Can we fix our broken education system? – Obijiofor

1 Comment » September 16th, 2011 posted by // Categories: General Articles


Obijiofor: Can we fix our broken education system?

Friday, 16 September 2011 00:00   By Levi Obijiofor  Opinion –   Columnists

THE news headlines are troubling. They reflect the same messages – poor performance or mass failure in examinations and disturbing cases of cheating in examinations conducted at all levels across the nation. The screaming headline in the Daily Sun of Thursday, 11 August 2011 said it all: “1 million students fail WAEC exam”. Although the final figures relating to the number of students who received credit in five or more subjects are still to be finalised owing to administrative errors acknowledged by officials of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), it is obvious that fewer than half the number of students passed the examination.

Sharp drops in student performances have occurred not only in examinations conducted by WAEC but also in tests conducted by the National Examinations Council (NECO), as well as examinations conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). For example, The Guardian reported on 25 June 2011 that, of a total of 1,493,000 candidates who took the 2011 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by JAMB, about 842,941 candidates scored below the critical 200 marks. In fact, a breakdown of the results announced by the registrar of JAMB, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, showed that 201,798 candidates received between one and 169 marks, while 641,143 candidates scored between 170 and 199 marks. Clearly, these results are miserable.

Mass failure in examinations conducted in Nigeria has become the most basic criterion used by the public to assess the quality of education at secondary and tertiary education levels. When students are not doing well, it is reflected in their examination scores. Many people believe that education standards in Nigeria have since buckled. In response, the government has introduced panic measures aimed at treating the symptoms rather than the causes. Everyone must be alarmed.

The key causes of the snag in our education system are not too difficult to understand. Could it be that the quality of teaching in secondary schools has diminished irreparably? Could it be that examination questions are way too high and beyond the comprehension of students? Could it be that an increasing number of students are not motivated in their studies and therefore see no value in education? Could it be that most public schools lack basic facilities to support quality teaching? What level of support do federal and state education departments provide to public schools to enable them to achieve excellence in teaching and to assist students to attain their learning objectives? At the centre of these questions are public concerns about poor standards of education in the country.

In March this year, the Federal Government announced that it would launch a new senior secondary school curriculum effective from September (this month). The rolling out of the new curriculum is to serve as the government’s response to poor standards of education at the secondary school level. But there remain questions about what the curriculum would achieve and the value of phasing in a new curriculum at a time when the existing curriculum has not yet been fully implemented. One aim of the new curriculum is to produce secondary school graduates who will be adequately equipped for university and polytechnic level education.

I am not sure the new curriculum will fill the knowledge gap that exists among secondary school students. There are many secondary school students who cannot put together sentences that are grammatically correct. There are also those who still wrestle with the fundamentals of arithmetic. A deficient education system will always produce defective outcomes. It might be better to focus on significant improvements in the level of funding and infrastructure support provided to schools. These should help to improve, not solve all the problems of teaching and learning in secondary schools.

Director-General of the National Teachers Institute (NTI), Dr. Aminu Ladan Sharehu, identified last week factors that contribute to mass failures in examinations. He said it would be important to crosscheck the background of secondary school teachers because if their background was faulty (whatever that meant), so would the knowledge they impart to students. He also said the wellbeing of teachers must be given priority attention in order to extract the best from teachers. In his words: “There is need to upgrade academic qualification of Nigerian teachers. It is not enough for teachers to have Grade Two certificate or National Certificate of Education (NCE). There is need to motivate teachers to have higher academic qualification as this will improve capacity building.”

This is a valid point. Teachers must be compelled to undertake regular professional development programmes designed to improve their qualifications, their knowledge, their skills and to familiarise them with the challenges of teaching in the 21st century and beyond. Falling standards of education require a more holistic approach to problems that confront our education system.

Education standards have declined over the years and there are factors that account for these. They include but are not limited to non-existence of essential structures to support excellent teaching and learning practices, a culture of indiscipline among teachers and students, students’ poor perceptions of the value of education in a society that adores wealth, hiring of poorly trained teachers or teachers without basic qualifications for teaching in secondary schools, lack of innovative teaching practices by teachers, poorly equipped libraries, inadequate science laboratories, as well as irregular evaluation of the secondary school curriculum to ensure that it is reflective of the realities and challenges of the 21st century. These are some of the impediments that have hindered the growth of quality secondary education in Nigeria.

