The Moment (London)

Nigeria: Nation Universities and Unhelpful Policies (Two)


NOW, what on earth is this kind of totally bankrupt and senseless policy meant to achieve, somebody should please tell me. In fact, I was so moved that I had to go and confront the principal of the school, and it was then I learnt that almost every school in Nigeria is now operating this policy as a fallout to the policy on English and Mathematics by NUC.

It is enough that Mathematics is a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools, but to pronounce that a child failed a terminal examination merely because he did not do well in Mathematics does grave damage to the psychology of such a child. What if the will of the child to continue in school is sapped in the process by such a devastating verdict?

The time has come for us to agree that we cannot all be experts in numbers, and it amounts to inflicting grave damage on both the psychology of our youths and the society each time the NUC callously denies a child university education simply because such a child was created to be another Wole Soyinka instead of a Chike Obi!

That is why we have various fields of study to cater for individual peculiarities and endowments. So, the NUC must be called to order and stopped from elevating what is clearly a misplaced passion to a destructive superstition. Indeed, I would be glad if anyone could tell me how much Mathematics contributed to earn Soyinka a Nobel Prize.

What one finds very annoying is that some of the fellows at the NUC and their cousins at the various faculties and departments churning out these obnoxious regulations would have ended their careers as roadside traders or artisans if such policies were operational when they were admitted for degree programmes many years ago.

I am also reminded that Nigerian rulers have till now showed no interest in this totally backward policy because their children are all studying abroad, where such needless inhibitions are non-existent. That is really sad. Nothing kills a country like acute selfishness in its leaders.

What is this fetish about Mathematics, by the way? A school principal told me the other day that English and Maths constitute the core and foundation of all branches of learning, and that once a child excels in both subjects in secondary school, such a child would be adequately equipped to capture a degree in any discipline any day. Interesting argument, isn't it?

So, why don't we take it a step further by immediately collapsing the wall between Arts and Sciences and then start compelling every child to take combined honours in, say, Physics and English, or Pharmacy and Theatre Arts, or even Mechanical Engineering and French, and so on?

I have also heard that too many candidates are applying for the few spaces available in our universities, and so this policy was put in place to significantly scale down the number of applicants. If at all this is true, then it is very unfortunate.

If one million people, for instance, are applying to the read Law or English, and the department or faculty can only admit 300 students, the most sensible way to get the best is to offer admission to candidates who have performed better than others in the relevant subjects and not the irrelevant subjects!

The same thing should also apply in reverse to those seeking admission to the Faculties of Engineering or Medical Sciences. I would be alarmed if these faculties deny admission to somebody who had excellent grades in the core sciences simply because he had a pass in English, but offer admission to the person who managed to obtain credits in the core sciences but had a distinction in English. Clearly, we are preparing the ground for multiple, enduring disasters in this country, for which the NUC must be held solely responsible.

It is possible that the ego of the nation's 'Mathematicians', especially, within the ranks of the NUC and their friends, may have been overplayed here. They must have reasoned: Why the premium place given to English at the expense of Mathematics in the university admission process when both of them are compulsory subjects in the secondary and primary schools?

The Federal Government must urgently save the future of this country from the destructive ego of a few men and women. English (for now) is the nation's language of communication, and that is the only reason we insist that people pass it so that when they are in the classroom, they can at least understand their teacher.

That is also the reason foreign universities (in English-speaking countries) insist on candidates obtaining good grades in TOEFL before offering anyone admission. But what is the argument for Mathematics? Somebody should tell me.

Indeed, it is difficult not to also suspect that some clearly self-serving reasons are motivating this pernicious policy. In fact, the whole thing smells and tastes like a very clever stratagem for creating a very large market for the countless 'Mathematics Made Easy' pamphlets that have flooded our markets. And one would not need a soothsayer to realise that the advocates of this policy and their cronies may be among the happiest beneficiaries.

The Federal Government must put a halt to this madness and restore sanity to the system, by throwing this obnoxious policy into the nearest refuse dump. Maybe, too, the NUC is fast outgrowing its usefulness.

The time may have come for its powers to be significantly abridged. Some might even be thinking that it should be scrapped. Why not? I don't mind the universities maintaining autonomous existence and formulating their individual admission policies without, NUC breathing down their necks.

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