In 2000, Mr. Patrick, a member of VSO stationed at College of Education, Gindiri, examined third-year NCE students on Primary V English and Arithmetic. Seventy percent of the would be NCE graduates failed the exams.
In 2005, Governor Ahmed Mu’azu, against my wish, tasked my Board with the management of three model primary schools in Bauchi, in addition to the model secondary schools it was managing then. The management of the board decided to take fresh teachers after it redeployed the old ones to SUBEB. To be employed, we set a criteria: an applicant must have a minimum of NCE or Diploma and pass an aptitude test by at least 50%.
We used some past question papers of National Common Entrance Exams (NCCE) on English and Mathematics. We reasoned that any applicant who could not pass a test based on what he will teach is not fit to be entrusted with the future of our children. Whatever was his qualification, what we demanded was just passing the NCEE Maths and English.
The results of the test was interesting. Most of the teachers who came from different states passed one of the papers but failed the other. It was like those who read arts passed English well while those from science background passed Mathematics. Few passed both. We were faced with a dilemma.
We knew the result will not change even if we repeat test with other sets of applicants. We were even lucky to get this number of bold ones; many fled the recruitment venue immediately they heard the word ‘test’. In the end, we agreed to lower our expectation and settle for at least 50% in either subject and 40% in the other but only those that passed a subject would be allowed to teach it.
We hit our target and embarked on training the teachers in their areas of weaknesses. In addition, we adopted the “Trevor Notes” as lesson plans for Primary I-IV, trained all the teachers on them such that we knew exactly what stuff our pupils got weekly. Teachers must work hard to ensure that pupils pass a centralized examination, lest they face disciplinary action that may culminate in dismissal if no improvement was registered.
Needless to say that our diligence paid very well. We worked hard on training the teachers, supervised them strictly and paid their entitlements as when due. They were proud that they were employed on merit. We allowed them to put in their best while we shielded them from political influence that may introduce mediocrity into their work. The result was a standard that was as good as you would find in any good private school. Alhamdulillah.
Twelve years later, I still test teachers at the point of employment. The last was an English teacher I asked to write an essay on his local government, Barikin Ladi, in which he did very well and got the job instantly.
Proof of competence is something no serious education administrator can avoid. So we need to be fair to His Excellency, the Kaduna State Governor, on this matter. He has all along been result-oriented in his life and we should not be so inconsiderate to expect him to abandon merit after reaching this exalted position. People voted for change and no change can come without due diligence.
My only difference with His Excellency on this matter is on some two points which I will rush to mention before concluding, hoping that he will still find a place in his heart for the reason to prevail.
From the test of Mr Patrick in Gindiri to ours in Bauchi and the current one in Kaduna, it is clear that setting 70% pass mark was the result why there is high degree of failure, which may be misguiding to an administrator. The calibration is too high for an aptitude test. Reducing the cut-off marks to 60%, according to the teachers’ union in Kaduna, will see 75% of the teachers scaling through. With increased training and quality assurance measures, they can within a year reach any desired level of competence.
The alternative would not be better. If new graduate and NCE applicants are examined with NCEE papers hardly would 25% of them pass Maths and English above 70 marks level. I will bet anyone on this. And those that do will just be there temporarily, in a waiting mode eying better jobs elsewhere.
In this case it is better to work on improving 75% of the existing teachers that passed 60% and above, who will certainly remain as they did over the years.
If the percentage is further reduced to 50% as we did in Bauchi, over 85% of the teachers will scale through. In that case only few hopeless thousands will justifiably lose their jobs.
His Excellency must be careful about the statistics he receives from officials. They may not be correct. In fact, after listening to a school population figure he quoted before some visitors, I began to nurse the suspicion that the Governor may not be properly informed. That was the impossible figure of 29,000 students enrolled in a primary school at Rigasa. Haba!
Even if there were 100 classrooms in the school, the population per class would be 290! If His Excellency will try a physical audit at the school himself, I’m sure he cannot get up to 100 pupils in most of the classes. Even that would mean the school has 290 classrooms at 100 pupils per class. Whichever way you look at it the 29,000 is impossible. Check it, Your Excellency.
Many education administrators are fond of concocting figures and this attitude seems pleasant to politicians who are targeting something especially to attract funds with. I once heard a Governor citing the population of 150 students per secondary school classroom in the state. Lie! A big lie because I knew the figure and it is physically impossible for 150 secondary school students to stay in a classroom that is hardly more than 6×10 meters.
Similarly, I once disagreed with a Commissioner who wanted a State Executive Council to approve a counterpart funding to primary schools’ feeding program using a concocted figure of 900,000 pupils in the state during Obasanjo administration. I knew it was a lie, the realistic figure being only 30% of that based on a statewide examination that the ministry conducted for Primary VI pupils. And the Governor was very happy to be saved that cut. For the remainder of the meeting, he clanged to my opinion as gospel truth and declined the concocted estimates.
Something is similarly fishy with the current exams in Kaduna state. People are pasting the worst scripts on their walls in a propaganda effort to swerve public opinion to the fixated plan of dismissing 21,000 teachers. Honestly, did 21,000 write these scripts or are they cleverly selected to ridicule the teachers? If 70% of them got 60% and above as their union claims, I believe the pasted scripts are not true representatives of the 75% that failed the exams. It is sheer propaganda which I hope His Excellency has not fallen prey to.
I am still calling on His Excellency to review his stand in the teachers that failed to meet the 70% cut-off marks he set. While I support quality assurance measures on our school teachers, I still believe that the dismissal of 21,000 in the state is undesirable. Reducing the cut-off marks to 60% or even 50% will reduce the number of teachers to be sacked to few tolerable thousands without gross social and political implications. His Excellency will also need to cast a third eye on every statistics presented to him for avoidance of costly, policy misdirection. He must, as I said in my initial article, commit his government to quality assurance measures beyond aptitude test, without which nothing will change in the public school system even if all its teachers are replaced annually.
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde