Repeated failure by students in the English Language led Dr Chuta Sunday Chibuzor, seasoned English lecturer, to his writing table. In this unputdownable piece, the author of popular books like: Fundamentals of English Language, 909 Objective Tests in English, among others, writes on factors that puncture performance in this core subject and how the use of corrupt language by parents also contribute to dismal performance by students.
Students’ scorecard in English Language
Our students in post-primary institutions have, in recent times, come under severe blame for their poor performance in their final West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Commission (NECO) examinations. Even more disturbing is the high incidence of examination malpractice as is prevalent and recorded in these examinations, with the students also being accounted as culpable for such academic malaise. Using the English Language course as a case study, it would be pertinent to examine and determine who should be held responsible for much of these lapses in the education system – the student, the society or the education authority.
If, according to Dr. Eniola Ajayi, the former Ekiti State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, the scourge of examination malpractice is threatening the foundation of the nation’s educational system, it becomes necessary that a conscientious proactive action should be designed and implemented to arrest the situation. Efforts should be launched, under the present administration, in its change agenda, to restore the image of the country’s education system.
The results released by the examination bodies show that, in 2011, only 25% and 14.15% of candidates in the WAEC and NECO examinations, respectively, came up with at least five credit scores in their performance in the English Language. Over the years, the quality of performance of candidates in the West African Secondary Schools Certificate Examinations has remained erratic. In 2012, there was an improvement as 34.84% of the candidates obtained credits in five subjects including English language and Mathematics. But there was a drastic drop to 26.97% in 2013, of candidates who were able to score credits in five subjects, including English language and Mathematics. However, past figures released by the West African Examination council (WAEC), revealed a slight rise to 29% of 246,853 candidates who sat for the November/December examination in 2014. Although the recently released WAEC results showed some marginal improvement in the 2015 May/June results, in which 38.68% of 616,370 candidates obtained credits in five subjects including English language and Mathematics, the performance in the examinations is still below average, and does not give any cause for exhilaration.
This, admittedly, is a holistic approach in this assessment. There is no doubt that there were some institutions whose performance ranged up to 90% credit score in English Language, whereas some others dropped to 5% credit scores in the subject. The locations of these institutions might not be relevant in the determination of these performances. There are basic contributory factors that should be considered in order to resolve the issues of levels of performance and misconduct in public examinations.
Factors Hindering Students’ Performance
Among the vital factors that should contribute to the transformation of performance of Nigerian students in their post-primary final year examinations in the English Language are the availability of qualified and competent teachers, provision of quality instructional materials and a conducive environment. Teachers in the English Language course, should not only be qualified but should also be competent in the passing on of relevant ideas and intricacies of the subject to the students. The contemporary experience is that a good number of qualified teachers posted to post-primary institutions lack the knowledge of much of the issues demanded in the subject. In such cases, the students are helpless in their academic challenges in the course. It is, however, worse in situations where the qualified teachers are not even available. In such circumstance, some other teachers are allocated to classes to give to the students what they have not received in the first instance. The dismal outcome of such arrangement is obvious.
Let us delve a little deeper into this primary factor in the teaching of English Language in post-primary schools. It is necessary to understand that the current curriculum requirements of our secondary school students in English Language differ from and are higher than what they were before 1995. The introduction of the study of Oral English in 1996, to constitute the English Language Three of the WAEC and NECO examinations, marked a radical turning point in the academic challenges in that subject. There are few educated Nigerians who would appreciate and comprehend the nature and dynamics of Oral English as a Second Language subject for Nigerian youths. Yet, these students are expected to learn and master the technicalities involved in the symbolic, phonetic and variable accents of such a complex language as English for them to make the desired grades in their examinations. The rationale for injecting this aspect of the English Language into the national assessment system is best known to the educational authority. But the big question is, how many among the qualified teaching staff in this subject area, are competent enough to teach Oral English, and how many institutions in the country are endowed with such staff.
Besides the factor of qualified and competent teachers in the field, there is also the challenge of having quality instructional materials on the subject. Over the years, detailed and comprehensive texts have been produced to take care of the theory and objective issues as required in the syllabus. So far, not much has been articulated in the area of Oral English to equip and transform learners for assessment and competence in usage. Whatsoever is available is in the hands of few students in few institutions that clamour for proper instruction and guidance. The truth is that a majority of our students remain absolutely blank on the subject-matter before and after their examinations.
Finally, of all the teaching subjects in post-primary schools, the study of English Language appears the worst influenced by the environmental factor. The high level of corrupt language in society hampers the development of acceptable language standard. Within families and social occasions, there is constant emission of erroneous English expressions and articulation from even eminent and educated personalities. Most amazing is the quantum of faulty grammar and pronunciation of words among majority of our media broadcasters and reporters. All these distract our students from acquiring and cultivating an agreeable English Language benchmark for excellent performance in their examinations.
Confronted by the above constraints, our helpless students either perform woefully in their examinations or are lured into devious and disingenuous practices in order to scale through. In such a business society as ours, there are individuals who would delight in cashing in on these lapses in our education to seek after illegal gains. Apart from the unwholesome record of mass failure in the subject in public examinations and the scourge of examination malpractice, there is also the unfortunate incidence of case of empty brains with high paper grades. We experience instances of students scoring high grades in English Language and other subjects without the ability or evidence to justify such acclaimed performance.
The situation is remediable, with a political will, under the transformation agenda of the present administration. In addition to the provision of enough qualified teachers, there is need for intensive orientation of these teachers to cope with the relevant demands of the educational curricula. Regional, zonal and local workshops should be mounted, periodically, to effect this exposure. On the issue of provision of quality in structural materials, there is need for government and stakeholders to invest in the provision of libraries and procurement and distribution of standard novels and textbooks to all school libraries for reading and reference purposes. Finally, the general public, the electronic and print media staff should work towards cultivating and communicating in an approved language culture that would positively impact on our students to develop confidence in the study of the language.
Dr. Chuta is a senior English lecturer, University of Nigeria,