Reading culture and mass exam failures

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a former United States (US) President, might have had not only the US in mind but also other nations of the world, including Nigeria, desirous of marked advancement in all areas of their national life in mind when he made this submission decades ago.

That’s why the year-on-year results and overall performances of students in public examinations in the last decade, particularly in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and National Examinations Council (NECO) have been a real source of worry to patriotic Nigerians and true friends of the country, who yearly monitor and analyse the fortune of this critical sector of the nation’s economy to gauge where the country stands in terms of functional education, compared to what obtains in other climes.

For instance, the latest May/June, 2011 examination results purportedly indicated that less than 22% of the over one-million candidates that sat the examinations passed with at least five Credits in five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics. It’s therefore, certainly no exaggeration to posit that quality, purposeful education in Nigeria has been experiencing a free-fall, a situation principally attributable to a dwindling reading culture among today’s learners and students.

However, what key factors could be traced to the comparatively poor reading habit among the so-called “BlackBerry (BB) learners, students and graduates” in the country these days? And whose fault is it really? Of course, it’s that of all: Government at all levels, parents, teachers, students/learners, school proprietors/proprietresses, education administrators and managers, total collapse of societal value system and other stakeholders in the Nigerian enterprise.

In connection with a deliberate, orchestrated attempt at discouraging countless students from engaging in any thorough academic studies and excel academically any longer, careful checks have revealed that most private school proprietors/proprietresses, owners of registered/unregistered tutorial centres scattered all over the country are culpable and neck-deep in perpetrating exam malpractices in this regard.

Certainly, there are have been numerous instances where lots of dishonest private school managements greedily jack up exam fees, running into tens of thousands of Naira, for “logistics”, regarding candidates registered for public examinations organised by WAEC, NECO and JAMB (Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board). This, research has shown, is contrary to the stipulated and widely publicised exam charges by these exam organs, which average between N5, 000 and N8, 000 respectively.

Even without any tinge of serious pre-examination coaching and assessment in the examination subjects to determine how candidates would fare eventually, such pervert private schools and their tutorial centres’ collaborators who also arrange for “Special Centres” with their massive posters that tend to offend the sensibilities of well-versed Nigerians with things like “8 As Guaranteed” (in WAEC/NECO); “Score 300 and above” (in UTME), and other ridiculous inscriptions to attract patronage. But the germane question to ask is: Who’s guaranteeing such outrageously high marks, and how do they achieve such “miracles” in the absence of rigorous academic exercises before their registered candidates sit actual exams?

One makes bold to say that it’s all fraud, as candidates registered by many of such schools and exam coaching centres deliberately, are made to pay their way through via exam irregularities. One actually challenges anyone, group or institution to a national debate on this critical issue of dubious, prevalent but largely unreported pre-exam activities going on in such places.

Other crucial factors fuelling poor reading culture among most students are apparent misapplication of information and communication technology (ICT) tools through endless, time-consuming “sweet nonsense” chats online and listening to hundreds of musical tracks; excessive TV and video games watching; and undue emphasis on deceptive and distracting quick-rich syndromes, urging the youth to become “stars” and “millionaires” overnight, particularly as it’s the fad in the entertainment industry, where all manner of dances and mega jams are flaunted at these young ones.

The implications of these obvious lapses in effective learning have been grave on the economy. Now, poorly prepared school leavers get pushed over into tertiary institutions. In turn, the shortfall in painstaking learning, reading, writing and communicative abilities continues to manifest even years after graduation.

Regarding her experience in human capital development, Mrs. Ijeoma Rita Obu, Chief Executive Officer, Clement Ashley Consulting, Nigeria, in a media chat, said of the poor verbal communication of job applicants and their written applications: “Chances are that the average graduate we get today will not fit into any job because some of them cannot speak basic English; some cannot write a simple letter. The quality is so bad that you spend a fortune training them without getting any result, because some things that should have happened earlier in their lives did not happen.”

Besides the alleged rampant phenomenon afflicting some higher institutions of learning called “sorting”, part of the tragic economy of trading in grades and degrees, Prof. Okey Ndibe, a Nigerian who teaches Fiction and African Literature in Hartford, CT, United States, wrote something similar in his recent article titled: “Sexually Transmitted Degrees”.

In the piece, the foremost newspaper columnist wrote: “There are … multitudes of Nigerian bankers, engineers, lawyers, accountants, physicians, mass communicators, economists –to name a few– who flaunt sexually transmitted degrees, diplomas or certificates. Or degrees that were priced and bought, not earned through diligent study.” As a university teacher himself who understands the nation’s system very well, can Ndibe’s postulation be farther from the truth?

Therefore, President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘Roadmap on Education’, reportedly launched as part of his Administration’s Transformation Agenda at the nation’s 51st Independence Anniversary, in Abuja, must not end there. Requisite teaching, research and learning infrastructure and adequate funding should be provided to revive the fortune of this highly distressed industry.

Public examination bodies should improve on exam invigilation endeavour, and continue to intensify efforts at deploying innovative ICT tools to beat unprepared candidates, their dubious collaborators and academic criminals to the rising exam malpractices cabal’s game, in order to augment the effectiveness of their operations.

More than ever before, Education Ministry officials and inspectors need to be more vigilant and alert to their responsibilities by probing the observed unseemly activities of several backstreet tutorial/coaching centres colluding with many private school managements to register exam candidates, organise and perpetrate irregularities to deceive members of the public that exam candidates “make it easier” through them.

Parents and guardians who delight in buying live exam papers for hired exam writers, and/or paying needless huge sums of money for their children/wards to sit exams in specially-arranged exam centres must realise the fact that they are only destroying the future of such children and wards aside from doing a great disservice to Nigeria in connection with the much-needed, quality human capital to prop up its prostrate economy.
< br/>Poor reading culture and defective studies can never produce high-flying Labour Force with practical skills. Whatever is bred in the bone will definitely come out in the flesh.

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