Saturday, 04 July 2015 15:19

Mass Failures of Nigerian Children in Schools

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The aim of this essay is two-fold. First, we wish to point out how Nigerian schools are failing our children in more than one way and how they can be improved to nourish our good children and offer them a good opportunity to succeed in life. Second, we are going to be discussing ways that Nigerian educational system can take off in a mighty way to turn things around for the benefit of all of our children by focusing on important issues that affect the nation. It is gratifying to note that some of us Nigerians who had benefited from the Nigerian school experience in the past are now making considerable contributions both in Nigeria and other places as the most educated immigrant group in America. Unfortunately, our boys and girls back home are languishing under the most unproductive educational system ever known to Nigerians as recorded in our children’s poor performances in schools and mass failures in the WAEC tests.

The Nigerian schools are not what they used to be in the past. Something went wrong, and that thing ought to be corrected immediately. We ought to understand the problems facing the Nigerian schools and devise ways to combat them or at least to ameliorate the situation.  It should surprise nobody that Nigerian is rapidly becoming a land of illiteracy which is not just inability to read and write. The term’s meaning has been expanded to include the inability to take care of infrastructures as well as incapability to use language, numbers, images, and good behavior. It is suspected that illiteracy may be at the root of the tide of corruption currently sweeping across our nation. Nothing seems to work in a place where there is endemic illiteracy, and a nation of illiterates is a devil’s workshop where a few a hands steer the ship of state to perfect the act of keeping the rest in chains. Schools are a part of the larger community, and what affects one also affects the other.   Most of the ills of society can be found in its schools. Those who want to help improve teaching and learning in Nigeria will be interested in the interaction between town and gown, and the relationships among various Nigeria’s key players, namely the government, children, parents, and the community.

According to Mr. Charles Egundu, Head of the WAEC National Office in Lagos, there was our Nigerian children’s mass failure in the May/June 2014 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). The number of Nigerian boys and girls passing the West African Examination Council  tests is steadily declining as the figures show: 2012 (38.82%); 2013 (36.57%) and 2014 (31.28%). Nearly 100,000 students who registered for the 2014 examination failed to sit for it. A large number of students (86,822, 5.13%) who sat for the examination had their results not processed on time as a result of laxity coming from carelessness, sloppiness, or slackness. Another group (145,795, 8.61%) had their results withheld because of exam malpractices defined as misconduct, unprofessional conduct, or cheating.

Total number of registered candidates =1,705,976

Numbers sitting for the Exam =1,692,435;  Males = 929,075 and Females =763,360.

Fully released results =1,605,613 (94.87%)

Number and % of passes = 529,425 (31.28%) with at least 5 credits, plus English and Math.

Number still being processed as a result of candidates’ laxity = 86,822 (5.13%)

Number withheld due to exam malpractices = 145,795 (8.61%)

To repeat, the results showed a steady decline in candidates’ performance from 2012 through 2014. The percentages of passes are as follows:  2012 (38.82%); 2013 (36.57%); and 2014 (31.28%). Plausible reasons for the mass failures, in my own opinion, may include but are not limited to the following scenarios: (a) students’ attitudes; (b) parents’ confusion; (c) misplaced priorities; (d) poor reading and computational skills; (e) dull, formal, or pedantic teaching; (f) absence of teacher certification system that would develop a pool of qualified personnel the nation can draw from.

This writer is a product of good old Nigerian schools, having gone through the primary and secondary levels before proceeding to a two-year teacher’s training college for the award of the Higher Elementary Teacher’s Certificate (HETC) after the completion of the West African Examination Council. My early teaching experiences were at the Methodist School where I served as teacher and headmaster. I left Nigeria when an admission to existing four Nigerian universities (Nsukka, Ibadan, Ife, and Ahmadu Bello) was impossible as a result of large pools of applicants and limited number of vacancies. I left for America to obtain the Bachelor’s  degree in mathematics and the MA, MS and the Doctorate in education. The law degree (Juris Doctor) was added to complete my training as a professional teacher. While I was learning to be a teacher, I had the opportunity to teach at all levels of the American school systems, from the elementary and middle, to secondary schools. Further teaching experiences were as Professor at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctorate degree levels. I sat for and obtained the highest State professional teacher certifications (Level Seven) in mathematics and educational leadership.

