When Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation gained political independence from Britain in October 1960, she inherited that high standard of education that makes Great Britain to thick among the comity of nations.
Candidates from Nigeria wrote the London General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations both at Ordinary and the Advanced levels and excelled. They also did very well in the London Matriculation Examination. When the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) came on board, our candidates maintained that high standard in the West African School Certificate (WASC) and Higher School Certificate (HSC) Examinations, which were in vogue before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in July 1967.
At that time, question papers were set and marked centrally throughout the West African Sub-Region. This was aimed at maintaining high standard, following the British model because most of these countries were former British colonies.
But it is no longer the same now, as the past four decades have witnessed a progressive decline in standards of education in all its ramifications in this country. So the most pertinent question is: “Where did things start going wrong?”
Undoubtedly, much of the fallen standard is traceable to government seizure of voluntary agency schools immediately after the civil war and the introduction of an education policy that prohibited the teaching of moral instructions in schools. Consequently, there was a general breakdown in discipline, followed by rise in crime that took the form of cultism, armed robbery, prostitution, intimidation and harassment of constituted authorities by those who wanted to acquire the certificates without reading.
The causes are traceable to the focus on mere paper certificates as a guarantee for a good job. Paper qualification grabbed as meal tickets (certificate) at all costs. Good education and personal knowledge was no longer the emphasis. This lead to question paper leakages, which hawked success in favour of the highest bidder. There was also an exodus of male teachers from teaching to greener pastures for lack of incentives; flooding of schools with half-baked teachers, most of who hardly had up to 12 months training in the so-called Teacher Training crash programme of the then Universal Primary Education (UPE) of the mid 70s. Thus, to check this ugly trend, the WAEC, has been withholding some results, cancelling some papers, even penalizing defaulting schools and prosecuting culprits.
It is unfortunate that rather than being eliminated, examination fraud, has now gone out of hand and institutionalized. Before now, no school would like to be associated with question paper leakages, and so guarded their image jealously.
But things have now degenerated to the stage, where most people involved in handling examinations are involved in perpetuation this crime. They start from the examination bodies that allow special or miracle centres to operate, to parents and guardians who pay any amount of money demanded to flood these centres with their wards, most of who never attended any classes at such centres. They also include security agents who smuggle the question papers out and bring in answer booklets.
It is our conviction that the solution to the fallen standards of education lies in the declaration of a state of emergency in this sector provided the government could muster the necessary will power to implement to the letter the necessary recommendations experts and stake holders are likely to come up with. There must be immediate crackdown on the so-called miracle centers. Teachers and supervisors who engage in any form of malpractice or extortion should be named, shamed and prosecuted. Due to the fact that we are getting it wrong at the primary and secondary school levels, standards have gone so low in our Universities and this is a disaster for any developing country. Education is the key to civilization and industrial development.
If we are really serious to restore fallen standards of education, we must de-emphasis paper qualification and start laying emphasis on skill acquisition. Government and corporate bodies must demand that paper qualification must be marched with skills and experience. By so doing, those students who are not so academically gifted could still excel in the technical and vocational disciplines and have sense of fulfilment.