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Saturday 30 July 2011

When 200 becomes 180

The number 180 may not mean so much to many people but would probably now mean a great deal especially to thousands of university seekers in Nigeria. This is because the Joint Admissions Matriculation and Exam Board otherwise known as JAMB has decided in its wisdom to lower the university cut-off mark for students seeking admission into Nigerian universities. When asked if this meant a lowering of standard, Prof Ojerinde who is the JAMB registrar disagreed by saying "it's not true, what we are saying is that the entry qualification in terms of senior secondary certificate examination must be the same. Prof Ojerinde, who is the first Nigerian Professor of Tests and Measurement, would surely know a thing or two about standards so it is rather surprising if the quotes attributed to him are accurate. Now let me make it absolutely clear I have nothing against young people striving to make it to university and realise their life long dream of a university education. I am a beneficiary of Nigerian university education, so it would be foolish for me to suggest so. However, I have a problem when we dumb down standards for the sake of accommodating more students who clearly failed to meet the minimum score to be considered for admission.

The University Matriculation Exam is an entry level exam that has historically set its cut-off mark at 200 out of a possible 400 score. A score of 200 is equivalent to 50%, so in effect what we are saying is that a student with less than 50% score is good enough to go university. Well I disagree with that notion. First, we have to decide if university education is for everyone and in my view it isn't. We have had this open door approach to university education in the last 20 odd years or thereabout and it has created more problems that solutions which university education are there to solve in the first place.

One of the reasons why cultism has strived in Nigerian universities is because there are far many young people who have somehow got themselves into universities but have no business being there. I experienced this first hand during my time in university back in Nigeria. Universities in Nigeria have become breeding grounds for all sorts of promiscuous behaviour with many young gullible female students as victims. Again made possible because most of them should be no where near a university but a system that encourages mediocrity has somehow allowed every individual who can buy their way get into universities.

Universities are places for serious academic work and research and only meant for those students who can handle the rigour and demands that it provides. Sadly, the heavy decline in standards over the years has meant the rigour and demands of academic work has gradually faded away with serious allegations that abound relating to money and sex for grades. This is not to say those who go to university are somehow superior to people who choose not to, far from it. What it means quite simply is that you must have some level of aptitude to academic work to be able to cope. To suggest that somehow this move by JAMB would not in any way result in a drop in standards is either being in denial of what is at stake or at best rather naive. So what if future UME exams produce worse results with fewer students scoring less than 180, would that mean another lowering of cut off below 180? If we keep lowering standards in this way, there is only one direction for education to move in Nigeria and that is down I'm afraid.

Rather than keep lowering JAMB cut-off marks which is an exercise in futility, all stakeholders in education needs to go back to the drawing board and find out the real reasons why our young people are under performing. Let me once again draw attention to some of the main issues that needs to be addressed that would help us move forward. These issues includes to provide adequate funding and ensure it targets local needs for local schools. Invest heavily in infrastructure and reform teaching and learning by restructuring the current teacher education and training. Until we fix all that is wrong in our educational system, performance in UME exams will only get worse and we may reach the stage where there is no more cut-off marks to be lowered.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Turning Talents into Teaching

As a frequent visitor to one of my favourite website forum for teachers in the UK, I recently came across a topic by a prospective trainee teacher posing the question, what makes a good teacher? As you would expect, the responses were varied but nevertheless thought provoking and in fact did make me to reflect on my own journey into the challenging but satisfying world of teaching. However, on reflection, I had to cast my mind back to my days in school and University to recollect those teachers that I held in high regard. I believe if I can understand what my teachers had about them perhaps it would help me answer the question. Top on the list is my primary school teacher, Mrs Bianeyin whom sadly I understand is longer with us but unable to confirm it as at the time of writing this article. I can vividly remember she had an authority about her but at the same time very approachable. She was passionate but also knowledgeable when she was teaching and I still remember one particular day when she taught us about what makes a good citizen in one of our Civics lessons. Until this day what I learnt in that lesson has had a profound positive impact on the way and manner I conduct myself.