The collapse of secondary education must be considered a national tragedy. Extensive changes will be required to resuscitate quality secondary education in the country. How many public secondary schools can boast of well equipped libraries or science laboratories in Nigeria? How many public schools have decent sporting facilities or playgrounds that are well maintained? An environment conducive to teaching and learning in public secondary schools does not exist. Part of the problem must be attributed to paucity of funds or inadequate funds that are provided on an irregular basis and misused by officials who perceive requests for accountability as bad behaviour.

Confronted by a pathetic education system which holds no future for them, students feel compelled to make the best use of a hopeless situation by engaging in examination malpractices. It is in this environment that many students are driven by a philosophy which informs them that what they cannot achieve through hard work can easily be obtained through dubious means. Just to be clear: students are well aware that cheating is wrong but they also understand that our society does not query the means through which academic honours are achieved. The only question we seem to ask is whether someone has got any academic certificate to show at all. Without that, the person is condemned as a failure.

But, make no mistake about it. Examination misconduct is not restricted to secondary school students. When news broke last year about the leakage of a paper at the Bar final examination of the Nigerian Law School, everyone thought it was the highest act of academic indiscretion. The Nigerian Law School is not an institution where you expect students to engage in cheating of any kind. Over the years, the Law School successfully established a reputation as an institution recognised by law for the training of lawyers who want to practise law in Nigeria. In light of its track record in the training of lawyers, it was therefore unthinkable that a question paper in the Bar final examination would leak ahead of the examination date in 2010.

Everyone was shocked and also distressed when investigations conducted by a committee of the Council of Legal Education set up to probe allegations of examination malpractices that occurred in the Law School’s Bar final examination showed unimpeachable evidence of leakage of the paper on Corporate Law and Practice. The scandal at the Law School epitomised the problem with Nigerian education institutions and the moral decay of our society. The popular refrain became: If it could happen at the Law School, it could happen anywhere in the country.

In the context of the dishonourable practice at the Law School, it came as no surprise when I read in a national newspaper three days ago the story about the arrest of WAEC supervisors and invigilators by officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC). The WAEC representatives who were entrusted with the fair conduct of official examinations were picked up for alleged involvement in malpractices. What the story tells us is that when students cheat in examinations, more often than not, you will find that examination officials conspired to facilitate that criminal behaviour. When mature men and women who are delegated to supervise examinations collude to engage in sharp practices with students, the extent to which the entire education system and society have collapsed becomes clear.

Our society must have been nurtured on a culture of cheating. Why do so many people in positions of responsibility practise one form of fraud or another? Are we a nation of swindlers? Everywhere you look, nearly everyone is trying to cheat the system. Students cheat. Workers cheat. Parents cheat. Professional groups are not exempt. Is there any way we can salvage the system? It used to be said that a broken bottle can never be mended. Perhaps that’s the case with our secondary and tertiary education. Can we repair our battered education system?

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One Response to “Can we fix our broken education system? – Obijiofor”

  1. The world today is different, as we knew it before, courtesy science and Technology -that made her a village… do we refuse to make changes that the young Nigerian will grow in…? … the old cloths (our educational set up) are bad; they just do not serve their purpose any longer…. People cut corners and use quacks…, Banks misuse depositors’ money…, and appointments are not by merits… Governors not obeying legislated set Laws… http://reformoneducation.blogspot/ In Addition to the above, when Students cannot be able to recognise the immediate use of science or mathematics [Subject theory] to the need of everyday life with practical approach, definitely will be the first step to wrong answers, and to what the theory of such science is all about. We live in a society that is continually evolving and yet, somehow, it has become generally accepted that schooling should not change. http://usescience-anzunkwa.blogspot/ Many still hold an expectation that what “used to work” remains appropriate. The world is different. Does one refuse to wear new cloths when the old ones’ outgrown its time? It doesn’t mean the old cloths are bad; they just don’t serve their purpose any longer in the new generation subjected with environmental changes and new technology. Critical Theory and Critical teaching are based on the premise of continual change. Perhaps Critical teaching and creativity will help us to prepare the Nigerian young citizens of tomorrow for the inevitable changes they must meet.

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