As 2017 SSCE Exams Begin, Can We Sustain 2016 Performance?

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Year after year Nigerians pay to the West African Examinations Council billions of naira in examination fees for their children to sit for the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations, but at the end of the day less than 40 per cent of them make the minimum requirement for admission into universities. Joseph Chibueze writes

Since 2006, the performance rate of Nigerian students in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) has been dismal, hovering around 22 to 38.68 per cent.
But in what looks like breaking the jinx, the 2016 result showed a significant improvement in candidates’ performance from what it has been for a decade.

The result as announced by WAEC show that 878,040 candidates, representing 52.97 per cent of 1,544,234 candidates who sat for the examination obtained credits in five subjects, including Mathematics and English Language. This performance has raised a lot of questions as to how that result was achieved. Whatever be the case, it is on record that Nigeria has for once posted good performance in WAEC in recent times.

Millions of Nigerian youths have had the unfortunate situation of rewriting WAEC examination year after year paying the examination fees all over again and wasting precious time at home just because they could not pass either English Language or Mathematics.

In the 2015 May/June WAEC examinations, Nigeria presented 1,605,248 candidates and paid a whooping sum of N18, 299, 827, 200 as examination fees although 1,593,442 actually sat for the exams. When the results were released by WAEC only 616,370 representing 38.68 per cent obtained the minimum qualification for admission into higher institutions leaving the remaining 61.32 per cent or 977,072 candidates to try again next year and N11,138,620,800 going down the drain. If one adds to that N300,000 being the estimated cost of training a child from senior secondary one to three, it would be clear the huge amount Nigeria is losing every year when its students fail to make the minimum requirement for admission into higher institution.

The burden has become so heavy that even some state governments that promised to pay WASSCE fees for their candidates are now finding it difficult. It is even more painful against the background that the students do not even justify the huge expenses government is incurring as they end up failing the exams.

For instance, Kogi State government spent N276.8 million reimbursing eligible candidates that sat for the 2014/2015 West African Senior Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in the state. Between 2007 and 2013, Oyo State government spent about N2,067,545,050 on examination fees for her 396,579 candidates that sat for WASSCE. At the end of the day, only 14.27 per cent of the candidates made the minimum requirement for admission into higher institutions.

In 2013, WAEC withheld the results of 70,000 Oyo State public school candidates who sat for the May/June WASSCE in that year over the non-payment of registration fees by the state government. The state government has already announced that it will no longer pay WASSCE fees for anybody.

WAEC also withheld the May/June 2014 results of all public secondary schools in Cross River State over a debt of over N300 million the state government owed the body. The amount was for 2013 and 2014 WASSCE registration fees.
And in 2015, the Council withheld the results of over 200,000 candidates because their state governments could not pay the over N4 billion registration fee for the candidates.

Dangerous trend
Since 2006 the performance of students in WASSCE has continued to hover around 22 to 38.68 per cent. For example, in 2006 22 per cent of the candidates made credit passes and above in five subjects including English Language and Mathematics, in 2007 the number dropped to 20 per cent, it improved to 26 per cent in 2008, remain the same 26 per cent in 2009 and dropped again to 23 per cent in 2010. In 2011, Nigeria achieved 30 per cent pass rate in the examination, improved on it to 38.81 per cent in 2012, the nation’s best performance in six years, only to begin another downward journey in 2013 when the result was 36.5 per cent and further down in 2014 with 31.28 per cent, but improved slightly in 2015 with 38.68 per cent.
The 2016 performance of 52.97 per cent is still a wonder to many who are still at a loss as to what brought about the leap.

Who is to blame?
There is a blame game currently going on. Parents believe teachers are not doing enough to prepare the students for examinations, and government is not playing its part of providing adequate facilities to help the students learn better, teachers on their part are blaming parents for abandoning their responsibility of monitoring their children because they are too busy looking for money. They also blame government for the poor work environment under which they operate. As usual, no one is ready to take responsibility for the abysmal performance of the students a dangerous situation that can only ensure the poor performance continues.

Former Head of National Office (HNO) WAEC Nigeria, Mr. Charles Eguridu, said the whole society, the changing attitude and economic fortunes of parents and government are responsible for the decline in students’ performance in public examinations. According to him, “In those days, when we were in school, we had the privilege of being in the boarding house. We had specific periods for reading; we had periods for games and the teacher ratio was such that, you could have a teacher supervise about 20 students.

“But now, we have a situation whereby schools have as many as about 60 students in one class. So, the level of supervision has sort of dropped. Parents leave home around 4a.m. because of traffic and they return at about 9 to 10p.m., when the children have gone to bed. There are no hostels in the schools; the students engage with smartphones and are watching movies. So, what do you expect when there is no supervision?”

It is on record that the education system in Nigeria has been the most neglected despite its strategic importance to the socio-economic and political development of the nation. Budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria is one of the lowest in Africa. For instance, for several years the allocations to education in Nigeria have oscillated between five and nine per cent, getting to about 10 per cent only in the last years of the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. And about 80 per cent of the paltry education budgets are allotted to recurrent expenditure. The story is not different for the states.

