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September 2015


We need 100% pass in WAEC > Prof. Idowu Sobowale

Professor Idowu Sobowale, OON, a renowned journalist, academic and technocrat, is a former commissioner for education in Lagos State. He is pained that despite the huge resources available in the country, Nigeria is yet to fashion an education system that will drive its socio-economic development. In this interview with Joseph Chibueze and Frances Enakhitare, he says Nigeria needs a total value reorientation if it must move forward.

I will describe the performance of Nigerian students in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, WASSCE, in the past several years as very poor. The 38% we achieved this year, granted it is better than 31% of last year, is still far below average, that is taking 50 as the average of 100. In a country where adequate attention is paid to education, 80 per cent should not even be considered as good enough. You can see how far away we are from the goal.

The poor performance exhibited by the students is as a result of lack of preparation on the side of the students, inadequate teaching facilities, as well as incompetent and insufficient teachers. All these have denied students the practical knowledge they are supposed to have before they sit for examinations. This has become a trend in the educational sector of Nigeria and if nothing is done to arrest it now, it will get worse than this.

The target pass rate

Well I will consider 100 per cent, but anything between 90% to 96% per cent can be considered good enough. 70% is not okay for me.

Ways to achieve the target performance

There are so many things that could be done by the different stakeholders. First, parents must do their job as parents, devote adequate attention to the education of their children. They need to provide basic necessities for them to function adequately in school. They should provide these things so that children are not distracted, they should also have time to visit the schools of their children to check their attitudes to studies and performance.
Teachers also need to improve their skills, they need to train and retrain because you cannot give what you do not have.
On the part of government, the basic facilities must be provided in schools.

You can’t have children studying under trees or sitting on bare floors while receiving lessons and expect them to do well in examinations. Government must be alive to its responsibilities by ensuring the school environment is conducive for teaching and learning. Of course, government should pay teachers well and arrange refresher courses and exchange programmes for them so that they can acquire more experience and be able to teach better. There must also be adequate supervision of schools. 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, not green horns fresh from the universities, 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.

Restraining ill prepared candidates from WASSCE

If we say we want to reduce the number of candidates that should attempt the senior school certificate examinations, whose child would you tell to stay away from attempting the examinations? Everybody who feels qualified has a right to go in for the examinations, if s/he fails so be it, but you cannot stop anyone from going in for the examinations. When government introduced the 6-3-3-4 system of education, the idea really was to reduce the quest for paper qualifications and encourage technical and vocational education.


The idea was for junior secondary school children to discover what they have aptitude for; where their potentials are. So, those who are technical inclined will move on with vocational training while those that are academically inclined would proceed to senior secondary. That would have automatically reduced the number going to write West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations, WASSCE. Unfortunately that did not work out because we were not able to implement that policy the way it was intended.

In fact most of the equipment that were imported for the 6-3-3-4 system of education were never even removed from the containers in which they were imported and they are there rotting away, or vandalised or stolen. Teachers to teach technical subjects were not trained. Except we go back to the drawing board and redesign our education system to give adequate recognition to technical education, we will continue to have everybody rushing for paper qualification and that is what is giving rise to examination malpractices.

Education emergency

Of course there is a need for us to declare a state of emergency in education in this country. But, you ask yourself at what level of education do we need state of emergency? I would say if it is at the level of primary and secondary education, it is fine, it is needed because that is the foundation. We need to refocus our education system to make it more functional and to promote our values. We have lost it.

Our value system has been totally eroded and we are now promoting things that are not compatible with our culture. We have a culture where a child is brought up by the entire community. Any adult can discipline a child that is misbehaving, but that is no more the case today. We need to go back there, maybe not 100 per cent, but substantial enough to bring back our lost glory.   In this country, we need a total value reorientation; we need to move away from denominating everything in terms of what is in it for me? People should begin to do things as patriotic citizens.

Budgetary allocation to education

I am aware the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, proposed that governments in developing economies should allocate nothing less than 26 per cent of their national budgets to education, but what do we have in Nigeria, less than 10 per cent, in fact it was only in the last years of the Goodluck Jonathan administration that we had up to 10 per cent. It is not that our governments do not consider education important, but they do not regard it as a sector they should accord priority in budgetary allocations.

We have had educationists and academics as education ministers or commissioners; in any case you don’t even need to be an educationist to know how to formulate the right policy that will drive our education system. It is baffling that our government officials travel abroad see how things are working there and even observe the rules there, but as soon as they step foot on the Nigerian soil, their way of thinking changes automatically. It is really unfortunate; we pray that God will deliver us.

Government paying WASSCE fees

I was among those who formulated the policy that says Lagos State government should pay WASSCE fees for its students because there was need for it at that time. But like anything else, I believe it is time to review that policy and see if it is still needed; to see whether we should abolish it completely or whether it should be narrowed down to only those who cannot pay. Then there were many indigent students whose parents could not afford to pay for the examinations.



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