On April 23, a spokesman of the National Teachers Institute (NTI) Kaduna, Nigeria, told the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that it intends to set up cybercafés across Nigeria as a solution to the perennial underperformance by secondary school students at external examinations such as the National Examinations Council (NECO) and West African Examinations Council (WAEC). According to the NTI spokesman, the cybercafés will be used free by the teachers in all state capitals of the federation for the purpose of research with the intention of improving the sad situation in public secondary schools.
Two things were wrong about this solution to ending the woes of education in the country. First, it will not be feasible for NTI to establish and operate cybercafés to be used free for teachers across the nation. Secondly, the NTI through this has demonstrated its ignorance of the roots causes of the predicament in which secondary school education has found itself. This suggestion will only plunge the secondary school education deeper into its difficulties.
For anyone that has taken time to study the problem of education in Nigeria, the root causes lies in government’s disregard of the sector. Currently most wealthy Nigerians, who happened to be politicians, prefer to educate their children outside the country. Given that it is their responsibility to fix these problems, one can conclude, without an iota of doubt, that the issue of a better education of the kids of ordinary citizens of the country is not one of the preoccupations of our politicians.
Schools in Nigeria are operated by governments and the private sector, comprising individuals and organizations. In the past few decades, the private sector has reasonably lived up to its responsibility of providing quality education in the country. Sadly, high proportions of Nigerians can only afford to educate their children in public schools because of the subsidy the government provides by paying teachers. If public schools continue to fall short of meeting the minimal standards, it means that the future of education for a large majority of Nigerian kids will remain doomed.
The question arises as to how the government has failed in its educational obligations to the people. It arises from the twisted line of reasoning that anything meant for the ordinary man is of little worth. As a result, public schools have been poorly cared for. Infrastructures are uncared for. Teachers are poorly paid with the paltry salaries coming haphazardly. At times certain percentages of their salaries are just withheld with reason. Most times teachers stay for months without pay. These difficulties have become the reasons why most of academic sessions are often wasted as a result of industrial disputes.
With the exception of federal government secondary schools, all other public secondary schools in the country are owned and operated by the state governments. The normal steps leading to the establishment of a secondary school is to build the infrastructure, recruit teachers and declare the school opened. In nearly all states of Nigeria today, governments hardly get involved in the development of school infrastructures. When a community makes a request for a secondary school and the government agrees to grant the request, it does so without building the structure for the school. It locates an existing primary school in the locality and then uses the structure to serve the two schools. The primary school uses the facility in the morning hours while the secondary school uses it in the afternoon hours. The head of the school that is usually a principal builds the school by the imposition of levies on students. Since the government is usually not interested in what goes on at the school, the principals gradually started abusing what should have been an innovative idea towards covering government shortcomings by corruptly enriching themselves with the generated funds. The principals increasingly started becoming more interested in having huge student populations as the more population the school has, the more money to be realized from fees and levies. In order to attract more students, entry qualifications for students seeking admission gradually became irrelevant. The desperation for good student populations also led to a state of affairs where students are promoted without passing promotion examinations for fear that the students and their levies will leave to other schools. Thus the situation helped to develop and sustain a culture of poor performance in external examinations such as those of NECO, WAEC and Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB). This is an open secret for which the government does nothing.
The corruption in the administration of a majority of secondary schools left the desperate students with no option besides cheating during examinations. This has led to the development of miracle examination centers where students are guaranteed success in examinations as long as they pay specified amounts of money to the authorities of such examination centers. The centers collude with law enforcement agents who turn a blind eye. This is an open secret for which government don’t ever act. The situation has also led to the development of ‘mercenaries’ who are available on hire to write examinations for whoever has the cash.
Outside of miracle examination centers, cheating still goes on in the most of the other centers, albeit with a degree of caution. Some school principals pay off supervisors to allow teachers to come into examination halls to provide answers to students when their own subjects are written. Supervisors that co-operate are considered ‘good’ people that are interested in the ‘progresses’ of the students.
There are other factors that have been partly responsible for the poor performance in external examinations for secondary schools. One is the poor educational foundation built by the lower levels of education from where the students are coming. The nature of the challenges in public primary schools is such that many children pass out without learning how to read and write in contrast to private nursery/primary schools where pupils learn to read and write in the three years of nursery education. Being able to read and write, prior to the commencement of primary school education affords kids the opportunity to take full advantage of what is to be learnt in primary school, thereby paving the way for success at the secondary level.
If the authorities of NTI cannot understand the issues at the foundation of the woes of secondary school education in Nigeria, then the leadership of the institute is questionable. NTI itself looks like an institute that has been shaken to its knees by corruption, especially looking at the manner with which they award post-graduate diplomas across the country. Admission is always automatic as long as you apply. It appears they also cannot afford to miss the money a candidate will bring as tuition fees.
Reversing the succession of failures by students of secondary school does not lie in the provision of free internet access for secondary school teachers but in understanding the real issues responsible for the collapse of public schools in Nigeria. Already the books recommended and used in secondary schools are a result of the works of the best researchers the world has ever known. They are the same books that were used by the Soyinkas, Achebes, Iwealas, okris and a host of others. They are also the same books the private schools used with better results today.
The contribution NTI can bring towards ending persistent failure at NECO, WAEC and JAMB examinations is to continue with its constitutional duty of training teachers in addition to suggesting to governments to be interested in what goes on in our schools. They should admonish the various tiers of government to understand that teachers are educated people that expect to be paid well and regularly. The governments must ensure that teachers are promoted as and when due. The government must pay enough attention to ensure fees are affordable and that classes are never congested. Governments must tell school administrators to ensure that promotions are never automatic for all students. The governments must be made to understand that schools will never do well unless the authorities are provided with money to cover daily running costs and if they don’t do it the principals will find the money by hook or by crook. The governments must be made to understand that they can upgrade the curriculum of public primary schools for better results by just learning from the private primary schools next door and not through unnecessary workshops. Furthermore, the government must be made to understand that a very insignificant portion of annual budgets will change the situation significantly as if it is appropriated and percolates down to the bottom. The government must be reminded that examination offenders are liable to 21 years imprisonment but no Nigerian has ever served 21 days for cheating during exams.
Everything lies in the doorstep of government. The government must recognize that majority of Nigerian parents can only afford to educate their children in public schools. If we must take advantage of our human resource that is not just the biggest in Africa but one of the biggest in the world, then the millions of kids that look onto public schools alone must be given a good opportunity to develop their potential to the benefit of the country. The government must be reminded that the public schools are the country’s biggest possessions and should receive the right attention.