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At a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1986, African nations, including Nigeria,made a commitment to carry out reforms to curtail the deepening crises retarding growth and development in the region.
According to the UN, the spirited efforts of most of these countries yielded no fruits, while pledged foreign aids became increasingly insufficient thereby forcing the countries to seek alternative ways to development.
Africa’s recovery and sustainable development, according to the United Nations, will therefore depend on many important factors, including the expansion, both quantitative and qualitative, of the continent’s stock of human capital, through education.
President of the World Bank, Barber Conable, while introducing a World Bank policy study on education, said: “Without education, development will not occur. Only an educated people can command the skills necessary for sustainable economic growth and for a better quality of life.”
There is no doubt that education is a key player in making any development theory become a reality but, unfortunately, the Nigerian government, over the years, has indulged in actions which could only sound the death knell for education.
According to a former head of service of the federation and Chairman, Governing Council, The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Professor Oladapo A. Afolabi, apart from the Nigerian factor eating deep into the essence of the country’s life, education in Nigeria is being jeopardized by policy somersault, constitutional malaise, politicization, poor funding, low student support, poor remuneration, low esteem for teaching profession, the perception that education is in the services and not the care sector of the economy, and other vagaries.
Fundamentally, constitutional placement of control and responsibilities in the education sector must be redressed to pave way for transformational administration. The general rot in the country, lack of appreciation of quality, indiscipline, corruption and flight of fear of God are some of the ills of Nigeria that are rubbing off on the education sector.
To improve the situation in the education sector in Nigeria and make teaching and learning attractive, government must, first and foremost, handle education matters as a matter of priority; more of the national budget should go to education; practical school curricular should be developed to expose students to modern ways of learning; teacher education should be strengthened, while teachers are also exposed to latest innovations in teaching and impacting knowledge.
With consistent mass failure in public examinations, in Nigeria, in today’s issue of Education Tribune, the opinions of stakeholders in the West African Examinations Council, which conducts the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE); the National Examinations Council (NECO) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, organizers of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) were sought on the causes of failure in these examinations, the challenges the examining bodies have that are militating against their effectiveness and what could be done to remove this cross of mass failure among our teeming youths.
For more than five years now, less than 30 per cent of candidates who wrote the West African Senior School Certificate Examination obtained credit in five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.
Consecutively, the last three results released by the council had been bad news for most candidates, with less than 22 per cent of them obtaining credit in five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.
According to the West African Examinations Council, in 2008, 23 per cent of the candidates passed; in 2009, 21 per cent passed and in 2010, 20 per cent passed, while many had their results seized due to their involvement in examination malpractice.
The mass failure is alarming, with no feasible solution except that the various stakeholders, including government and the examination body, pass blames to exonerate themselves from the failure.
In his argument, the Head of National Office, WAEC, Dr Iyi Uwadiae, inferred that more candidates failed due to lack of quality teaching compared to what most adults got during their school days.
According to him, the standard of examination is intact and it is regularly reviewed to meet up with the international benchmark and even better, but that the poor teaching and lack of interest of many candidates in education, have contributed immensely to the poor results.
He noted that most candidates, including their teachers, rarely read the syllabus, making the council’s effort futile. A random sampling of the opinion of teachers and pupils on WAEC syllabus by Education Tribune showed that most of them did not use the syllabus as a guide.
He explained that the syllabus was deliberately put on the council’s website so that the candidates could access it while registering for the examination. To him, the syllabus could go a long way in assisting the candidates on the areas of concentration.
Uwadiae identified dearth of qualified teachers, inadequate and dilapidated classrooms and inadequate teaching aids in most secondary schools in the country as factors contributing to poor performance of pupils.
For the Chairman of the highest policy making body for WAEC, the Nigeria Examination Committee, Chief Adeniyi Falade, who also doubled as the President of Association of All Nigeria Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPPS), candidates failed examinations because they lacked the knowledge of the subjects.
According to him, mass failures occur in public examinations because most candidates have shallow knowledge of the subjects they study in school; there is disregard for rubrics, while incorrect interpretation of questions, poor command of the English Language, lack of Mathematical/Manipulative skills, poor knowledge of examination techniques and illegible handwriting are other factors.
He said, over the years, in its resolve to maintain the benchmark, the council had sacked many examiners, barred candidates and schools that were involved in examination fraud from participating in any organised WAEC tests but it had failed to turn out grade “A” results due to successive failure of Nigeria's education system.
To him, the marking scheme was never compromised as many examiners have been barred from any WAEC organised examination for engaging in false marking and other examination malpractices.
Currently, the electronic registration and marking model and the prompt release of results within 75 days, as against the former 131 days, are undoubtedly an enviable record for any examination body. To WAEC Registrar, Mrs. Mulikatu Bello, the dwindling performance of Nigerian candidates, despite the huge financial contribution to WAEC and the largest number of people of the country who registered for the examinations, is due to bad education system.
