I thank you for inviting me to deliver this keynote speech at this event preparatory to the 70th anniversary of our alma mater, Ijebu Muslim College, famously known as MUSEDUCO Varsity.
I feel most humbled by the invitation. I feel proud also to have been a product of this school. This school moulded into what I am today. My writing about issues of the day, my journalism career began with the school magazine, called the SCIENTIA. And when the SCIENTIA died, I remember how my classmates drafted me, in our final year, to be the editor of The Vulture, a poor imitation, I must say, of the SCIENTIA. I also remember the well-stocked school library, where I read many illuminating books and the newspapers of the day, notably the Daily Times, Sketch and Tribune. Indeed, looking back, I have a lot to thank Muslim College for.
Up School! UP IMC!!
I must thank all the officials of the IMCOSA for sacrificing time, energy and money to keep the school afloat and ensure that it is preserved for the present and future generations. I am sure you will agree with me, that your objective remains a daunting one, especially since the government appears to have abdicated most of its responsibility to keep all schools, not only physically, but also educationally sound. May your spirit not be dampened?
We all owe a historic duty to ensure our school survives the neglect by the government.
Education in the South West
I was not given a topic when I was asked to deliver this paper by Alhaji Jimoh. I have therefore chosen to speak on an issue that I believe should be on the front burner of discussions in our region: the vanishing spirit to strive for excellence in examinations, the desperation of parents and students to cheat the system; how all these developments affect the present and future of education and define the role the alumni associations have to play.
First a word on the ambience of education: many parents, who care for education, now question whether it is worthwhile to do so, if at the end of the day, the children are unemployable. In many homes today, parents are still taking care of their university-educated children five, ten years after graduation, with the children having suffered many job rejections and lacking skills to fall back on. Thank God, we now have the N-Power scheme, the second level of the NYSC, that has been able to reduce some of the pressure of no-jobs.
Teachers who used to be the social and political elite of our society have now been relegated to the background. Schools are not well funded, teachers are not well paid. Many schools lack basic amenities such as tables and chairs and the board. More often, we find the schools shut down, especially at the tertiary level, students spending extra years to graduate. Some students rather than being soaked up in their studies are engaged in cultism or doing apprenticeship in ‘Yahoo, Yahoo’ or being involved in robbery and kidnapping. Teachers also manifest bad conduct: sex for marks, being one of them. We have even heard stories of teachers passing students who can buy them shirts or tyres for their vehicles or outrightly bribe them with money. Stories about such perverse behaviour in our school system are recurring items in our newsrooms.
If we go by the cries of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board about the pervasive fraud and scandals around the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination every year, we must admit we have a gargantuan problem in our hands. The 2019 test, just like in 2018 or 2017, was dogged by the usual problems of cheating, impersonation, and new ones such as double registration, manipulation of biometrics and deliberate destruction of power sources during the examination. The malpractice this year appeared to have broken the chart of malpractice such that the news initially flowing out of the JAMB headquarters in Abuja was that 50 per cent of the results would be cancelled. Eventually, after much scrutiny and reviews, about 50,000 results were flagged by JAMB.
According to JAMB, while 34,120 candidates had their results withheld for examination malpractice, 15,145 results were withheld for further clarification.
Professor Ishaq Oloyede, the Registrar, lamented how examination malpractice has become a cankerworm that has eaten deeply not only into Nigeria but also the rest of the world, especially the developed countries such as the USA and UK. In America, right now, some parents, including Hollywood celebrities, are on trial for paying SAT Exam fixers to change the scores of their children.
Oloyede said: “In Nigeria too, examination malpractice is exacerbated by the insatiable greed and desperate antics of parents, who are hell-bent on inducting their innocent and not-so-innocent children into the world of sharp practices and corruption.”
However, my paper is not majorly concerned about this cankerworm of corruption, but in the eventual scores by candidates as released by JAMB.
According to JAMB: “361,718 candidates scored between 180 and 199 as against 325,152 in 2018, while 494,484 scored between 160 and 179 as against 455,898 last year. 410,844 candidates scored between 140 and 159 as against 346,825 recorded in 2018 while also 99,463 scored between 100 and 139 as against 64,712 in 2018.”
Ekele Franklin, a 15-year-old boy from Imo came first with 347, followed by Emmanuel Chidebube, a 16-year-old boy from Abia with a score of 346, while Isaac Olamide, a 17-year-old from Osun came third with 345.
On the overall performance of the candidates JAMB registrar disclosed that 2,906 candidates scored over 300 as against 4,683 in 2018. The performance in 2019 was worse than 2018 here. He said 57,579 candidates scored between 250 and 299 as against 64,120 in the 2018 results and 366,757 candidates scored between 200 and 249, a significant improvement from the 2018 results.
From my calculations, 1,366,509 students, out of 1,792,719 scored below 200 over 400. Only 426,204 students scored above average.
Now let’s see what JAMB recommended as cut off marks for admission into tertiary schools at its 19th Policy meeting in Gbongan, Osun State in June: 160 was set as national minimum for admission into universities; 140 as minimum into private universities, 120 for public polytechnic and 110 for admission into private polytechnic. The worst cut off mark was prescribed for Colleges of education: 100, that is 25% of 400.
I have given these figures to show the extent of our problems: candidates with the worst scores, the most minimal scores are to be recruited into our colleges of education.
The graduates of these schools would come out several years later to be the teachers of our children in primary and secondary schools.
My question is: What do we expect them to produce out of those children?
Do we need to dig far to understand why the standard of education has been falling and will keep falling? Do we need to wonder why our universities and polytechnics are churning out thousands of supposedly educated but unemployable Nigerians, many of them lacking numeracy and writing skills?
It is crystal clear, we are not attracting the best brains to the classroom and we need to do so urgently, if we want to produce a generation of employable, enlightened and educated leaders for tomorrow.
As an editor for more than 40 years, I am often shocked when I read reactions from the young ones to issues of the day. People write all manners of gibberish English and they show very superficial understanding about issues, that will make one wonder, if they had passed through the four walls of any school.
I once challenged one of the vice chancellors on this matter. I asked him whether this issue is being discussed at the meetings of the Committee of Vice Chancellors. He told me it was being discussed. Obviously, it occurs to me, it is really being discussed without being addressed, as all the schools are more concerned about filling their admission vacancies, not minding the quality of graduates they produce at the end of the day.
Side-by-side with UTME, there are West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) conducted by WAEC and the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination and the General Certificate in Education , conducted by the National Examinations Council (NECO). It is the same hydra-headed problems that Oloyede agonised about that we encounter, using WASSCE as an example.
In 2019 WASSCE results announced by WAEC, the results of 180,205 candidates, representing 11.33% of the total number of candidates that sat for the examination were seized for various cases of malpractice, just like JAMB did for UTME.
WAEC said 1,020,519 candidates representing 64.18% of the 1,590,173 candidates obtained credits and above in minimum of five subjects including English Language and Mathematics. Of those, who got five credits, 507,862 were males while 512,657 were female candidates. 1,309,570 candidates representing 82.35% obtained credit and above in a minimum of any five [5) subjects (i.e. with or without English Language and/or Mathematics.
WASSCE Ranking/Higher Education Potential
After the results were announced, some ratings of states published online, but denied by WAEC, put our state of Ogun at 19th, Ondo 15th, Lagos 6th, Ekiti 11th, Oyo 26th and Osun 29th. Abia, Anambra, Edo were listed 1-3, with Rivers and Imo, 4th and 5th. The ranking was similar to the one published for 2018.
Without the disputed ranking, we all know that we are not faring well.
Two years ago, Mr Ben Oshadiya, former president of IMCOSA reminded us about the depth of the problem at an IMCOSA event: "Within the last one year (he was referring to 2016) , as a result of collaborative efforts of all stakeholders of this school and two education summits which were organised by this administration, the performance of our graduating pupils in the last WASSCE and NECO has greatly improved to the extent that more than 30 per cent of them qualified for higher education as opposed to less than 10 per cent in recent years.”
When I asked the current principal about the performance of the students in the last five years, his response was as dismal as Oshadiya put it: "The West African Senior School certificate results from 2014 till date have not been encouraging. There is great and urgent need for improvement so as to have a high Higher Education Potential (HCP) that truly befits the school. Though there are very few outstanding students who have done extremely well at the national level and beyond the shores of the land, the number is still insignificant, when compared to the large number that has been churned out by the school.”
We really need to be worried about this deterioration in performance, which as I said, is a regional problem.
The Western Region used to lead the rest of the country in education decades ago. After all, the first primary school was established in Badagry in 1843, by the Wesleyan Mission. Sixteen years after, the Church Missionary Society established the first secondary school in Bariga, known as CMS Bariga. This was on 6 June 1859. The Yaba College of Technology was established as the first tertiary school in Nigeria in 1947. It was followed by the establishment of the University of Ibadan in 1948.
