I tried to stay away from commenting on this issue because I think I am beginning to sound like a broken record on topics concerning education. Hard as I try though, I can’t seem to keep myself from coming back to this very sensitive issue which determines the destiny of this country. Without mincing words, I wish to reiterate ab initio that if we are truly interested in this country’s future, if all our feigned concern is not mere sloganeering, then we must, as a matter of urgency, take another look at the standard of education.
If the last NECO result, which recorded 90% failure (as reported in some mainstream media), does not worry you, nothing else would. It gave me sleepless nights. Perhaps, because this has become a recurring decimal, the news no longer shocks. We sigh and make exclamations of disgust and dish out a few lines of insult to the government, and then go on with our concerns. Each year, we watch the free fall of the grades, a fall only comparable with the collapse of stock values under the weight of the worldwide economic meltdown.
Undoubtedly, these shameful results are a direct reflection of the quality of learning that goes on in our schools. It cannot get worse than this. If we cannot pass exams set by ourselves, by our own standards which are generally accepted to be low, then there is a problem. How can we then pass exams set using global standards? How do our children and future leaders compete in a globalised world when we cannot successfully scale our own lowered bar?
That the state of education today leaves much to be desired is a well known fact. What is needed now is not even the proffering of solutions –countless opinion articles over the years, in addition to the many policy documents and blue prints of series of committees and even PhD thesis in our universities, have exhaustively explored the solution to this sad situation more than I can ever articulate in an 800 word op-ed piece. What has been lacking (and which is needed urgently) is that commitment to make it happen, to apply the pill in order to arrest the situation and save ourselves further embarrassment.
What has to be done is already documented somewhere, begging to be implemented. It is not rocket science. You cannot continue doing things in a particular way and expect a different outcome. If anything, the law of diminishing returns will set in. What the annual deterioration in general exam results points to is that whatever we are doing, we are failing at it and it is time to change tactics. Until that day when we have leaders who are ready to pursue disruptive but innovative strategies in every field of our national life and not just reproduce the annual budget template year after year, we shall simply continue to remain overwhelmed by our challenges.
The call today is for decisive action from all, the government and the people alike. We have to disrupt the order to arrest the trend. At this level, no idea is useless. There is fire on the mountain. We cannot overemphasise the relationship between illiteracy and/or unemployment and national security. We cannot prove enough how an educated populace equals national development. The facts are clear. For me, nothing is more important than this at the moment. There is enough room for everyone (the government, NGOs, civil society and individuals) to play a part in the large jigsaw puzzle that is education in Nigeria; from access, to conditions of learning, to teacher training and welfare, curricula development, learning materials, guidance counselling and proper evaluation.
Let me point out that government is not solely culpable in this situation of mass examination failures. The parents and the students themselves have a huge share of the blame. Can the parents proudly state that they provided everything needed for their children to succeed in the exams? Can the students themselves claim that their failure was not their fault, that they prepared well enough, within the resources available to them, to pass? That they did not, for the most part, resort to the belief that they would cheat their way through? I say this bearing in mind the many technological distractions confronting children of school age today, and the near collapse of parental interest and guidance of children in many homes as parents run the rat race of career advancement. So, the call rings out to all. We either stop in our tracks now to arrest this trend or in twenty years, we will be sighing for the same reasons.
First published in Daily Times.