Since over three decades I left primary school, you do wonder how many teachers of the calibre of Mrs Bianeyin are still about in teaching. There are two schools of thoughts about what makes a teacher; one school of thought holds the view teachers are born and another school of thought is of the view teachers are made. Put it this way, in my view some people have a natural flair for teaching and some people can be trained and educated to become good teachers. However, one of the reasons for the decline in educational standards in Nigeria is the unattractiveness to teaching. This was highlighted in a recent Aljazeera report on the state of education in Nigeria. It highlights the fact that a quarter of teachers in Nigeria are poorly trained and without adequate qualification. It reported about one primary school in particular in the Makoko area of Lagos where in a school of about 1,050 pupils, there were only 16 teachers meaning a ratio of 65 pupils to teacher. What has happened is that the student population has been allowed to grow without a corresponding increase in the training and recruitment of teachers to cope with this expansion. Then you add the increase in class sizes which further compounds the problem as in my experince no meaningful learning would take place in such an overcrowded classroom.

We have many university graduates who are aimlesly looking for jobs that are just not there and we could turn their talents into teaching. But before that happens the different teaching qualifications and routes to teaching needs to be first of all streamlined into one single qualification. Teacher education should be consistent across the whole country with a considerable element of teaching practice through school placements and some theoritical work carried out in university to inform practice.

The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria earlier this year developed a document with 84 standards by which teacher's professional expectations could be precisely assessed and measured. While I have some reservations to have 84 standards, I see it as a welcome development nonetheless but it should not remain as just another document in the long list of policy initiatives that never get to take off.

Good education can only be achieved with good teachers. The only way we are ever going to get good teachers is by incentivising prospective teachers with good remuneration and conditions of service on one hand and providing a rigorous teacher education and training programme on the other hand to train the next generation of teachers. We will be letting the next generation of Nigerian children down if we do not take urgents steps to address the crisis of teachers and teaching in our schools. Every child deserves a good education but even more so a good teacher to make this even possible.

Sunday 3 July 2011

RE: Can Education be Free?

"It is no good making education free if learning is going to take place under trees or where resource materials like books, ICT are difficult to come by." The above statement is a line taken out of a previous article I wrote in response to Imo State Gov, Owelle Rochas Okorocha's flagship policy on free education shortly after he was sworn in as Governor. Less than two months after, news making the rounds reveal that the governor has disbursed N2.7bn to kick start his free education policy; each local government receiving N100 million naira each. The money as reported in one National newspaper will be used for the renovation of primary and secondary schools. This move is indeed commendable which no doubt if carried out to the latter would improve the learning environment and infrastructure where our children will learn.

However, there are still enormous challenges ahead, one of which is to assess the quality of teaching and learning in Imo schools. This could be addressed in two folds; looking at the way current trainee teachers are trained and what sort of training of current teachers have and are currently receiving. How robust are the training received in line with what is obtained in the developed world? What is the theory/practice ratio? What professional standards are teachers expected to meet to qualify as teachers? How adequate are these standards in developing the appropriate professional competence? What amount of funding is available to ensure training of the highest possible standards are provided? Imo State no doubt has in Alvan Ikoku College of Education, one of the foremost colleges of education in Nigeria. The question that needs to be asked is whether it is still living on its past glories or has it moved with the times in terms of educational research and the structure of its teacher training programme.

The Governor also needs to look at the remuneration of teachers which I believe don't get paid a lot. To attract the best brains to the teaching profession, its profile needs boosting and one way to do that is by increasing teachers starting salary with yearly increments. By doing so you can raise the bar and expectations for those intending to join the profession and standards would improve.

Equally important for the governor to consider is to look at what teaching resources are available in Imo schools which I guess would be in short supply. The reading culture needs to once again be rekindled with well equipped libraries with current books and literary materials in various subjects. The teaching of ICT as a discreet subject should be incorporated in the school curriculum if not already in place. It should also be used to support teaching across the curriculum and this could be achieved if this forms part of teacher training programmes in Imo state.

Above all, the education team in Imo State needs to look at the content of what our children are being taught to see that it's not just only in line with the National curriculum expectations but how relevant is it to an ever changing world. Whatever they do, it would be helpful to consult experts in the field of education and I'm sure there are Imo indigenes or even non-indigenes both home and in diaspora that have something to offer.

No doubt Gov Okorocha has started his passion for the education of Imo children on a good note but he will be judged by how far reaching this policy goes to affect those for which it was intended. The key is to ensure there is accountability at levels in the award of contracts, quality of work done in the renovation works and consultancy work that should be undertaken in policy formulation and review based on issues already highlighted about teacher remuneration and training.

If he does all this and even more then there's no doubt the impact will be felt for years to come if not for generations and he would be right up there with the likes of Dee Sam Mbakwe etched firmly in the history of Imo State.