The dubious standards of contemporary Nigerian education, the recently-announced results of the 2014 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) were abysmal.
Out of 1,015,504 candidates who sat for the Paper and Pencil Test (PPT) and the Dual-Based Test (DBT) on April 12, only 47 of them scored 250 and above. This figure represents 0.0046 per cent of the total.

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Appalling as they are, the results constitute only the tip of the iceberg. Only 109, 836 candidates obtained scores of 200 and above, representing 10.82 per cent of the total. Nearly 90 per cent of those who sat for the examinations were unable to attain scores equivalent to 50 per cent of total obtainable scores.

The implications of the 2014 UTME results are sobering in their enormity. The UTME is a so-called “gateway” examination. This means that it is taken by candidates from all socio-economic backgrounds, educational attainment and ethnic groups. It is therefore a reliable yardstick of general educational performance.

The implication of these results is that, in spite of all the educational reforms in several states of the federation, despite the increase in the number of expensive private schools, and notwithstanding the intrinsic intelligence and determination of many Nigerian youths, very little has changed for the better.

This terrible performance suggests that governments, non-governmental agencies and the educational institutions themselves may need to take a very hard look at their current strategies. Could it be that current pedagogical practices are too closely attuned to passing examinations, and are consequently not wide-ranging enough? Has the cancer of examination malpractice so engulfed the country’s educational system that it has comprehensively crippled candidates’ ability to perform well without it? Is there a disconnect between resource input and expected outcomes?

A change of attitude at the leadership level is crucial to reversing this unhappy trend. In more serious countries, a performance like this would be considered nothing less than a disaster, and in addressing it, correspondingly serious measures would be taken. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country where failure is rarely identified for what it is, to say nothing of sanctioning those who are culpable.

States like Ekiti and Edo, which have courageously tried to address fundamental issues like that of teacher competence, find themselves thwarted at every turn.
If the situation is to change, there will have to be a comprehensive reform of the nation’s educational system.

Systems of financing education, especially at the primary and secondary school levels, must be clearly identified and ring-fenced. An accessible reporting system should be developed to enable all schools to be monitored closely. Measurable teacher and student performance yardsticks must be established to enable educational institutions to be objectively assessed.

Promotions and increments of teachers should be tied to improvements in the reading and numerical ability of students, as well as their performance in public examinations. Where corruption, incompetence or delinquency is detected, sanctions must be prompt and severe.

General social attitudes must change as well. As long as Nigeria continues to be a nation where wealth rather than intellectual achievement is prized, for so long will education continue to be seen as a necessary evil rather than a social good. A distracting diet of football, reality shows, music and other forms of low-brow entertainment has so suffused the consciousness of the youth that scholarship means little or nothing to them. Parents, politicians and community leaders must do more to uphold the virtues of scholarship and ensure that education regains its pride of place.

For a nation which claims to have rejected the anti-educational outrages perpetrated by Boko Haram, it would be ironic if it is unable to live up to its precepts.

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