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THE 9-3-4 SYSTEM: HOW FORMIDABLE?


Ugochukwu Anieto
Published September 12th, 2009

"You must study, study, study- Lenin’s exhortation to young communist league members in 1918 when they asked him how best they could contribute to the strengthening of the communist state".

The on-going national strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is about to mark its 3rd month birthday. There seem to be no near end to the imbroglio between the federal government-the employers of ASUU members and ASUU itself. Negotiations and would be concessions on both sides have been a ding dong affair, with the federal government committing an all time high tactical blunder by refusing to continue negotiations with ASUU on disputed issues.

Strikes by ASUU have been a recurring decimal in the history of Nigeria’s education system. My stay in the university was prolonged as a result of the unending strike actions by ASUU caused by the refusal of the federal government to abide by the agreed contract. Between August and November 2000, the Universities went on strike, between March and September 2001, same situation occurred and from December 2002 to around June 2003, our citadels of learning where under lock and key courtesy of the strike action, several other strikes followed but I was not affected. As a result of the last dated one I mentioned, I had an 8 months interlude between the time I wrote my degree examinations and the time I defended my thesis. When shall Nigeria be truly liberated from this academic low life? Who shall stand to fight the course of young Nigerians who rely on our wishy-washy educational system to achieve their dreams? When would Nigerian graduates like their Zimbabwean counterparts of the 1970’s and 1980’s be counted as repositories of knowledge and skills based solely on education acquired in Nigeria? These and many more questions are begging for answers. The sad story is that we are retrogressing into the depths of ignorance. We can only hope and pray that there would never be a time in history when a Nigerian graduate would find it difficult if not impossible to spell his name correctly or identify same when written. Even to recite the simple times table thought in primary schools could become an issue in the future.

I shall start this discourse by examining the 9 of the 9-3-4 system of education. As I am writing this, a close relation of mine, is doing the 8th grade (JSS2) of the 9 and yet does not have an English teacher since she entered the 7th grade. Sadly these young and unfortunate pupils are required to sit for English in both the school examinations and the forthcoming junior WAEC examination. Who is fooling who? Same situation applies to same or other subjects in different schools within the Anambra state school system. I did hear that Governor Peter Obi was fully intimated on this ugly situation in which he asserted that he (the state) already spend a lot of money on teachers’ salaries and benefits alone. Is there a correlation between spending too much money on salaries and having sufficient teachers in the schools?

What you witness are pupils who cannot make simple correct statements in English, pupils who cannot solve the cheapest of arithmetic and pupils who know nothing about Nigeria nay Africa as a continent. Their best efforts are only recitations of the so-called home movies which unfortunately produce more dim wits than they inspire academic achievements. There are no more speech and prize giving days in schools where hardworking students are extolled thereby challenging others to work hard. Much time is now spent by teachers and their students on extramural lessons; I wonder what they do between 8am to 2pm in schools. The teachers always willing to teach the extramural classes, making merchandise of hardworking parents and guardians. I must admit that sometimes the students benefit from the extramural classes. Only God knows whether secondary schools still conduct practical classes in science subjects.

Beyond the 9th grade is the senior secondary school (SS1 to SS3) which represents the 3 of the 9-3-4, where students are prepared to sit for WAEC, NECO, UME, PME, NABTIB etc. The most popular being the WAEC and NECO. The mediocrity from the junior school is carried over into this senior school where the students continue to suffer lack of instructors/teachers in key subjects required for matriculation into the universities. At this level, the Nigerian student ought to have been fully prepared, attaining a high level of proficiency in reading and writing but this is incidentally not the case in about 90% of the students examined. As at now, WAEC and NECO live examination papers can be purchased from market women for a fee as low as two hundred Naira per question for the theory part. I have it on good authority that external examiners collude with school authorities and sometimes with students directly to cheat during these all important examinations. But why would the Nigerian student not cheat when he received very little tutoring on the course for which he is expected to sit for? Why would the school authorities especially our private schools not collude with the disgruntled external examiners when the school enrolment which of course translates to more profits for the proprietors is directly tied to performance in WAEC and NECO? Ever heard of special centres? What is special about an examination hall? What makes an examination centre different from others to warrant the special centre status? It is not a centre that caters for the needs of the physically challenged students rather it is a centre that fosters academic dishonesty sadly established by corrupt WAEC officials and some individual who run extramural classes. The establishment of a parallel examination body to WAEC served to bury the already dead credibility in our educational system. Till now, I feel that the establishment of NECO was simply to lower academic guards in certain quarters within Nigeria. In my time, students jostled to write the UME at Umunze in Anambra state or at Nsukka town in Enugu state, these places and several others were hot beds for cheating in the UME. The federal government colleges and a few credible private schools, neither which I am no product of, appear to be the very last of our secondary schools with a tint of excellence. I stand to be corrected on this.

