufacturing companies. Some set up businesses with billions of naira in turnover. 

My reaction to the minister’s pronouncement is based on my personal experience in the last 40 years (1984 to 2024). First, let me acknowledge my ignorance of the stipulation of 18 years as the minimum age of entry into Nigerian universities based on the 6-3-3-4. I am ignorant of it because it was never implemented. But even with 6-3-3-4, it is still possible to graduate before 22 years. I know many students who graduated at 20 years since the 6-3-3-4 system of education started.

They are doing great in their various endeavours, which calls to question if the policy was well thought out ab initio. Some of these graduates who left school at 20 got jobs where older applicants failed. One of such who graduated at 20 got employed by the company where he did youth service because he was too good to be let go. Truth be told, the 6-3-3-4 system never achieved some of its goals. For instance, we were told then that students who drop out of school after junior or secondary school would have been equipped with technical skills to earn a living, but that has not been the case.

I am not an expert on education or an educationist, but I disagree with the minister on the policy that that students should be 18 years before they are admitted into the university. We don’t have to follow the British system where the minimum age is about 17 or the American educational system where the minimum age is about 18. We do not have a well-developed educational system like theirs and we do not have to follow or copy their system. Empirical evidence has shown that age 16 years is good enough for students to start their university education. Using maturity as the reason for fixing the entry age at 18 years is not convincing. Maturity, like learning, is a continuous process and most of these children are mature enough to become undergraduates at 16. 

Every human being is a combination of nature and nurture. Nature are innate qualities that we are born with, while nurture are environmental factors that partly shape our habits, traits and personality after birth. The use of age in determining maturity a criterion for entering the university is subjective whether in America, The United Kingdom or Nigeria. It diminishes the critical role played by nature and nurture. That is why it should not be arbitrarily applied. 

I have taken time to look at the entry requirements for students in public and private universities. The ones I saw said the student must be 16 years at the time of entry (resumption) not even when they wrote the entrance examinations. I am really confused with the minister’s statement. I interact with young undergraduates under 20. Some of them will blow you off with their knowledge and dreams. I had no such clarity of purpose when I graduated at over 22 years old. All I knew was that I wanted to practice what I studied. It took me a while to find my purpose, but these young men and women under 20 years already know what they want to do with their lives.

Interact with them and you will be amazed. One common denominator manifests. They come from homes where the parents were deliberate and intentional in raising their children. They took time to understand them and became great mentors to their children. The parents are rich, middle class or low income earners. They cut across board, so it is not just a matter of money. The parents understood the importance of education, mentorship and good upbringing of their children and invested their time and resources in them. They wanted omelets and broke eggs. Nurture is very important in raising children just as nature is. 

In the US and the UK, they waive the age requirements for “geniuses” and specially gifted children. We have read stories of children who got university degrees at 14, Ph.D at 18, multiple degrees before 20 years. Do we have such special arrangements in our education system? Hon. Minister, please do not upset the apple cart. Let things be as they are. Some of the children writing JAMB Exam now are 16 years. Are they going to be denied admission until they turn 18 in a country where we are already dealing with high unemployment, high crime rate, cultism, internet fraud, etc., among youths?

Hon.  Minister, we know some students who got into the university at 16 and derailed, but their immaturity is more out of nature and nurture, not biological age. The Wisdom of Solomon has nothing to do with age of Methuselah. Four children of a man went through the same secondary school. The principal kept telling the father that “this your “son thinks and behaves like an old man (matured beyond his age).” These children were raised in the same home by the same parents. Why didn’t the principal say same of the other three children? Nature was at play here. 

The minister said “Parents should be encouraged not to push their wards too much.” I agree some parents do unbelievable things. A father was caught writing the last JAMB exam for his son and that is not the first time such a thing is happening. That again is a problem of nurture, not the age of the children.  The law should take its course. 

Finally, if the minister’s call was to encourage parents to send their daughters to school, while condemning underage girls being forced into marriage, he would have had an ally in me. Age 16 is mature enough to become an undergraduate.