In an effort to improve education and encourage education workers, the state government proposed a mass promotion with an accompanying pay increase for all the teachers. To get this raise, all education workers were required to take tests relevant to their levels and areas of expertise.
The Commissioner of Education realised his mistake quickly when in one of the state-run grammar schools, only two of the 65 teachers passed and was eligible for the promotion and subsequent raise. To prevent what was tending towards a strike, the results were reviewed, and it was decided that the pass mark of the teachers’ certification exam be reduced to 40%. This, it was proposed, in addition with re-grading some of the exam papers and the liberal application of half-marks and extra-credit, would allow 85% of the state’s teachers to be promoted.
The teachers’ union although not formally, by its own rules, allowed to be at any talks whose purpose was to discuss the reduction of teaching standards, agreed to this arrangement. All the teachers were passed. This included the 15% of failing teachers who, after much wrangling and based on the justification that they too had picketed to get the pass mark reduced, were also given their expected raises but without the promotion that should have come with it. They (the failing teachers) were told that in order to be promoted, they would have to retake the exams at their own leisure and pass it (at the new 40% mark). But with the incentive of money gone, no one volunteered to take the test again.
These teachers went on to teach the children of the state, and at the end of their six year stints, when the students struggled with their WAEC exams, some of the teachers said, ‘Ah ah nau, help them. Where you would you be if someone hadn’t helped you. You don’t know where you will meet each other in the future.’ So each of the subject teachers worked out the multiple choice questions then walked from class to class reading out the answers to the students. ‘Number seven D, number eight B, number nine either A or D.’
When the results of the WAEC exams came out, it was still shocking to those teachers that only 30% of their students passed both English and Maths. Apparently, teachers who can only manage a 40% passing grade cannot be trusted to provide proper cheat answers to their students. The students and their parents, in conjunction with the teachers, denounced the results. They said, ‘This new automated computer marking system is not favourable to the children. Who knows how hard you have to shade the answers for a computer to “see” it. We didn’t warn the students to shade that hard. I know my son is not an olodo.’
None of the children from that initial school (two of 65 teachers) did well enough to get into a noted programme in a federal university. By combining results from two exams, ten of the students did well enough to make it into a pre-degree diploma programme. The principal stood in front of a gathering of the graduated students who had converged in front of his office to protest. He told them the system was flawed and how could anyone, even the Minister of Education himself, vouch for a system where no one, not a single student, was able to get into university.
Calls were made and university admission offices were told to treat all grades in all subjects as valid passing grades except for F9 (0 – 23%). Though some would try, no one could make a legitimate excuse for an F9. After all, we have to have some standards.
With the altered criteria, applicants flooded the universities. So much that there wasn’t room enough for them all. More universities were created to handle the influx of students. Old universities were expanded. Lecture halls were crammed with students standing outside peeking into the class through slits in the windows. Of course, the students couldn’t hear a word of the lecture from that far out so they gained nothing by being there, but attendance was part of the final grade and mandatory if you wanted to be allowed to take the exams. So every day, they walked into the packed classes, signed in their names and walked back out to huddle in the hallways, leaving once they felt the lecturer wouldn’t notice.
At the end of 4 + x years, the students presented their final reports. From the titles of these projects, one could be convinced that much work had been done. ‘Evaluation of insurance trends amongst middle income residents of Lagos state from 1980 – 2010.’ ‘A critical analysis of the influence of the service improvements by the Ministry of Health to the lives of residents of Sabo.’ Etc etc.
At one of the project defence meetings, a professor asked why the student’s project had no summary and made no points in its abstract.
She (the professor) said, ‘Read your abstract out to us.’ The student did.
‘What is your abstract saying you did?’
He looked down, ground his heel into the floor, mumbled something, then repeated the cumbersome title, ‘I studied influence of improvements by the ministry to the lives of the residents in the area.’
‘Turn to the end and read out the summary,’ she said.
He flipped to the end of his project. He stood agape for a long minute, then said, ‘There is no summary.’
‘Yes, I noticed. You have 10 pages of unrelated graphs and then the end. Nothing else.’
He said, ‘They made a mistake at the business centre where I gave them to type. They must have removed the summary.’
‘Alright, we will continue this when you have the summary.’
Three weeks later, clutching his as yet unedited final project, he was keeping a vigil outside her office. He had ditched the stolen summary story and resorted to begging. ‘Ma, after seven years, just this one thing I have left to submit.’
Two years later, he had stumbled into a position created for him by his uncle at the same ministry of health that had approved his final project. He would drive around in his work-appointed car with its official plates and complain to his friends that all the contracts were going to foreigners when we have educated people right here waiting. Some of his course mates (people he claimed to have taught) hadn’t been so lucky. They had become teachers.
Teachers as we all know aren’t paid as well as workers in other ministries, so when the commissioner of education suggested a promotion and a pay raise, they all jumped at it. But first, they had to pass an exam.