I returned for a few years to serve as Lecturer/Educational Officer at a Nigerian Institute of Management and Technology (IMT).  I say all this to prove that I am qualified to talk about the Nigerian educational system because I have been there as a certified teacher, I worked there, and I return there periodically in summer months to check on the progress my friends’ children have been making in schools. Nigeria once had one of the best public education systems in the world, but the system suffered a great devastation during the illiterate military leaders’ rule of utter unawareness. Now, the Nigerian schools are in dire need of massive overhauls along with rehabilitation. Nigerian teachers are dedicated but need to be equipped with effective philosophy of education, teaching strategies, modern equipment, considerable planning, and sincere encouragement in order to help turn things around and formulate a new school system that would promote democracy in a nation of 170 million people. There is a tremendous, increasingly terrific,  job ahead.

There are several problems that persons interested in preventing mass failures of Nigerian children in schools should be concerned about. The first problem is the students’ attitude toward schools. Nigerian schoolchildren are largely idle and unsupervised during the school year. During the weeks I spent at Lagos and Abuja, I saw the children roaming and loafing around the streets engaged in activities unrelated to schools, even at hours schools were in session. Many were strolling leisurely on errands to sell oranges, akara balls, peanuts, loaves of bread, or anything to supplement family income. One chap was balancing on a bicycle with the sign proclaiming himself to be “Future President.” I chatted with young people about homework which was de rigueur at the Nigerian schools of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.  Nigeria ought to have laws in the books requiring compulsory attendance at schools from age 5 to age 17. Local Boards of Education should be required to enforce attendance policy, and send truancy officers to the homes to ensure children are in the school classrooms

The second problem militating against schooling in Nigeria is the parents’ confusion. Is school important?  Nigerian parents are confused about the value of education and the quality of private versus public schools, believing that the more expensive the schools their children are enrolled in the higher the quality. A good highly motivated student would do well at any school, private or public. Here are two rules of thumb. Rule One: hardworking students make schools good. Rule Two: Well structured schools make good students. The mad rush to equate cost with quality leads to escalation of interest in private schools and dwindling concentration on public school education. The result is that private schools are housed in beautiful buildings and have a few computers and modern books, while the public schools seem to be neglected and relegated to the background. Adjectives used to describe Nigeria’s public schools include slatternly, dowdy, blowsy, and frowsy. Slatternly stresses untidiness, mess, disorder, muddle, disarray, jumble, clutter, chaos.

I saw Nigerian school houses that reminded me of the chicken coops I see on American farmland along the highways in South Carolina. Dowdy emphasizes a shabby dullness in color or appearance. The secondary school I saw in Nigeria as I travelled along the Lagos-Abuja roads  have the color of unsightly mud. Many years of neglect give Nigeria’s schools a blowsy look defined as a rustic coarseness along with a disheveled appearance, especially of ornamentation. During the dreadful harmattan season, the entire Nigerian schools looked weary, deserted, and frowsy, implying deadness of a building haunted by ghosts. Who wants to go to a house haunted by phantom, mischievous spirit, ghoul, specter, poltergeist, and banshee? No, the place is forsaken by society and considered as enclaves reserved for the desolate poor?

The situation is rendered more absurd when Nigerian politicians and wealthy parents send their children out of Nigeria to preparatory academies overseas. Some parents whose children attend private schools often point at and make fun of families whose children attend the public schools referred as “Jackonde.” A family’s social status seems to be predicated on or measured in terms of the schools their children attend. The result is that Nigerian public schools are underfunded, poorly staffed , and badly maintained, while proprietors of private schools grow fat with wealth amassed from tuitions and fees from parents for enhancement purposes . The parents I encountered at Ikeja, Lagos, were largely uneducated and unaware of what their choices of schools entail and what their children are up against. Parents with little disposal incomes and who could not afford private schools, often send their children to day public schools around the corner. Despite what is said, Nigeria’s public schools can be good. I know a family whose six children were laughed at when they were seen trudging to public schools. Today, the family boasts of producing three lawyers, one accountant, and two sons in science.

