24 October 2008

Nigeria: Mass Failure in SSCE Exams

STUDENTS are the leaders of tomorrow. The young shall grow and the old shall go. Life is a relay race in which one generation passes the baton of life to another in an endless stream. In more ordered countries, the transition from one generation to the next is expected to be accompanied by rising levels of education as new knowledge is accumulated and disseminated among the people especially those in school.

Nigeria has become an exception to the rule. In the recent Secondary School Certificate Examinations, 14 per cent of the pupils that sat for the last examinations passed and a whopping 86 per cent failed in one degree. We have an emergency - if indeed the leaders of tomorrow are to emerge.

The two compulsory subjects -English Language and Mathematics - are also the subjects with severe shortage of competent teachers. That may partly explain the reason for the high rate of failure in those subjects. It is also true that most schools lack competent science teachers and equipped laboratories. Students do not conduct practicals, they cram the processes from the books. Three other subjects -biology, chemistry and physics - are among subjects for which students are badly prepared.

Languages, like French, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, are other subjects for which inadequate preparation constitutes an insurmountable obstacle for students.

Teachers have become problems. Unethical practices are common in schools, from sexual favours for marks to teachers selling merchandise during office hours. In rural areas, nursing mothers bring their kids to school and divide their attention between work and maternal duties.

The result of years of poorly taught students, who increasingly are worse than the previous generation, is showing. Employers of graduates of our universities can testify that the best graduates these days lack the mastery of English, which a school certificate holder in the 1950s to 1960s possessed. Given the impediments in the way of the students these days, it is a miracle that anyone passes the examinations at all. Examination malpractices could be students' response to society's callous disregard for their education.

Blame rests squarely on three sets of adults - political office holders from presidents to local government council officials, parents who have abandoned their civic responsibilities of fighting to ensure their votes count and teachers most of whom are in the wrong profession.

Politicians make decisions that lead to teachers being underpaid and schools ill-equipped. Parents have abandoned their kids' education. The flight from public schools to private schools, as the recent results indicate, is wasteful. Most private schools are not actually better than public schools and their proprietors encourage the examination malpractices. Most teachers have given up teaching. They only attend classes as cover-up for the illicit activities they indulge in all day.

The time has come when we must declare an education emergency in Nigeria . We cannot be among the top 20 in the world with a functionally illiterate workforce in a dynamic world where all the leading economies are knowledge-based.

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