Our region had everything going well educationally. And it was not surprising it became a melting pot for all Nigerians seeking higher education and better career opportunities.
In our Ogun State, the first secondary school was Abeokuta Grammar School in 1908, followed by Ijebu Ode Grammar School in 1913. Our school was founded in 1950. This was 37 years after the muslims in Ijebu-Ode established the Moslem Primary School in Isoku. For those who know Ijebu-Ode very well, the two schools are connected, in that more than 70 per cent of the products of Isoku, ended up in Muslim College. I hope the bonds remain till today.
The rot from Bottom
If we really want to fix, the problems of our education, we have to start from the primary school level. I have already pointed out the stupidity of recruiting the worst grade-scorers in UTME to our colleges of education and some departments of the universities and polytechnics.
Some courageous state governors have tried to confront this problem headlong in the past by flushing out unqualified and illiterate teachers from the school system at the primary school level. Kaduna was a recent example. Kayode Fayemi in his first term and Adams Oshiomhole also tried to fix this problem in their states of Ekiti and Edo, to limited success.
We cannot sincerely hope to rejuvenate the school system at the secondary level, if we don’t cast our focus on the primary school.
Unfortunately, the primary schools do not have alumni associations that can champion their cause.
Though we have thousands of alumni associations for secondary school and universities, I am yet to come across any primary school alumni association. I googled endlessly in the past few days, I couldn’t get anyone, anywhere in the world. I stand to be corrected on this.
We must urgently find a way to reconnect to this level, to enable us reposition education at the secondary and tertiary level. If we fail to do so, we cannot solve the problems the alumni associations are trying to solve at this higher level.
Recently, the United Kingdom, facing acute teacher-shortage advertised for volunteer teachers, offering some incentives, but insisting that any one who wants to teach any subject, must have scored a minimum of A in the subject at the A-Level. At one of the websites recruiting teachers overseas, the minimum university grade must be a 2-2 and then the teacher, either full or substitute, must also undergo a Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) test to qualify to teach in any school. We must as a nation insist on similar standards in all our schools, from the primary to the secondary school level.
Alumni associations should not just be concerned with brick and mortar, building assembly halls, science laboratories, toilets, accommodation for teachers, without getting more involved with the content and quality of education being provided in our schools.
We need collaboration with other alumni associations. Our IMCOSA can team up with other alumni associations such as JOGS or Adeola Odutola College to mount pressure on the government to pay more attention to this important aspect of education.
First we must fix the admission policy. Only the best candidates should be admitted to study education or make cross-over career choices in the future. Schools should not just be eager to fill vacancies in the classrooms, but set high marks for those to be admitted.
To make this realistic, government needs to offer irresistible incentives to brilliant students to take on teaching as a lifetime career. There should be incentives like full scholarships, cars, accommodation, etc. We need to make the classrooms bubble once again with the best minds in our society, like it was in 50s, 60s, early 70s.
Government also needs to retain good teachers beyond the retirement age of 60. Government can make good offers to attract part-time, volunteer teachers, who can really pass down good stuff to the young ones.
Alumni associations can on their own scout for good teachers in important subjects such as English, Mathematics, the Sciences. Our IMCOSA can collaborate with other associations to import teachers, if necessary to help in crucial subjects.
This collaboration should also extend to sports and vocational training.
IMCOSA can link up with other alumni groups to organise coaching clinics in tennis, football, basketball. IMCOSA can also collaborate with others to organise competitions in sports. At least, if we cannot produce Albert Einsteins, Ayodele Awojobis, Chike Obis, may be we can produce many Roger Federers or Serena Williamses, many Hakeem Olajuwons.
IMCOSA, alone or in collaboration with other groups, can also arrange vocational training for students, to enable them make career choices very early. And this will take us back to the founding spirit of the school. Our school was not a grammar school, meant to produce solely white collar elite, it also offered other subjects such as Fine Arts, Agriculture, Woodwork. We had sporting facilities that enabled the school to produce star athletes at least at the regional level in sprints, lawn tennis and football. The Alumni Association can revive such spirit all over again.
Once again, I congratulate IMCOSA for putting this event together. Happy 70th anniversary in advance.
I thank you all for listening.
. A speech delivered by Bayo Onanuga, Managing Director of TheNEWS Group, at the pre-70th Anniversary Luncheon of Ijebu Muslim College at the Classique Events Centre, Oregun, Lagos on September 8, 2019.