Families of traders and government workers send children to private boarding schools where fees are about N430,000 Naira ($2,606) per term. That translates to yearly fee of 1,290,000 Naira or 7,818 US dollars. Nigerian politicians backed by public funds and lack of love for their country and moral conscience send their children to outside private schools, particularly to Ghana, Eton, Harvard, and other schools in Great Britain, Canada, and America. The result is that Nigerian public schools are virtually abandoned, poorly financed, and housed in dilapidated infrastructures. The Nigerian public schools appear to be the domain of the poor, and it is very unfortunate. Nonpayment of teachers’ salaries adds messy admixture to a harrowing situation that is disturbing, upsetting, traumatic, distracting, vexing, irksome, worrying.

There are misplaced priorities in the thinking of Nigerian  parents and their youngsters who are less interested in education for the sake of learning  but more in becoming a Dangote or a millionaire owning several mansions and a fleet of flashy cars. The pursuit of wealth appears to preoccupy the minds of mindless Nigerians and to overshadow all considerations in the minds of typical Nigerian schoolchildren. Teenage gang activities and teenage prostitution are on the rise as mind-boggling possibilities since decisions are often money-driven. This writer has had numerous discussions with younger Nigerians who wonder why, though  I have spent many years in American universities and acquired different degrees, yet I do not have mansions at homes with luxurious vehicles parked in front for them to see.  To these young people, money matters more than education, doctorates, and professorships. One Nigerian, a recent graduate from a Nigerian Law School, wonders why “all your education does not mean you have a legacy at home.”

One could not overlook Nigerian student’s poor reading and computational skills. Poor reading has been found to correlate with juvenile delinquency, gang membership, and failure in examinations. Encouraging Nigerians to read daily newspapers and check out reading materials from local public libraries might not be a bad idea.   To buy newspapers to read makes one an oddity in a country where many Nigerian parents do not purchase daily newspapers to read and discuss with their children. By not reading, parents and children must be missing out on happenings in the country and around the world, particularly as they affect children’s education and future. There are not enough books for young readers. You’d seldom see children read for pleasure or entertainment.

Although there are several books written by African authors that detail African life and culture other than Chinua Achebe, these are not readily available to the reading public. A few young adults, perhaps unemployed graduates, were seen carrying the Bible for consolation during these bad times.  This writer would like to encourage Nigerian authors to write books that would interest our Nigerian children, particularly books in which children see characters “who think like us, feel like us, do things we do, and value things we value.”  Books with foreign characters and culture often encourage children to look down on Nigerian society and to aspire to leave the country. Living in America, England, or Europe should not be the overriding interest of our young people. It should be emphasized that the best place for Nigerians to live is Nigeria, at least to prevent widespread brain drains and disconnection with Nigerian culture.

Pedagogy, the critical approaches to teaching in Nigerian schools, are centered on passive rote memorization and little real comprehension.   The Nigerian school’s instructions in English language and mathematics have a lot to be desired, since they usually center on “repeat what I say” and “regurgitate what I fed you” rather than on critical thinking, originality and creativity. It is funny to read a Nigerian child’s essay and be accosted with too many ludicrous idioms and parables that do not relate to the idea being discussed. If they remotely do relate, they are not fully explored to a logical conclusion. For example, to illustrate the idiom “a stitch in time saves nine,” I would advise a Nigerian student of English composition to write an interesting paragraph about a girl who went to a stream early in the morning to fetch a pail of water and who spent the rest of the evening doing homework with her cousins. Compare that with the story of a boy who waited till darkness to fetch water from the same stream and was bitten by a snake only to spend a painful night at the hospital. The purpose of a good composition is to entertain the reader and put him or her in stitches with laughter or sitting up in anticipation as the story unfolds. AA sup with skills and resources needed to make the most

Teachers in Nigerian schools appear to work hard with little help so the job is done in a dull, formal, or unchallenging fashion. A Nigerian school is a placewhere a student is inclined to beslumberous and somnolent. Being slumberous applies to one who is heavy or overcome with a deep desire to sleep, implying a state of repose or acquiescence. While helping a neighbor’s elementary school children with homework at Ikeja, Lagos, I noticed some serious problems during homework.  Math homework time was often devoted to guessing  the answers rather than a desire to (a) understand the problem; (b) analyze what is given and what is to be determined; and (c) discover the proper approach to follow to arrive at a solution through orderly step-by-step process. I kept asking the children: “Please show me how you got the answer.” They kept pointing to the wrong answers without an explanation. The teaching of mathematics in Nigerian schools as the case might be is about producing answers that might be illogical rather than carrying the word problem through a proper process.

Here is a math problem: “If Jack runs one mile in 5 minutes on Monday, how long will it take him to run 100 miles?” A typical Nigerian child would say: “500 minutes.” That is incorrect because it would be humanly impossible for Jack to run consistently every hour, and he could not run 100 miles on Monday. A math student should be able to use commonsense All in all, the teaching of other subjects in science, geography, and history follows fashions that are haphazard, abstract, confusing, unchallenging, and extremely mechanical. Teachers do not make good use of effective questionings and productions of suitable examples and non-examples to illustrate a concept or drive the point home.

The behavior of children in Nigerian schools can be described as slavish, servile, obsequious and menial. Compared to students I have taught in America, the Nigerian children are obsequious, showing slavish attentiveness and compliance as well as excessive deference and flattery toward those in authority. They are servile in that they exhibit the cringing, fawning, flattering, toadying, sycophantic or submissive behavior of a slave or servant.  Children in Nigerian schools are not challenged to think on their feet; they are simply spoon-fed with facts that are irrelevant and scarcely understood. Memorization is the order of the day. I can imagine that Nigerian children sit silently on wooden desks bored to death, and are not encouraged to ask questions or volunteer answers. They are the captive audience that is too scared to engage in self-directed learning. Teachers demand silent obedience and nonchalant comportment rather than robust discussion leading to some noisy learning. .Pleasing teachers in order to obtain passing grades and progress to the next level seems to be the standard operating procedure If I were the teacher in a Nigerian classroom, why wouldn’t I order a child to the board to work out a problem and another child to explain the process and a third child to correct mistakes in the process? Learning is a proactive engagement, not reactive, unthinking exercise in do-nothingness..

Nigeria is lagging behind when teachers and students do not have computer access, including the ability to use reliable phones, and the internet for texting and emailing.  Nigeria needs to introduce technology in the classroom. Teachers should be able to impart knowledge with the help of modern pieces of equipment, including, visual aids, overhead projectors, computers, tablets, and the Promethean interactive whiteboard system. Efforts should be made to stabilize Nigeria’s supply of electricity so that parents can be encouraged to purchase computers and other educational aids for their children.  Keeping up with the rest of the world through technology is a goal Nigeria ought to pursue with earnestness.

Teacher certification is critical to the success of any educational program. Certification is the guarantee, documentation, qualification, and official recognition of teachers who are then placed in pools local boards can select from. That Nigerian school boards hire hundreds of unqualified teachers are persistent allegations that have not been fully investigated. Becoming a  public school teacher often requires completion of a degree in a teacher education program and obtaining a teaching license in such areas as mathematics, English, science and many others. A teacher should demonstrate advanced expertise in a subject as well as competence in teaching in that area.  LONG LIVE NIGERIA AND SURVIVAL TO NIGERIA’S SCHOOLS.

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James Agazie Ed D

A retired college Professor  with educational backgrounds in law (JD) education (Ed.D, MA) counseling,( MS) and and mathematics.  Write on topics dealing with Nigerian families, marriages, education, and employment.