By contrast, Botswana spends about 19 per cent of its budgets on education; Swaziland spends about 24 per cent; Lesotho spends about 17 per cent; South Africa, about 25 per cent; Cote d’Ivoire, about 30 per cent; Burkina Faso, about 16 per cent; Ghana, about 31 per cent. Kenya spends about 23 per cent of budgets on education; Uganda spends about 27 per cent; Tunisia, about 17 per cent; and Morocco, about 17 per cent.

The percentage budgetary allocations to education in Nigeria sharply contrast with the UNESCO-recommended minimum of 26 per cent for developing countries eager for development. Interestingly, countries that have made giant strides in development are those known to have invested the bulk of their resources in the education of their peoples.
Poor working conditions in the country’s education sector are reported to have made the teaching profession unattractive to high flyers, and a last resort for those who fail to find fortune in other sectors.
Professor Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) and now of the Faculty of Science, Lagos State University (LASU) said that until the teachers are better trained and well motivated, all efforts to improve the quality of the education system will be severely compromised.

It is also imperative to note that education in Nigeria is highly politicised. Different state governments adopt different educational policy according to the political party to which the state governor belongs. In most of these cases, the government claim to be offering free education and undertake to pay public examination fees of their candidates in the name of trying to lift the burden off parents. This palliative to the many poor parents was among the arsenals of campaign issues deployed by the ruling parties in the respective states during the last general elections.

At the end of the day, the schools are left with little or no teaching and learning facilities, teachers are recruited to favour political associates, teachers are not paid leading to many months of strike action with the children wasting away at home. The most laughable of the education policies in some of the states is that no student must repeat a class, everybody is promoted at the end of each academic year, pass or fail!

A similar thing also happens in some private schools where because of the quest to retain the patronage of parents, students are awarded fabulous marks to give the impression that they are doing very well. The schools even officially organise examination malpractices for their candidates in external examinations like WAEC and claim 100 per cent pass rate.

Way out
Experts say the solution to this abnormal trend in the educational system lies in improving the quantity of teachers, “reformatting teacher education” and ensuring a “major curriculum overhaul.”

According to , Chioma Osuji, the acting policy adviser to the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education For All, a non-governmental organization, “Nigeria should engage 39,239 qualified teachers annually for Universal Basic Education (UBE) up to year 2020 and 80,364 for Adult and non-Formal Education.”

Professor Idowu Sobowale, former Commissioner for Education Lagos State believes all hands must be on deck with all stakeholders, parents, teachers and government playing their roles effectively. For him, Teachers need to improve their skills, they need to train and retrain because in his words, “You cannot give what you do not have.”
He said government must provide the basic facilities in school. “You can’t have children studying under trees or sitting on bare floors while receiving lessons and you expect them to do well in examinations. Government must be alive to its responsibilities in the area of ensuring that the school environment is conducive for teaching and learning.”

He calls for adequate supervision of schools. “In fact these days I doubt if schools are still being supervised, yes the department may be there but are they really doing the supervision in the true sense of it?” he wondered.
“You can provide all the facilities, you can formulate all the policies, without adequate supervision to ensure that school heads and teachers are doing what they are supposed to do, it will all come to nothing. Government should engage supervisors, and when I say supervisors, I am not talking of green horns, fresh university graduates who know next to nothing about school administration, I am talking about experienced people, maybe retired senior civil servants or retired school principals who know what it means to run a school. These are the people the school administrators cannot fool.”

While calling on parents to pay more attention to their children’s education, Sobowale said parents need to provide basic necessities for their children to be able to function adequately in school. “These days most parents only struggle to get money, pay school fees, no monitoring, no supervision and they think they have done their job. No, they need to provide the child with the necessary textbooks and make sure that these children are actually reading these books.”

The erudite professor also admonished government to make adequate budgetary allocations to education.
It is good to hear that some state governments are now withdrawing their promise to shoulder the responsibility of paying examination fees for candidates from the states. Perhaps this will make parents to sit up knowing that it is no more public funds that are being wasted but his/her hard earned money should the child fail.

For Comrade Adesegun Raheem, chairman Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) Lagos State chapter, it is time for curriculum review. According to him, “Our curriculum is outdated and needs a holistic review not the piece meal changes that we are doing. Our curriculum as it is today is tilted towards white-collar job that is because at the time it was designed, before a student graduates he already has two or three places where they are inviting him to come and work. That era is gone, even government can no longer provide jobs for the citizens because it can no longer pay salaries. Therefore our curriculum should now tilt towards self employment, entrepreneurship.”

Although some education stakeholders are still asking the question whether the 2016 results truly reflect improvement in learning outcomes, especially the mastery of what have been taught to the students; whether the results truly reflect WAEC’s ancient standard or was there a lowering of standard somewhere along the line to achieve this feat; whether something new went into the exam body’s marking scheme and whether it should be entirely and wholesomely received believing that the results is not shaped by exam-malpractices, while these questions remain Germane, the performance of the candidates in the 2017 WASSCE will determine whether the 2016 performance was only a flash in the pan or a new era has dawned in the Nigerian education landscape.

Chibueze is a journalist based in Lagos
Email josechibueze@yahoo.co.uk