What can anyone say? We all knew it would come to this, we just did not realise it would be this soon. Now that the proverbial shit has hit the fan, we may be forced to seriously consider how to clean up this mess. That is if we care to pay attention at all.
While the nation remains focused on the \"hide and seek\" between Yar'adua's people and an anxious citizenry, on the genocide-mess in Jos and its' environs, or even on the colossal losses in Kano, Maiduguri and Bauchi recent market fires, all flaring up within some 48 hours, which destroyed over N10 billion worth of merchandise, details of yet another disaster, with much longer lasting consequences, were being released, this time by the Minna based National Examination Council, NECO. No one seems to be paying attention.
Of the 245,157 who registered for its' November/December 2009 Senior Secondary Certificate Exam, NECO said 234,682 actually sat and only 4,223 or 1.8% passed, meaning they got credits in at least five subjects including English and Mathematics. (About half of those who passed are from two states only; Ogun and Lagos.) To think that after 12 years of educational instructions over 98 percent of our kids would still fail the final exams is, to say the least, very frightening indeed. But that is exactly what NECO is telling a nation which seems preoccupied with other issues. We need to pay attention. Something serious is happening to our kids and their future.
Not long ago, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exams were more difficult and NECO was very cheap. Thus, when that body released the results of the November/December 2009 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) (External), with only 31% passes out of 342,443 candidates, and withheld results of 57,792 (or 16.87%) because of malpractices, we were worried but not surprised. We were reassured by WAEC that things were not that bad. When all the SSCE results for 2009 are combined, Nigeria's performance in that year was 25%, which is said to be the best among the WAEC member countries, which include Ghana, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia. But then, of the 1,200,765 candidates who registered for the May/June NECO examinations, only 126,500 (or 10.7%) secured five credits, including English and Mathematics. So clearly, all was not well and we have no reason to remain complacent.
So what really is wrong? Let us start by eliminating some confusion. Even if we are ignoring English and Mathematics and prefer to consider anyone who has at least five credits, the picture is still gloomy. For NECO May/June exams 24.5% of the candidates came out with five credits irrespective of subjects. For the November/December exams the figure is 5.20%. So, even if we prefer to excuse them because there are insufficient Mathematics and/or English teachers, the situation is still dire. Are these kids being taught? Did NECO administer the tests and marked the scripts correctly? We don't know, but there are even more serious issues.
It is now clear that we are living a lie. Our education has collapsed and things are not improving. Resources allocated to the educational sector may be insufficient, but even the little that is supposed to be invested is actually stolen. But that for now may even be the least of our worries. The truth is that there are no teachers. They are neither sufficient, nor trained and certainly not motivated. And we are ignoring this issue to our peril. This really first struck me during some official assignment to the Federal College of Education (Technical) Potiskum, Yobe State. We met a school with enough structures, more than adequate equipment but clearly bound to produce only mediocre, unmotivated teachers ready on graduation to pounce on any available job anywhere but in teaching. And we all knew this was bound to happen. We encourage the best students to aim for the universities, preferably to pursue professional careers with better financial prospects. Those not lucky enough would try for a polytechnic diploma. Those without any other choice reluctantly accept a place in colleges of education, always nursing hopes of escaping to some other line as soon as they see an opening. Now, how do you seriously hope to produce well trained teachers when the base from which you are recruiting is that narrow? How can you ever hope for motivated teachers from those who themselves almost hate the profession? And why should they like it when society itself neither recognises their role nor reward their contribution adequately? This approach cannot but produce this type of massive failures we are witnessing, who inevitably end up in the universities, polytechnics and teacher training colleges, in that order of preference, and we continue to pretend that this same vicious cycle would produce the teachers to remedy the mess.
We must be ready to pay teacher better. However, even as we agree with ASUU when it argues that \"if you pay teachers peanut, you end up with monkeys\" the extension of that is no matter how much water and fertilizer you feed weeds they remain weeds, and would not yield any edible crop. They must be weeded out if the system is to progress.
But even the failure rate is nothing compared to another more sinister trend; the mainstreaming of corruption and exam malpractice. All the papers quoted NECO Registrar Promise Okpalla's figure of 236,613 being the number of those involved in exam malpractice during the November/December exams under reference. But he also told us that 234,682 candidates sat for the exam, a figure lower than those involved in malpractices. (Even going online did not resolve this confusion.) Even if the figure is about 50% as in previous exams conducted by the same council, it is a disaster of very serious magnitude. The implications are shocking. If more than half of our future generation is willing to resort to criminal and dishonest means to get a fake certificate then we must ask what their parents, relations, friends and teachers (yes even teachers!) are telling them. This winning \"at any costs\" syndrome must be addressed.
The other side of the coin is institutional corruption. Tens of thousands of mushroom \"coaching centres\" and even some private schools have emerged whose main promise is guaranteeing candidates they could help them pass by \"assisting\" them with exam questions in advance, and \"preparing\" them to beat the system. This is so rampant and must be with the connivance of some NECO/WAEC staff, and is obviously very rewarding.
Come to think of it, we once had only GCE or WASC. Now parents have to pay for at least three exams after SS3, i.e. NECO, WAEC and JAMB (and, to add insult to injury, some fraud called \"post-JAMB\"!) And you have to buy scratch cards to see your result!! Some even go for London GCE. The system is so commercialised and most of those involved are only interested in milking the parents and the candidates.
But then again, why do we need NECO? Won't WAEC be enough? We don't know what to teach the kids, or how. Now we are not sure if we can even assess them. For my part I would prefer one exam at the end of the SSS years, as well as well equipped schools that actually teach something. Is that asking for too much?