Opinion: How to solve Nigeria’s substandard school problem

by Odia Iyoha


Look around where you are now, what do you see? The probability that you would see at least two schools around where you are currently is higher than the fact that Arsenal would lose in the champions league yet again – both very predictable. Schools now compete with sachet water. The new craze of owning a school is like MTN, it is everywhere you go. You will see them mounting their signboards everywhere like Glo, with pride. When you ask them, they will tell you that they are saving lives like Airtel. But are these new, below par schools all out to save lives or they are out on some mission to plunge Nigeria’s Education system into a big mess? I think it is fast becoming a menace than it is saving lives, I mean the future of our Education system.

Every Tomiwa, Dike and Haruna you come across on the road is a potential School owner. It would not have been much of an issue if these Schools being set up left, right and centre day in day out are up to standard. I am talking about Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools here. And what is worse? These schools cannot afford to pay full staff salaries so they change teachers like used sanitary pads. Many of them now have the habit of engaging Corps members for the services that trained Educators ought to render. Children in these schools keep seeing new faces of teachers anytime new batches of Corps members are deployed. The highest the school owners pay any corps members is ten thousand naira. By so doing, they save cost and churn out below average students every year because changing teachers anyhow affect the performances of students.

Ex-Corps members will agree with me that during the three-week camping exercise, you will surely find at least five persons who can’t fully express themselves in English language, which is our lingua franca; yet NYSC keeps granting the request of these schools by sending Corps members to them without carrying out any English assessment tests and the schools accept them without ensuring the quality of teachers sent to them are of standard. Do they even care when they are trying to cut corners? Now, tell me, how will someone who can’t even write a simple composition teach the children well? In the first place, shouldn’t it be only B.Ed. graduates that should be sent to schools to teach because it is they who have taken courses in school curricular, education management and other courses under Education? Why should a B.Sc. holder be posted to teach? A B.Sc. holder doesn’t have any training in school management. Not many B.Sc. holders have the natural ability to transfer knowledge. A B.Ed. undergraduate is taken through the steps and methods to being a good teacher; it is what he/she has prepared for. The required skills have been learned, unlike the B.Sc. undergraduate whose course outline has nothing to do with education management.

The issue of a graduate not being able to express him/herself in English properly is not exaggerated, I witnessed it in camp and I must say it is a very pathetic situation in Nigeria. I was posted to a Northern state where I was for three weeks before redeploying. Now for those who have served in the North, you will agree with me that more than 95% of postings in the North are usually to schools. This beautiful lady was ahead of myself and some ladies on the registration queue, we were talking about many things relating to NYSC and asking questions about the insurgency in the State which was still very much tense at the time when she turned to us and made a statement. Exactly what she said, I can’t remember but I did remember that a particular lady couldn’t hold it and burst into laughter; the funny comment she made in Yoruba thereafter made the rest of us to laugh; it wasn’t intentional at all but it happened. Here on the queue was a graduate who couldn’t get a short sentence right, everything she said was incorrect – this was not a case of using present tense for past tense or past tense for present tense. Subsequent days had me encountering more people in camp who had difficulties with simple sentences in the English language. At the end of the day, we all got our posting letters and ninety-nine out of every one hundred Corps members who didn’t redeploy got posted to primary and Secondary Schools. How will the children be properly taught if some of their teachers/Corps members happen to find communicating in our country’’s lingua franca a bit difficult?

Surprisingly, it is not seen as a problem by these substandard schools or maybe they know but just decide to ignore because of the profit they are after. The problem with some of these graduates can be traced to the foundation they had in nursery and primary — schools  the very type NYSC deploys them to which makes it an endless cycle and unless something is done as a matter of urgency to arrest the situation, it will get worse.

When the sole reason why a school owner establishes a school is to make profit and thinks the best way to maximize profit is to be getting new Corps members, whether competent or not, to teach the pupils while paying them ten thousand naira or sometimes nothing at all, after all the government pays corps members ‘allawee’; then you can be sure of the kind of people these schools send to Secondary Schools or Universities, as the case may be. Don’t knock yourself out on how a student who has had a weak educational background is able to scale through the University or Polytechnic, things are happening in our schools and I bet you have heard of one or two cases of ‘blocking/sorting’ and ‘orijo’ before.

