Why IELTS shouldn’t be stopped for Nigerians
The significance of English in any nation cannot be overemphasized. As the world’s number one language, it is a tool with which we market ourselves and get things done. Schools, embassies, farmers, everybody uses it and the ability to communicate effectively in the language defines our personality. English is accorded high prestige such that achieving a reasonable level of proficiency in it becomes one of the requirements many countries have to meet to obtain visas in embassies around the world. Non-native speakers of English like Nigerians face the daunting task of mastering the language due to attitudes, mother tongue interference, and lack of a conducive learning environment. For Nigerians who intend to visit say, UK, the US, or Australia for academic or work purposes, their proficiency in English must be certified through International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
Of late, however, IELTS has come under fire in Nigeria. Policy Shapers and think tanks want the organisation to remove Nigeria from the list of countries that take IELTS exams/tests, alleging that the initiative is exploitative; the two-year expiration period for the exam grade is too short; the initiative is a continuation of colonialism in Nigeria; it is a subtle form of racism and discrimination. These grievances, if welcomed by the presidency, may reawaken the call on the Federal Government to develop an indigenous language as a lingua franca for Nigeria.
IELTS comprises four modules: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, which is tailored to applicants’ needs, with writing being the toughest. Demanding Nigeria’s exemption from the list of IELTS countries is, for many reasons, ill-advised. First is the complex if not controversial nature of the English language, which Nigerians are still grappling with. English stress, for instance, constitutes a serious challenge to non-native speakers. More challenging is its pronunciation, which is chronically inconsistent. In the listening section of IELTS tests, a range of English accents and dialects are used in the recordings played to the test taker. Its proverbs and idioms, too, are not straightforward.
Secondly, English is an analytic language that relies on word order for meaning, such that ‘The girl loves the woman’ does not have the same meaning as ‘The woman loves the girl’. For mutual intelligibility amongst Nigerians and native speakers of English to occur, Nigerians intending to visit the US or UK must demonstrate to the consul some level of communication skills in English.
Thirdly, English (in this case Received Pronunciation (R.P)) is the primary and standardised variety (dialect) in the UK. English is an inalienable asset of the UK and Australia and no nation can dictate to these countries on matters concerning their languages; even when such other dialects as Cheshire, Cumbrian, Estuary, Geordie, Essex, Cockney, Brummie, etc. exist in the UK, R.P English is dominant(in the UK). Experiences have shown that Americans, Britons, etc. have issues with the English spoken by many Nigerians who migrate to their countries. Consequently, efforts are made by the host countries to address these issues: miscommunication and confusion.
It will be erroneous to exclude Nigeria from IELTS list, as doing that will further weaken the learning of English in Nigeria. IELTS does not resuscitate colonialism or stoke up the fire of racism nor are its fees outrageous. Most of the countries excluded from the list are relatively less populous countries with low impact on IELTS’ economy. Undoubtedly, their exclusion could be on purely economic, rather than racial or whimsical grounds. The population of Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, Malta, Grenada, Gilbratar, Falkland Island, Guam, Cayman Island, Belize, Fiji Island, Guyana, Jamaica, and Turks and Caico Island is below that of Lagos State. Although IELTS may be profit-driven, it is worthy of note that UK and Australia are not out to exploit Nigerians.
Before the UK sold IELTS India to IDP in 2021, it had excluded populous countries like India (until 2018); it also excludes South Africa, the US, Canada, etc. the last three being English countries (which could be a strong factor for their exemption); this likely counters the company’s profiteering motive. IELTS does not exploit or relegate Nigerians to the background nor does the UK, Canada, Ukraine, or Poland force Nigerians to emigrate to its country. Concern should be on who is jittery about the mentally stimulating nature of IELTS exams: Is it those well-equipped student applicants from rich homes or repentant militants / Boko Haram chivvied to the embassies for visas?
The fact that Nigeria was once a British colony and now adopts English as its official and second language is not enough reason for its exemption. Nigeria’s linguistic landscape shows that ninety percent of its population speak Pidgin, dialects and Nigerian English whilst the other ten are struggling with Queen’s English. This means it has not met the criterion demanded by the UK: at least fifty-one per cent of Nigerians ought to use English effectively. UK and Australia, to which English is native, are authoriSed to control IELTS in collaboration with British council. IELTS shouldn’t be owned by Nigeria if the originality of applicants’ results is to be guaranteed.
It should be emphasised that if the quality English taught to students in the US or UK, even India is delivered to Nigerians, less noise will be heard about IELTS in Nigeria. In Nigerian institutions, save for a few private ones e.g. Chrisland Schools (Lagos and Abuja) and The Bloombreed Schools (Port Harcourt) that maintain standards, learning/teaching patterns, and conduct of exams are grossly insane. In the US or UK, students don’t go to the exam centres with their family and friends to assist them in passing exams. Students don’t buy from racketeers prepared answers to multiple questions in a workbook given to them by their instructors, as of course assessment. Instructors don’t abandon their duties or play truant.
In conclusion, concerning the validity period for IELTS results, it could be that IELTS sees English as a frequently-changing phenomenon. So, there is that mindset that the result issued to applicants ought not to last for too long. French is relatively stable; that is why Diplome d’Etude en Langue Francaise (DELF), which is an IELTS equivalent, has a very long validity term. But France is not a choice destination for plenty of Nigerians because of the language barrier. I welcome any move to extend IELTS result validity term and advise the PolicyShapers and think tanks clamouring for radical reform of IELTS’ policy to think up the best way to stop corruption and crime in Nigeria and improve teachers and students’ welfare.
Sola writes from Port Harcourt