We don’t need exams in schools – Prof. Obayan
By MOJEED ALABI
Professor Pai Obayan is the immediate past Chairman of the Governing Board of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). In this interview with MOJEED ALABI, he suggests scrapping of some parastatals in the education ministries and cancellation of examinations in schools, among others as solutions to the challenges facing Nigeria’s education system
You have always canvassed scrapping of some agencies of government and particularly in the Ministry of Education. What informed your position?
There is nothing like an agency as we have them too numerous in this country. Here in Nigeria, you count many ministries and the number of agencies. You have about 23 parastatals in the education ministry alone and I call them “parasiters.”
Let me give you some examples; look at the National Teachers’ Institute (NTI), I know how it started. It is doing something about teachers; the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) is doing something about teachers and we still have the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) carrying out similar mission. When I was in school, my teachers were registered.
We saw their names and registration numbers. I would have expected that there would be just a desk in the ministry to do the registration of teachers, but now we have TRCN with its own chief executive officer. When the National Examination Council (NECO) was to start too, the states opposed it, but the people’s interest was in the money they would make, and that is Nigeria for you.
But, the primary education sector is also advocating the establishment of a commission like what NUC is for the university system?
Look, I was Chairman of a Presidential Task Team on Education and which the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) was a member, where they made case for something for secondary education, but I insisted that there was no need for any parastatal for now and they all clapped and hailed my position.
More importantly, the former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili said the Onasode’s Commission, which looked at every other ministries also raised the same issue, but no one listened. The truth is that we started this wastage long ago.
Don’t you think that the faulty foundation, especially in the basic education, is a contributory factor to the issue of examination malpractice?
Which one is basic education? Where does it start? Unfortunately it is not this general meaning you ascribe to it that is correct. Basic education does not mean schooling. It is bringing you to a level when you have learnt how to learn.
If you go to Arabic school and you have learnt how to learn, it is basic education. But, if you have PhD and you have not learnt how to learn, then you have no basic education.
Everyone here is a candidate for basic education. After the World Conference, African Ministers got together to say the formal equivalents is what the government should provide – primary and the junior secondary school education. But that does not mean nine years in every country. It is nine years in five English-speaking countries, and in the Francophone countries, it is 10 years because the junior secondary school there is four years.
In the East African countries, it is eight years because the junior secondary is two years. And, the argument is that at the age of 11 or 12, the children are too young to be thrown into the world and that knowledge has become so complex that at that level you have not learnt enough.
After that, America came up with K12. Children are registered in a kindergarten and are there till Grade 12. They don’t even write examinations there. And later, America introduced K14 because almost every hamlet in America has a junior college, where they do two years and then can transfer. Now, they say basic education has K99; that is, kindergarten plus 99 years. This implies everybody is a candidate for basic education.
You are a key stakeholder in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), yet you are condemning the conduct of examinations in our schools. Why?
Look, you don’t need any examinations to give people knowledge. Examinations were introduced during the colonial times to eliminate some people because they could not cater for everyone. I used to preach it here that assessment should replace examination in our schools, but I thought I was talking heresy.
Between 1986 and 1999, I was working outside this country touring the whole world and examination was not the in thing. My last child attended American type of school from primary school and he never wrote any examination, yet he is more knowledgeable.
This is because the job of the teachers or parents is to bring a child up.
The real assessment is that a child at age five should be able to do certain thing and once you are deficient they bring you up to that level.
So, what you find is that every teaching procedure has assessment already built into it.
An assessment is not about what you scored, but why did you score it. This is because it could be the teachers that have caused it, or it could be the school environment or any other reasons.
So, that is what assessment is supposed to do.
But here, we are only interested in the examinations and the candidates’ business is to pass regardless of how that came to be. So, in Nigeria we pass examinations, but we are not educated. And, that is the problem.
For instance, if you have acquired your degree in Mass Communication; the day you get on the job, you begin to wonder what your teachers have taught you in class.
Again, the teachers, who taught you, do not even know how people communicate out there, and yet they can tell you about many theories in the world. Let me give you another instance, my first daughter, who is almost 50 years old now, graduated from here and thereafter decided to go into banking job, but later went to an Indian School in London and from there to America for MBA, and she is now so brilliant because the teaching techniques and methodologies were different.
So, are you suggesting we should reduce the number of examinations we conduct for students in our schools?
Of course, we do not even have to conduct examinations in the first instance. We should assess the students because when we assess, what we do is to help them.
How can we assess without examinations?
Yes, we can. Look, the way it is done is that if you are teaching, it should be participatory; it is not that I talk you write down notes. So, I am looking at you for not participating or that you are just tired or you are not participating because you are too brilliant, then I have to adjust myself.
So, by next day everyone has known it. Thus, it is not at the end of the term that you set examinations. If you are a motor mechanic and you have apprentices, how do you assess them? Is it not day by day? That is why people say someone is more intelligent than the other.
Then how do you move from one class to the other?
You move because your age mates are moving, they have tasks to perform and everyone is able to perform it. It is not that you start setting examinations. You know teaching is individual-basis.
For instance, you are born in Ivory Coast where you don’t write English, and you get admission to an American university, don’t you know that in one year you would learn English enough to do well in your studies? When you don’t want to provide education for all you introduce examinations and in the process people cheat and they pass examinations without passing the work.
Source: New Telegraph