The issue of universities of reputable standing allowing affiliations with some Schools that may not meet NUC’s criteria if they were to operate as a stand-alone is another cause for alarm. How do you say because an admission seeker did not meet your institution’s cut off mark, s/he should be admitted in an affiliated School while at the end of the day, s/he is issued your certificate? Arrangements like these wouldn’t have been a problem if officials from the ‘big’ universities go to the affiliated Schools regularly to ensure that what they are being taught is exactly what is obtainable in the home universities, so to put it. It is not enough that you give them your syllabus and some written documents to explain your policies, how well do these Schools abide by those policies and how often do you delegate staff for inspection? I know a beautiful lady like the one we met in camp who can’’t make the simplest sentence in the English language whether written or verbally without an error. She studied English in an affiliated campus of one of Nigeria’s top five Universities and she is currently serving as a teacher. Her case too can be seen to be as a result of a weak background/foundation in nursery and primary school. It is what we get when too many greedy people want to own Schools just for the profit instead of having the interests of the students first at hand before really considering profit.

It would have been less of a big deal if English was not the language we adopted as a common means of communication. Someone may argue that Chinese men in Nigeria doing businesses can’t speak the English language well and still do well, so we should be less concerned about teachers not being able to communicate effectively with their students. Well, the Chinese man can be excused because English language is not his lingua franca. I bet he wouldn’t be excused if he can’’t communicate in his country’s official language, the Mandarin Chinese.

Most children who have had weak academic foundation cannot be blamed, their parents too cannot be blamed. The government carries a larger chunk of the blame. After licensing a school to practice, should it end there? Whatever happened to quarterly visits by the licensing bodies to ensure that quality education is being attained? How about raising the standards of these new schools to ensure they are at par with what is being taught in other schools? Do they even inspect the surroundings where these schools are set up? There is a Primary School in Mushin that shares the same building with residential apartments and shops where commercial activities take place daily and is close to a church (that holds morning programmes on weekdays, sometimes mornings); pray tell how the pupils in this particular School will concentrate in class in the mornings when the church programme is going on and the voice over the microphone can be heard from afar? Won’t they sing along when praise songs are being rendered instead of listening to the teacher? Someone somewhere approved this school and turned a blind eye to the fact that it is not a conducive environment to learn. This is one out of many schools that were approved even though they did not meet the standard.

Aren’t we worried? For how long do we sit back and watch incompetent people set up schools and run them like a shop where they keep getting new sales girls every month? Won’t the students even get confused when they keep seeing new faces every day as teachers? How do the students cope with different teaching methods by different teachers? How are they able to reconcile about five different teachers teaching methods on the same subject and not get confused? When these students eventually finish School and are returned to the classroom during service to teach, do you blame them if they are not able to teach properly? They cannot even be blamed because they were taught the same way.

The licensing bodies should step up and save the Country from an impending collapse in the Education sector by raising the standards for these schools – what is taught (curriculum), how it is taught (teachers/teaching methods), when it is taught (being at par with other schools) and where it is taught (environment).

Government and other employers should also make sure they pay workers’ salaries very promptly so parents can also enrol their children in standard schools and pay their school fees on time. It is because some parents are always owed salary that they end up taking their children to schools that are only after profits and allow instalment payments of up to ten times as far as the complete money is eventually paid. A school without proper structure cannot deliver effectively.

Enough of hiring and firing teachers anyhow like it is a fashion trend. Enough of setting up schools in very noisy places; enough of the substandard schools already. It is getting too much. It seems the more schools that are established, the more the quality of Education drops.

The establishment of more schools should be halted by the Government while existing ones that are substandard should be given a deadline to upgrade their facilities and meet up to standard. They should also be monitored very closely to make sure they don’t sack their teachers anyhow or rely on Corps members only as teachers.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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