First class degree holders now count money in our banks – Dr Tosanwumi Vincent
Dr Tosanwumi Vincent Otakunefor, is a university don who had his education both in Nigeria and overseas. He is the founder and executive secretary of Alpha Education which emerged sequel to his observations abnormalities in the educational sector in Nigeria. As an expert in education who has been in the system since 50’s to date, in this interview, speaks on sundry issues bedeviling the sector and suggested ways to stem the downward trends. Excerpt:
How will you compare the educational system of the 60s, 70s, and the 80s to the system we are currently operating now in Nigeria?
I am privileged to have experienced the different educational systems operating in Nigeria for over five decades both as a student and as a teacher. Education in Nigeria has experienced significant changes over the years, descending from its glorious heights in the 60s and 70s to the current state of decadence in the last two decades. It has witnessed a period of governmental bewilderment in terms of policy trust and management.
Policy changes during this period have resulted in the abandonment of the Higher School Certificate, the introduction of JAMB, the change in the academic calendar from the January to December to September to May/June, the elongation of the secondary school programme from five to six years with one additional year to create the 6-3-3-4 system with the production of illiterate graduates as the ultimate outcome.
The government’s dream of transforming the educational system of the nation has been shattered by the continuing decline in the performances in the public examinations notwithstanding all the efforts of the government to stabilize the system. It appears the system has totally collapsed. The operators seem to be in a state of total confusion, literally stupefied by the magnitude of the disaster, and watching helplessly as the calamity unfolding in the educational system threatens to engulf every aspect of our national life. It has become a national disaster that warrants the declaration of a national emergency!
Are you saying that the standard has declined?
That is a gross understatement. I am saying the standard has crashed! Now our graduates cannot read and write. Our teachers do not know what to teach. Some of our first class degree holders (the very best the system can produce) cannot pass interviews. Our medical laboratories cannot diagnose malaria correctly. Nigerians now go to India to get their appendix removed.
First class degree holders are now required to count money in our banks. Nigerian welders are being trained abroad to work at home. Do we need an Indian prophet to tell you that the standard has crashed? Very soon our fishermen, cattle rearers, tailors and carpenters will need to train in India to be able to serve Nigerians Nigerians have lost confidence in themselves and in their country.
The standards have been severely compromised in Nigeria today. I still remember when I was in primary school that the pass mark was 50%, now it is 40%. When I started teaching at the University of Port Harcourt in 1981, a student needed to attain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average (CGPA) to obtain a second class lowers degree and a 4.0 CGPA to obtain a merit class upper degree. Today, the same student needs a CGPA of 2.5 and 3.5 only to obtain second class lower and second class upper degrees respectively, and this is officially approved by the National University Commission (NUC)!
For the ordinary people on the street, the above values translate to a D+ and a C+ respectively, that is, 45+ and 50+ percent average performance. These figures are obtained after disregarding grades in eight to ten courses where students perform woefully. I wonder what the average grades would be if all their grades are taken into consideration in the computation of their final degrees. On top of this, the students do not need to pass all courses to graduate anymore in spite of the high incidence of individual and corporate examination fraud. You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you that the standards in our educational system have been bastardized by those who were supposed to uphold it!
What is your view on illegal fees in Nigerian schools? What impact does it have on the quality of education?
Collection of illegal fees by some elements in the school system has effectively reintroduced the schools fees that were abolished by the introduction of the universal basic education programme and in effect, the burden on the parents and guardians which the programme originally sought to remove. It is one of the manifestations of the hydra headed monster called corruption that has ravaged every facet of Nigerian life.
Illegal fees have been introduced in all tiers of education in Nigeria. There are fees for terminal examinations, report cards, books and practical examinations. There are illegal fees collected for every external examination both in the primary and secondary schools. Parents pay between N10,000 and N30,000 for the West African School Certificate Examination and the same amount for the National Examination Council (NECO) examination. I am sure no parent knows the legal amount that should be paid for any of these examinations.
There are fees collected just to see the results of external examinations taken and to collect the certificates when they finally arrive. There are fees for PTAs, for sports, and occasionally even for officially sanctioned examination malpractice. The implication of all these illegal fees is that the universal basic education is no longer free and hence not universal. Kids are sent home for nonpayment of any of these illegal fees, and hence miss the few classes that are taught. It amounts to thwarting the laudable efforts of the government to provide free and qualitative education for every school age Nigerian child for personal illegal gains.
What can you say about the quality of teachers engaged in these frauds?
Teaching jobs in Nigeria are not secured by the most qualified applicants. It is usually cash and carry and most of the vacancies are gulped up by the highest bidders or through specially allocated quotas. There are quotas for this political big wig or that administrator. Even the clerk in the ministry of education may have his own quota which he sells to the highest bidder without batting an eye lid.
By the time all the quotas are filled, there may scarcely be any vacancies left for those who are knowledgeable in the subject they are applying to teach. You may just be lucky if some of those quotas contain a few qualified teachers. To make matters worse, many of those hired in this manner also secured their degrees by doubtful means and are not averse to propagating themselves using the same well rehearsed methods.
Are you then saying that there is corruption in the educational sector, especially in the employment of teachers?
Yes! Corruption and incompetence in the educational sector are the main causes of the current trend in the educational sector. It is a reflection of the general trend of corruption in virtually every facet of our national life. It has affected different sectors of the educational system including funding, administration, and supervision. It is also responsible for the phenomenon of ghost teachers.
How did we arrive here?
The majority of teachers produced by the teachers training colleges and universities are not knowledgeable in their subject areas. Most of them have below average academic performance when they were students. They have far worse grades in their teaching subjects. How do you expect them to be suddenly transformed into good teachers? You cannot give what you do not have.
How can this be?
Let me put it bluntly; to begin with, the students that are being trained as teachers are of very poor quality, the curriculum that produces them is defective, their trainers are of low quality with very low output, and the processes that generate the new teachers are fraught with grave malpractices at virtually every level. I will like to elaborate further on the admission.
The quality of students admitted into our teachers training institutions is very low. The students admitted to read education in our colleges and universities did not want to read education in the first place and are not interested in teaching. Most importantly, they are not even qualified for admission, let alone to teach our aspiring children at the primary and secondary school levels.
These facts become obvious if one looks at the list of students subscribing to education in any of the nation’s universities. The number of candidates admitted is higher than the total number of candidates that applied to the faculty through JAMB, and usually less than ten percent of these applicant score at least a 40% in the post unified tertiary matriculation examination.