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Published On: Tue, Jun 19th, 2018

A national culture of mediocrity

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jambBy Sesugh Akume

Up till his last breath, Babs Fafunwa, the revered, erudite educator, educationist, and erstwhile education minister argued and insisted that the standard of education was not falling, standard remained same, it was the quality of education that was falling. How I wish he were alive to see the travesty that has befallen education in Nigeria. He must be uncomfortable and turning over in his place of abode instead of resting in peace. This Tuesday 22 August JAMB — Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board — set the new entry requirements at 120/400 for university admission, and 100/400 for polytechnics, monotechnics, and colleges of education.
Following the uproar that ensued after the announcement, Ishaq Oloyede the JAMB registrar in a usual survivalist, self-preservation antic promptly turned it around and put it in other ‘stakeholders’ as their decision, whereas he is the one in charge. Under normal circumstances there ought to be red lines when discussing standards, not in Nigeria.
Today in a volte-face the same fellow in the usual arrogant manner of Nigerian public officials is accusing those who have issues with a 120/400 standard of ignorance, and for not holding their peace on what they’re ignorant of. He says UTME, the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, the admissions and matriculation board’s official exam is about ranking, not qualifications for admission into higher education.
The 120/400 he says doesn’t take away the right of individual schools to conduct post-UTME exams and insist that candidates have 5 credits. In the first place the whole idea of post-UTME is an aberration. Matriculation exams as the name implies are the remit of JAMB, not individual universities. After fighting universities for undermining them, JAMB reluctantly acquiesced accepting post-UTME as a temporary measure. Today we have a JAMB registrar officially endorsing an aberration. The 120/400 passmark is nothing but mostly a scam scheme at getting more candidates sit for the post-UTME. The higher the number of candidates the more the cash for the schools conducting the post-UTME. For the schools, it’s about the cash. And if I know Nigeria well enough, I won’t be surprised if a candidate who scores 280/400 doesn’t get an admission but one with 120/400 does. That’s the country we live in.
If Ishaq Oloyede is saying JAMB has outlived its relevance, he should let us know. Then it should be scrapped, and tertiary schools allowed carte blanche to decide whomever they want to admit however they choose.
Then comes the issue of what the present administration’s vision for the educational sector is. Is this the administration’s vision? If not, it’s scandalous for people serving under the administration to have a contrary direction. But as in all things, nature abhors a vacuum. If there’s no agenda, other agenda will never be lacking to fill up the space. Tomorrow the cutoff marks will be 40/400 and some will still defend it. Others will find convenient excuses to shirk responsibility and put it on others, and later turn around to insult people. But why does something tell me it’s this administration’s agenda to lower the standard and quality of education?
If a product is strong, solid, authentic, durable; one can easily guess which country it’s from. If you think of a conservative culture and tradition, a certain country comes to mind. Think of technology and efficiency another comes to mind. For Nigeria, we must accept that ours is a culture of mediocrity, ‘anyhowness’ and of making wrong choices and defending them, of self-preservation and getting one’s share of ‘the national cake’. Only then can we begin the process of reversing our retrogressive culture and lifestyle, weaning ourselves off this destructive path, and commence the journey to nation building.

Sesugh Akume is a Public Affairs Analyst.

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