Very quickly, I should agree that one of the reasons why there is an embarrassing percentage of poor performance recorded by our children in recent times in our local exams is sometimes the emphasis that was put on competence based on paper qualifications. But some are wiser now because before they employ you, they want to see and talk with you. They want to see and talk with you because they know that examinations no longer are a true or efficient test of an employee’s or candidate’s ability and that a second class upper degree can go to the highest bidder: it is possible these days to rent other people’s brains to write some exams here in Nigeria, even though the exams are the specialized ones like the SAT, TOEFL and Cambridge Advanced level that are my special areas. Aig-Imoukhuede of Access Bank told the story recently about asking for verification of a sparkling result presented by a prospective employee and found out to his dismay that even the verification was a doctored and a bought document.
There are a lot of reasons today why our children fail their exams even with the rent-a-brains that prowl the educational landscape. Apart from the one point highlighted above, some of the educational policies put in place by seasoned educators of yore have never worked and why they never worked I cannot tell. But I know surely that that terrain is one in great distress because it is mostly those who have had to buy their degrees that will never agree to be teachers and mostly look down on teachers.
I will have to lay some of the blame for the abysmal record of poor performance in this year’s WAEC result on the unreliable shoulders of some parents (sadly some are teachers too!) and on the private schools that go the ‘extra length’ to ensure that their schools produce ‘good results’, I guess to take care of things. Oh please, ignore the sparkle and the shine you see in most school certificate results. Ignore them, I plead with you. Believe me, certain parents and particularly some of our mothers who have no iota of shame are the champions of their children’s academic misfortunes. They invest little or no time in the academic progress or lack of progress of their sons and daughters. If a boy or girl in a secondary comes back from school daily, how many parents out there check to see if the child was taught or that his homework is done? How many parents have checked their children’s notebooks and found out that instead of the teacher to spell chaos like that, spells it kahos and have gone to stand their ground and demand an explanation? Let me give an example with a certain ‘mother’ who was in our school to give us lessons in the fine art of teaching. An Immigrations officer, she was mostly home after 12 midnight after her boy had spent the entire day on the Internet or in front of the television on MTV base, and on his phone. If the boy’s father was to be about, matters would not have been as untidy as they turned out to be. But the man lives abroad and talks to his son weekly on phone. On her very short immigrations skirt that revealed seventy-five percent of her thighs, she came to confront us that we were not doing our jobs as teachers aright. Ranting and raving as though she was in a barrack, I was tempted sometimes to tell her to try go read Hilary Rodham-Clinton’s It takes a village, a book on the collective responsibility we all have to every child.
But if our parents and teachers sometimes are directly and or indirectly responsible for this virus of poor performance of our children, what then shall we say of our immediate environment? Recently, there was this essay published as ‘Celtel’s indiscretion with language’ on this paper and on nigeriansinamerica, the online magazine for Nigerians in the Diaspora. My point there was that our environment has a behaviorist role to play in the overall development of our children. Happily, there were responses from those who had no idea what I was talking about, insisting that advertising language is one that ignores the conventions of language. I did a postscript to that essay after it was published and here it is: In a recent publication in this paper and in nigeriansinamerica, certain readers took me to the cleaners on account of the sentiments I expressed here. Their annoyance with me is that I seemingly exhibited a lot of ignorance concerning the marketability and advertorial significance of Celtel’s gamble with words. They also say that what Celtel has done is what is in vogue in the so-called sophisticated environments of Europe and America. Oops, but I think I must apologize for not supporting an anomaly that has advertorial impetus. Still with the same breath that I apologize with, let me let you in on Shakespeare that: what is right is right even though a great majority say it’s wrong, and what is wrong is wrong even if a great majority says otherwise. And then, I am not surprised that these friends of mine want us to ape the West simply because the West is Western. Look around you today if you live in Lagos and tell me how we have benefited from some of the oddities our young people have copied from them.
Our children have so much that distracts them from their studies today. They are the casualties and the hybrids of an information superhighway bereft of the checks and balances that parents, guardians and teachers can enforce. You and I, when we were in school, how many semi-nude girls harassed your sensibilities the way they do daily on the streets and on teevee? You and I, we had no access to the Internet; we had to sweat it out the old-fashioned regular way in dinghy libraries. You and I, how many of us could at the touch of a button download loads and loads of pornography and stay glued thereon? You and I, how many of us were allowed to do our Math calculations with calculators? Of course we saw past questions to exams but how many of us saw past questions with prepared answers? You and I, how many of us had that single most distracting toy right in our hands, the mobile cell phone where we could browse and browse and browse on some of the world-wide-waste? Even without all of these, we hardly did too well in our exams, only that some were a little bit more focused than the rest. The Internet and the cell phone and colour teevees minus the semi-nude girls should not have been a problem if ours is not an acquisitive society, with values usually built around the sort of personalities that have made it by every other means necessary. If you say that these same technological and cultural distractions abound in Europe and America yet their kids are not as badly affected as ours are, I would agree. But what makes them different from us is that they place a valued prize on your brain if you have one.
Sadly, I do not have the answer to this one problem. This is just some trend I observed and had to express with the hope that someone else may see what gives and try too to come up with something. But I must tell our mothers that they must stop buying other people’s brains to prosecute exams for our children.