She said: “Nigeria alone records 80 per cent of the population of candidates who sit for the examination and pays 50 per cent of the funding of the council, but it is worrisome that the overall analysis of performance does not favour the country.”
She explained: “With 1.5 million candidates, every quarter, I don’t see the reason why candidates from Nigeria should not record the best performance compared to other countries.”
Bello attributed the poor performance to societal problems, adding that most candidates in Nigeria lack self-confidence as a result of inadequate preparation for the examination.
According to her, there are whole lot of factors, including misplaced societal values, that aid the breeding and perpetration of examination fraud and failure.
She noted that these shortcomings could be linked with government’s failure to provide adequate facilities and equipment in schools, dearth of competent teachers, lack of conducive learning and teaching environment.
Bello expressed displeasure with the incessant changes in the country's educational policies, adding that there was need for proper promulgation and enforcement of relevant legislations and public sensitisation, as well as advocacy against the evil that examination fraud constituted.
Bello’s view was not very different from that of Professor Pius Augustine Ike Obanya’s hypothesis. The renowned educationist and WAEC examiner looked beyond WAEC results, saying there could be no examination failure without education failure and, of course, system failure.
The professor noted that the society had spent too much time in passing blames over examination failure, without creating a model to tackle it.
To him, most students fail examinations because they were never taught anything while in school. As he put it: “In Nigeria, we teach without teachers. 80 per cent of those who enrolled in Faculty of Education in our universities never had the interest to teach after graduating. We have people who are not competent as teachers but we engage them because they flaunt certificates.”
Obanya bemoaned a situation where experienced teachers were laid off by government because they lacked higher academic qualification. He said: “There is a big difference between a qualified teacher and a competent one. Teaching is about effectiveness and ability of a teacher to impact knowledge into a student. It should not be based on the number of university degree a teacher possesses.”
He explained that the society attached so much importance to paper qualification to the detriment of competency, adding that in a modern society, education thrived when the right people were allowed to operate the classroom.
“That is why many of our children are bent on obtaining certificates through any crooked way because the society worships the papers,” he pointed out.
To get out of the debacle, the UNESCO consultant said that there is the need for value re-orientation in which teachers would be recruited based on how adaptable they are to the work, but not how much they know as shown by their number of degrees. To him, a teacher must be creative enough to pass information to the students effectively, while government must be ready to invest in education, instead of spending on it, as it does on WAEC.
Another problem being faced by WAEC is paucity of funds, which according to the Head of National Office, Uwadiae had been hindering the activities of the council. He expressed worry over the insufficient money to engage enough markers for the senior secondary school examinations.
He said that the N5, 850 examination fees the council charged every candidate was not enough to conduct the examination and that the body would need financial assistance from the Federal Government to do well.
He explained that the council might not be able to hire enough examiners because there is no money to do so now and that the situation might lead to delay in the release of results.
He said: “The government has been subsidizing what the candidates pay to the council. If not so, many candidates will not be able to apply for the examination because the fees will be too high.”
FURTHERMORE,the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board was established, through Decree No2 of 1978 and Act No 33 of 1989, as ammended, to achieve the aims and aspiration of the Nigerian National Policy on Tertiary Education on ensuring that only qualified candidates are admitted into tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Prior to that each of the existing universities conducted its own concessional examination and admitted its students.
However, the disorderliness in the university admissions system and its attendant problems led to the establishment of the JAMB.
In spite of the numerous challenges faced by the board in the conduct of its examination, which according to JAMB is largely “third party,” it has, since inception, made several efforts to improve the tertiary education admission processes.
The current Registrar and Chief Executive of JAMB, Professor ‘Dibu Ojerinde, since his appointment, has brought new initiatives to improve the body's admission processes and in 2010, the University Matriculation Examination (UME) and Monotechnics, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Examination (MPCE), which were hitherto held separately, were merged into the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
Speaking with Education Tribune in Abuja, the Director of Information and Technology Services (Computer Dept.), Mr Olujide Adisa, disagreed with public perception that JAMB records mass failure of candidates in its examinations. He said: “As far as we are concerned, there is no passing or failing in JAMB, because our own is not a certificate exam. You cannot say whether a candidate has scored 4As, 5As or 6As or whether he has passed or failed. This is because whatever we do is dependent on the National Cut-off Point.”
For instance, in the last UTME released by the board, about 1.3 million candidates, out of the 1.5 million that registered for the examination, scored 160 points and above. Going by last year’s national cut-off mark, the 1.3 have the chances of getting admitted into polytechnics, colleges of education, technical innovation schools and universities, as the case may be.
Adisa, however, explained that candidates, who could be regarded as having failed, were only those who were unable to scale the national cut-off point. National cut-off mark is usually decided annually at a combined policy meeting, where all the vice chancellors, provosts, rectors and their registrars are present, while the minister of education is always the chairman.
Last year, the national cut-off point for universities was 180, while for polytechnics, colleges of education and innovative centres was pegged at 160. Adisa further explained that because JAMB examination was for selection purposes, it was possible that a candidate who scored 250 might not get admission, while somebody who scored 180 can get admission.