At the University level, UME and other examinations required for entry into the institution of higher learning suffer near same degree of worthlessness except that our Universities pioneered by the University of Lagos and the University of Nigeria instituted the post UME examination thereby restoring some decorum to the already abused system. I do not know the extent of fidelity in this system but I do know that it has a good measure of credibility; a cousin recently sat for the post UME and gained admission to study medicine in Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka on the strength of her performance alone. My former professors whom I share common interests with have told me of how some students with exceptionally high scores in the UME find it extremely difficult to score reasonable points in the post UME. Where it not for these checks and balances, students who can barely write their names correctly would still be gaining admission to study courses at the expense of the hard working students. As a lecturer at the College of Education Nsugbe in Anambra state, I taught a lot of students, some of them barely able to write their names correctly, most of them making grammatically incorrect statements both in speaking and in writing and all of them seeing nothing wrong in academic dishonesty, unfortunately these students would later get unleashed on young minds as teachers in our school system. This hydra headed monster called academic dishonesty is becoming a conserved mutant in the genetic makeup of our academic life.

There is no nation building on the altars of ignorance. Mediocrity is fast taking over in every aspect of the Nigerian life. Garbage in equals garbage out. I am more than disappointed that Professors Yar’adua, Jonathan and Egwu "led" federal government are not very willing to continue any negotiation with ASUU. I choose to refer to them as professors abiding by the American system which refers to lecturers as professors. The trio aforementioned taught in higher institutions before now. I recollect vividly that Dr. Sam Egwu in an interview a few years back said that the happiest moment of his life was when he bagged his PhD. Does Dr. Egwu not know that several PhD dissertations are on hold as a result of this lingering strike? I am not sure whether the federal government have re-instated the UNILORIN 49, a case that ran the full life span of the Obasanjo’s administration. Why this ding dong? Did I hear that a sitting member of the national assembly goes home with forty-two million Naira on benefits? Whether this is a monthly or yearly amount, I cannot say but it better not be true in any case.

On the part of ASUU, they must live up to the high calling of being academics. By this I mean, a greater commitment to the job of teaching and research. I can say authoritatively that some of its members are pure wastes of office space (I passed through the system). Appraisal should be extended to include the students’ input, the way it is done in America. Students have a right to point out non-performers. Unfortunately even those who would evaluate the appraisal might collude with the same non-performers. Ever wondered why our universities have very little endowments from the alumni? People graduate feeling much disenchanted and when they eventually make it in life; they never give credit to the university they passed through. Customer service in our universities, with the student being the customer is at its lowest ebb. Parents must buy more books than they buy home movies. What has happened to all the Macmillan collections? There is no better way to encourage reading than by buying books. Federal government must invest deeply in education. This is about our last hope of survival in this supersonic age. It is a shame that teachers are retiring within the school system but new ones are not being recruited. Even the supposed new ones do not want to be recruited for obvious reasons-poor conditions of service. When would the Nigerian graduate strive to be a school teacher instead of a company executive? Only when the conditions of service surpass that presently obtained in the other industries. Conditions of service would mean excellent learning environment, good on the job training, good welfare of staff etc. I am sure we have fire brand graduates who can uplift the system but would rather not mortgage their future working in dying systems. There is no hope until we channel our strength to improvement of our education. Nigeria must set up a high calibre body to study the educational system of advanced countries with the intent of replicating it here in Nigeria. The cost of ignorance is far greater than what Nigeria can afford. As at now, almost all illnesses have a spiritual undertone in the realm of diabolism. We produce more pastors than educationists and we have more churches, mosques and other religious centres than schools, little wonder we keep burning up properties and people for minute reasons an obvious indication of weak intellectual ability. President Clinton was once asked what he would focus on if given the chance to lead the United States again; he answered education, education and education! I lay no claim to solomonic wisdom.

Ugochukwu Anieto

PhD student

Texas, United States.


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