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Epidemic Corruption in our Educational Systems and the Future of Nigeria (II)

January 31, 2009
In the last article I narrated how rampant is exam malpractices in our secondary schools to the extent that each and every student I met have some personal experience to share on the subject. With all these happenings, one will ask where are the teachers, school principals, exams supervisors and the parents of the students. Interestingly, my preliminary findings indicated that they are all culpable. The principals are the ones organizing PR (public relation) for the supervisors so that they will see but pretend as if they did not. The principals are doing this so that the performance of their school is high. The "good" results give some good image of the school in terms of students' enrolment especially in private schools. Also, the promotion of the principals, especially in government schools depends in a way on the performance of the schools in these exams. Hardly will you get a school that is not involved in this practice.

I was reliably told that among all schools in my town, several of which are religious based; only two schools are "strict". Interestingly, exams supervisors do not like to be posted to these schools. They consider it a kind of punishment akin to taking a custom officer from a border to a remote village in Kano. In other schools, a supervisor can get three times his salary in one "PR". You may ask; where are the schools getting this money? Simple; before the exams, the students were asked to bring some fixed amount from their parents. It may interest you to know that even my aunty who has not been to school knows exactly what this money is meant for. Why are they given? They want their children and wards to pass their examinations. Moreover, if you did not give others will, and your child will be at disadvantage. And now, this is the way, one parent concluded.

It should be noted that the leaked exams are coming from the exams body (WAEC/NECO). I was reliably told that if you need result without sitting for the exams you can get it from these exam bodies. Somebody told me that a lady came to look for admission for her sister, and was told that the sister could not be admitted because she has deficiency in English. The lady asked, is it only English? Do you need any other thing? And she went and brought it after two weeks.

Just think about it, this is a situation where parent, children, teachers, school administrators and exams supervisors are consciously involved in these malpractices. Going into the memory line, many people could not remember any of these practices three decades ago (70s) in most part of Nigeria. Most of present Nigerian leaders whom we are criticizing of corruption today were at that time (70s)  either in secondary school or university. In fact, the period (70s) was marked with a lot of radicalism, socialism and religious revivalism. Despite this ideological, spiritual and moral training at that critical time of their formative age, most of these leaders are now succumbed to the system. Then what do we expect from the children who are corrupt from childhood with full connivance of their parents and teachers? I am just imagining Nigeria in the next three decades when this crop of students will be the local government chairmen, legislatures, governors, presidents, etc.

It is from this class of secondary school students that our universities have to select their students. A set that is largely empty in terms of content, but full of confidence that they will soon graduate and get their certificates. A set that do not believe in the dictum - the secret of success is hard work, and they have abundant evidence to confirm that. A set which no longer believe that they can get anything on merit and the reality on the ground attest to that. When you try to preach to them those virtues, they will tell you directly or you can notice it from their body language saying - gone are the days!

Nonetheless, selecting these students into our universities is no more a straightforward exercises. Indeed, it is now a tug of war. It is true that the capacity of our universities is not more than 25% of the applicants. This means, there is high chance of getting many qualified applicants that will not get a place. However, the issue is why students with deficiency are getting admission, while the qualified ones are rejected. A 200-level student told me that his name came last year in the first list though he has deficiency in both math and English. He told me that he was able scale through the screening process also. An applicant this year told me that he did not see his name in the first list despite the fact that he has met all the requirements, but a name of a girl he knows with deficiency in English is in the list for the same program.

From the number of people that contacted me for admission last year, I come to understand that it is almost impossible to get admission these days by simply applying. Unfortunately, you must be a candidate of someone. I tried for three qualified candidates in three different universities and failed. In one attempt to assist a boy whom I was told was very hardworking and from humble family, with good results in UME and O-level. I visited the university twice. During the first visit I realized that the boy did a silly mistake of writing his post-UME exam number wrongly in the exams sheet. I helped in identifying the problem and sorting out the exam paper. The problem was rectifiable in less than 5 minutes. However, the boy could not get the admission despite all pressure and promise. He is now missing at least one year for no justifiable reason in addition to the financial implication. In the second attempt, my contact person, a senior lecturer, and former HOD, told me directly things have changed, and he cannot help. I immediately got the message. In the third attempt, it was for my cousin looking for admission in my university. I had to write to my VC directly telling him my relationship with the candidate. However, the name did not appear in the first list. I was reliably told that most likely the VC did not see my letter.  According to my sources, there are people around the VCs office that determine the request they think the VC is supposed to see or not. These are junior staff. They include their candidates and exclude all the names of the candidate they do not like. I was discussing the issue with my cousin who is currently in 200 – level. He just laughs and told me that the normal procedures I know are no more working. If I need 10 admissions he can get it for me if I am ready to understand. It is now a matter of money. To get admission into hotcake courses like medicine, pharmacy and law people spend hundred of thousands of naira. Even in normal courses in physical sciences, people spend not less that fifty thousand naira. This practice is rampant. It is much later I came to realized that in all the admission cases I submitted, I did not follow any with "rain fall", so the assumption is that I have collected money from those candidates, and do  not like to share with others! An Arab poet Mutanabbi has said the truth: "If the action of a person is bad, his thinking also got distorted". I now understand, unfortunately in a hard way.

As painful as the above experiences are to me, my interaction with the people concern made me to understand the rational behind post-UME exams. From what I have narrated regarding rampant exams malpractices, Nigerian universities are no longer considering WAEC/NECO and JAMB as a valid and reliable measure that can be used to predict students' future performance. Therefore, many universities are now developing local means of filtering their students. This questioned the statutory law that established JAMB in particular, and WAEC/NECO as a level academic achievement test. Now, the question is how reliable is the post-JAMB exam? If it is reliable, how long it will continue to be so. What is very clear to me is that most of our universities do not have the resources, the time, and expertise to set a reliable post-JAMB exam. The issue is much more than knowledge of the content. There are issues that have to do with measurement in a technical sense of the word. Therefore, this is not the way. The way is for us to correct the perceived problems in both WAEC/NECO and JAMB. Otherwise, we are just wasting time and creating opportunities for other corrupt people.

All these experiences are showing that the corrupt practices and tricks our students learn in secondary schools is not just enough to take them into our universities. They have to do more to get admission. It is my intention to argue in the next article that the educational corruption that is taking place in our universities is beyond comprehension. In fact, our universities are perfect environment where our children perfect art of corruption.
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To be continued

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