“That is dependent on your choice of subjects, the course you want to read, where you want to read it and where you come from.”
On the challenges being faced by the examination body, the Director of Information and Technology, said: “The challenges facing JAMB is purely third party. The third party we are referring to are the people that are actually supporting us to conduct these exams. We don’t have classrooms where we can examine people. We need to rely on external bodies, schools, to use their classrooms. We don’t have invigilators, teachers that will mount classrooms. We need to rely on them. And most of them have a different mindset to this examination. That is our problem. They collude with students.
They made money on the day of exam. They extort money from students. They do many unwholesome things on the day of exam. That is our major problem.”
Displaying one of the invalid answer sheets, Adisa said: “Now, on this answer sheet, we have instruction at the reverse side and the instruction given to invigilators, that in the first 15 to 30 minutes before the exam, this answer sheet is supposed to have been distributed to the candidates face-down, before the distribution of the question papers. So, candidates are expected to read the instruction, like use of HP pencil, erase any mistake thoroughly, and so on. We provided the pencil and eraser. For each paper, in part one, write and shade the subject. Examples were given with specific instruction that ‘you must write and shade your own subjects.”
He explained that the board could not have subjected the subjects not shaded to physical checking as that would have amounted to exam malpractice. “We expect candidates to follow instruction and we cannot do it for them because instruction is part of examination. Two years ago, we had to take reporters into our strong room and took them through the process of marking. The minister was even here because we had too many people with incomplete results that year; but there is nothing, really, that we can do because instruction is part of examination and candidates are expected to read the instructions,” he stressed.
Stressing that the major challenge JAMB faces is the external body, Olujide Adisa said they had issues of invigilators colluding with school authorities to commit examination fraud. He, however, said the board was on top of the situation, saying apart from the external monitors, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC personnel, are deployed in all the examination centres across the country.
On the marking scheme, he said: “Yes, I got a letter like that from one school here in Abuja asking for the same thing, that they had coached their students so well and they expected them to have done so well. How come their scores are so low? You see, our own is not a certificate exam. So, we don’t give people raw score. We give people what we call, normalized score. And how do we arrive at this normalized score. First, we have to base the normalized score on the population of candidates that actually sat for that subject. So, when we find the mean, we find the standard deviation of that particular subject, we now translate it into a normalized score. So, the population of those that sat for English is quite different from those that sat for Arabic.
“Some people have been asking questions, how come people get odd scores, instead of getting even numbers? If the result is based on 100% and the candidates sat for 50 questions, automatically, each question carries 2 points. And 2 points multiply by 50 is 100. How can a candidate get odd number? Some even said we are doing negative marking.
There is nothing like that. What we do is to draw a graph of performance of candidates. There shouldn’t be too much to the right or too much to the left, otherwise selection will become difficult. We have to draw the graph and adjust our own scale. Therefore, if somebody scores maybe one point in Mathematics, he may end up with 24 points.
“Meanwhile, if somebody scores 80, he can’t get 120 points. He may end up at about 75 or 60 points. That is how the graph is drawn for selection purposes, because you can’t use this result for next year exam, since the population that will sit for the same subject next year will be different from the population that sat for the exam this year. Now, this year, the population was larger. Why, because to the public, we presented four different kind of papers- yellow, red, green and purple and things like that. But to us, it meant different things. It was a security feature. We have to provide the security feature so that even the public will not understand, because for them to understand means for them to begin to smuggle answers into the classrooms.
“Your child can bring in question paper to you and you begin to mark and say yes, this child suppose to score 80 and then when the result is out the child scores 60 and you begin to ask questions. Because you will not know the population that sat for that subject; you will not know the mean of that subject; either will you know the standard deviation of that subject. So, you will not know how to translate it to what it is. But one thing that you can be rest assured is that whatsoever method that we use for one is what we use for all.”
On compliance to marking scheme, Adisa said the marker of the examination is computer and not individuals. The papers, he disclosed, are marked by scanning machine. He explained that once a formula is fed into the system, there would be no mistake. He, however, said before candidates are scored, a team of experts also do sampled manual marking to be sure that there were no mistakes in the marking by the computer.
According to him, the board has a high-tech system that can mark up to 9,600 scripts in one hour. “If the scripts all come in the way we want it to come, not rumpled, not squeezed, if they all come in straight, we would have finished marking, in less than 24 hours, 1.5 million scripts. But because of peculiarities, scripts have to be transported from all over the country. At least, we require 48 hours to gather the scripts together. That is two days. After that we require another two days to do the marking. That is how we are able to get the result out. We work 24 hours and with at least 150 people on each shift.”
On tips on how to pass the subjects, Adisa said it is reading. “We have syllabus each year. Take the syllabus, read, you will pass the exam; but it’s much easier for us to watch video, to play computer games and to play music than to read. Our children are with their GSM 24/7. Every child you see, GSM is in his hand. The time to read is not there. I believe that once they read and they are careful during examinations, they will pass.”s