IELTS vs English competence of Nigerians | A conversation we’re now ready for

Over 37,000 people – as at this time – have signed a petition on change.org to stop foreign institutions from demanding an English proficiency test, the International English Language Testing System, from Nigerians. The petition, which was initiated by a youth-led open-source platform for policy ideas that address the world’s most pressing challenges called Policy Shapers, was addressed to the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, Priti Patel.

Most foreign universities, who are either in English speaking countries or have courses taught in the language, demand the IELTS as a requirement for admitting international students. The UK Home Office has exempted Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, and ten other countries from those who would require the test.

In the petition, Policy Shapers added a quote from Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who had endorsed the campaign during an engagement with 2021 Mandela Washington Fellows and US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard. “I entirely agree that as an English-speaking country, we should be beneficiaries of some concession as opposed to being forced every two years to take the same test especially if one has passed it before. This is something that we should really work on. I will ask the Minister of Education as well as the Minister of Youths and Sports exactly what is going on about this,” he said.

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Explaining the reason for the petition, Policy Shapers also included a response from the UK Home Office indicating why the IELTS is compulsory: “We must have evidence that at least 51% of the population speaks English as a first language for a country to be included in the Majority English Speaking Country list…We do not have the required evidence that shows the majority of people in Nigeria speak English as their first language, which is why applicants have to sit a Secure English Language Test

The origin of IELTS dates back to 1980. It started as a joint venture of Cambridge English Language Assessment and the British Council. In 1980, this venture was called UCLES or University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate.

There are other standardised tests that provide English proficiency assessment and IELTS is the most popular and commonly used testing method which certifies English communication proficiency of non-native English users – but Nigeria is almost a native user of the language.

IELTS is jointly managed by IDP, British Council Division and Cambridge Assessment English. And the idea is that the many thousands from countries where English is not the mother tongue take IELTS to prove their aptness in using English so that they can immigrate to the developed English speaking countries.

The IELTS is now taken by more than 2.5 students in over 140 countries annually, making it one of the world’s most popular standardised assessments. It is available at over 1,100 test centers, and is widely accepted by universities and other organisations in all of the major English-speaking countries.

Policy Shapers’ demands are these:

Nigeria has proven high proficiency scores in English speaking and usage – EF English Proficiency Index is evidence. So, the country’s inclusion in the UK Home Office’s list of Majority English Speakers will mean Nigerians no longer have to prove their English Proficiency anymore. Or:

There is a two-year expiry for the exams, which may mean that proficiency expires. Policy Shapers asks that the expiry is taken off, just like French DELF test. Or:

The cost of the test be reduced by at least 30% and for the validity period to be increased from 2 years to 5 years. This last one, they call an unfavourable compromise.

The UK Home Office has yet responded and the signatures may reach 50,000. In-between that Nigerians are pushing for reforms using the hashtag #ReformIELTSPolicy.

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