A funeral gathering
During the last week of last month there was a meeting at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, attended by, according to reports, more than 1600 “stakeholders” in the education sector. It was a blue ribbon gathering. Vice Chancellors, Provosts, Registrars, the Minister of Education, JAMB officials including its Registrar. Other big wigs in the education vineyard such as the representatives of the National University Commission, Tetfund, National Board for Technical Education, NECO, WAEC were also there. It was said to be a policy meeting to chart the path for the 2017/18 school year. The list of the heavy hitters that converged from 524 tertiary institutions underlined the importance of that meeting. From reports I have read it appears that the main purpose of the meeting was to fix the cut-off points for our universities and polytechnics, monotechnics etc. And they did perform that important function which has now brought a tidal wave of discontent.
The universities can, according to them, admit candidates who scored 120 marks out of 400 while the Polytechnics can spread the welcome mat to candidates who scored 110 marks out of 400. There has been a laborious attempt by some of those who attended the meeting to explain that the decision was not taken by either the Minister of Education or the JAMB Registrar, but by the egg heads otherwise called “stakeholders.”
Did they invite parents whose children come out of our universities with beautifully embroidered certificates but remain for several years unemployed and unemployable because those certificates are close to useless? Or are parents not stakeholders in the education enterprise? Did they invite employers who are the expected beneficiaries and receptacles of the finished products of our universities? Or are they not stakeholders too? And what of those who actually labour in the over crowded classrooms as lecturers trying to drive some knowledge into the skulls of these dregs assembled in front of them? Or are those who teach them not recognised stakeholders in the business of teaching and learning? If the composition of the so called “stakeholders” was skewed in favour of those who have no recognisable stake in the quality of our graduates, the decision itself was just wacky.
That decision to convert a failure to a pass and make the ridiculous look rational is clearly a bridge to nowhere. The issue is not just who attended the meeting and who did not even though that is important but whether that decision will affect our education positively or negatively. In which country except Nigeria would 120 or 110 marks out of 400 be acceptable as a pass? If there are kids who score up to 200 and above it can be argued that the examination standard is generally fair and those who score less than 200 are just not university material. In any case, it must be accepted that it is not all human beings that are university materials. Education gets tougher as you climb higher on its ladder and those who can’t climb the JAMB ladder have other options available to them. (a) Those who cannot pass JAMB at the first attempt can register in extra-moral classes at the many centres spread all over the country.
Such intimate coaching can help improve their JAMB scores in subsequent sittings. (b) They can register for diploma courses in universities of their choice and if they perform well they can move on to do degree programmes without losing a year (c) Many of our universities have remedial programmes which are meant to help those who are unable to get admission through JAMB or through the direct admission route. Many students have benefitted from such programmes and have made a success of their lives in the universities. The Federal Government can expand the facilities in its universities for the admission of such students (d) Parents can also hire private teachers to coach their children in the subjects in which they are weak. That method has helped many students to realize their ambition of becoming undergraduates (e) Those who are not sufficiently mentally equipped for university education can learn a trade. People have different gifts. Anyone who is not educationally gifted may have some other gifts. If he focuses his attention on the education door which is unfortunately closed to him, he may deprive himself of the opportunity of discovering his real gifts which lie in the door that is open.
The stark irony about the ridiculous decision is that it happened at a time that ASUU had grounded most of the public universities. Since 1999 ASUU has been at war with various governments over poor and inadequate facilities, poor conditions of service, backlogs of unpaid salaries and a thousand other items of rancorous nature. On each occasion, the universities would be padlocked for weeks while the wrangling goes on and the students go home or roam the streets. After weeks, sometimes months, of negotiation a truce is reached, the students return and are subjected to a few weeks of fire-brigade studies, then examinations. And certificates are issued to these half-baked students because they have to go away so that new students can be admitted. Most of the State and Federal universities do not have a regular calendar of their semesters or sessions because of the regular disruption of their studies through strikes or student riots. Most of the students do not have an idea when they will graduate because there is a standing uncertainty about their opening and closing dates. Students in universities abroad know the date of their graduation as they step into the universities to commence their studies. In fact, that used to be the case here until the last two decades.
Have our education managers tried to find out what employers think of the quality of our graduates? If they ask, they will find that they are rated low. That is why many employers insist on employing only graduates with first class or second class upper division degrees. Some employers opt for those who are adorned with two or more degrees or those who clutch certificates from foreign universities. You cannot blame them because they want full value for their money. This is the setting, the point where our education has gone to pot, the point at which our education has been bludgeoned into stupor by bad policies, low funding, endless strikes and riots and political shenanigans. So we add to this existing basket of bad news, the matter of an obnoxious cut-off point that will drive our education to a destination of ruination. Our interest apparently is in having quality-less quantitative education. Haba aaa!
The point to note is that those who are admitted with this Father Christmas arrangement obviously turn out to be those who reduce our ivory towers to the towers of babel. They are the ones who offer wads of currency to lecturers in exchange for marks. They are the ones who dress in low neckline dresses and flaunt what is flauntable before their lecturers. They are ready and willing to offer sex for marks so that they can go home with certificates that they have not truly earned, that they would not have got otherwise. How will fellows like these contribute to the raising of the quality of our graduates and our education? Or is it that the quality of our education does not bother the managers?
Can a pig become an elephant? No, it cannot. Isn’t a tree known by its fruits? Yes, it is. Is there a royal road to learning? No, there isn’t. The truth is that what you get out of your university depends on what you put into it. It is garbage in, garbage out, excellence in excellence out.
The internet is the rage of the moment. Check out the various social media platforms and you will be amazed at what you find. Textese, the language of text messages, is the lingo of communication which they now also transfer into formal writing. In a few years’ time, their spellings will be more awful than they are today, and the depth of their communication will come down to ground zero. The other day, many people all over the world were congratulating Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, on the birth of his second daughter. And from nowhere a Nigerian with an obviously warped world view said: “with all your money you can’t even have a son.” Did he hear of Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and Angela Merkel, all of them leaders of First World countries who have performed as admirably as most men who have been at the commanding heights in their own countries? And what of such world leaders as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who have only female children and that fact did not prevent them from putting their giant foot prints solidly on the sands of history.
Our education is already producing such graduates who are close to a state of idiocy. There are excellent ones too, people who have raised themselves by the sheer power of their bootstraps but those are in the minority. The Abuja meeting of August was an additional tale of sadness for our education. It was the equivalent of a funeral arrangement for our tertiary education. If we don’t rescue our education we will not be able to rescue anything. Let’s have a colloquium on education and see how we can perform the surgery it needs for survival.