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Friday, July 24, 2009

Discourse 255: FMOE: Suspend 9-3-4 Now

Discourse 255

FMOE: Suspend 9-3-4 Now

Honestly, I have no idea of what sufficient good informed the adoption of the present 9-3-4 system of education in place of the previous 6-3-3-4 which was introduced in the early eighties. I am not alone in my ignorance. Many stakeholders – parents, proprietors, teachers and students – have also been bitterly complaining about the change in policy. Practically, the policy is ruining education in many communities. Many children are left stranded, while many will forever blame the authors of this poorly conceived policy for denying them the chance of acquiring any good education. But those who deserve a greater blame are the public officers who fail to listen, for ulterior motives, to the complaints of these parents or respond to their appeal. This article is an expression of their tears because it knows very well that the country is sufficiently blessed with insensitive officials.
The 9-3-4 resulted from fusing the 6 years and 3 years in 6-3-3-4 system to form 9 years of basic education. This arose, I suspect, from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) dream of providing, among other things, compulsory ‘basic’ education of nine years to every child instead of the previous primary education target. That is why the previous scheme was called Universal Primary Education, and the new one Universal Basic Education (UBE). Appropriately, the former boards of primary education at national and state levels were renamed from National Primary Education Commission (NPEC) and State Universal Primary Education Board (SUPEB) to Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) respectively.
I am not unaware that many countries have adopted it. Ghana has introduced it and as I saw last year when I visited in one of its villages, Akosumbo, they seem to be better prepared for it, given the good standard of their primary education and small population. What our policy makers refuse to appreciate is the inability of our educational system, like a very weak patient, to adopt changes that are both structural and functional. I will liken it to a very weak patient who can hardly breathe. He needs his condition to be stabilized before undergoing a surgery. This is the simple thing that our policy makers fail to consider. Policies are adopted without any recognition for the dilapidated state of our the sub-sector. For example, 32 two years after the introduction of free primary education, government has not met a quarter of its commitment under the scheme. And no policy has destroyed our standard of education as the overambitious free primary education.
The fact is that by expecting children to spend three additional years in their primary schools and earn a certificate of basic education in the end under the 9-3-4 scheme portends serious social, financial and structural adjustments. Adequate arrangements need to be made in terms of space (classrooms, laboratories, libraries, workshops) and function (administrative staff teachers and equipment). This will require billions to cater for construction, recruitment and running cost. I am confident that this has not escaped the mind of our policy makers. What seemed to escape their minds is the necessity for the program and the success of its immediate adoption given the bad state of the education sub-sector in this country.
Majority of our primary schools have not attained half of the goals set for them back in 1977 in terms of standard of education. In one of the states, 31,000 Primary VI pupils were interviewed in a state-wide admission exercise into JSS1 in 2003. They are admitted once they could read a paragraph from Primary II English text containing sentences like ‘Musa is running.’ Only 6,000 of them were able to read such sentences; 25,000 could not! This means 81% of primary school products in the state can barely read anything beyond their names.
This level of poor performance is not new or restricted to that state, which in any case, within the context of the North, can be included among the fair ones. At least for the North, I consider the 80% failure to read basic sentences as average. What is surprising is how despite this dismal performance, 9-3-4 ultimately expects them to remain in these poor schools for another three years to cover their junior secondary school education. In the end, they are expected to compete in Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination with products of staff and private schools.
The relevance of maintaining a complete secondary school system at least for now can easily be derived from the weak state of our public primary schools. The junior secondary school level then offers the opportunity to bridge the gap in the standard of a child from a poor background, as exemplified by the story of a friend who told me that when he was admitted into a federal government college in the south in 1973, he could hardly construct a single sentence in English. However, within a short time he was able to catch up so much so that he passed his WAEC with a very good result. Four years later he was a graduate. Today he is a successful engineer. Now, the argument is that 9-3-4, when fully implemented as the government is pressing for, would deny children from such poor backgrounds this opportunity to ‘catch-up.’
The Federal Ministry of Education has already scrapped JSS I-III, from all our federal government colleges, despite agitation from the public and staff in those schools, though it is so far unable to convince military and private schools to do so. The chances are bleaker for students in schools owned by state and local governments. The future of millions of poor children is doomed. The nation expects them to pass their JSCE and compete with other pupils from better schools for admission into SSCE.
The end results are obvious: only staff and private schools’ products would gain admission into any good senior secondary schools, including model schools and unity schools owned by the state and federal governments. The second result, when 9-3-4 is fully implemented, is further deterioration in the standard of our state public schools, as the quality of their intakes from ‘basic’ schools worsens. SSCE results of students from such poor schools will inevitably worsen.
Officials will quickly react to my judgements as unfair, claiming that they are not that stupid, that 9-3-4 is implemented in stages. However, facts on the ground at both federal and state levels point show that serious changes have already been made. The federal government scrapped the National Common Entrance Examination in 2005 which many schools, public and private, use to admit primary school pupils. The underlying assumption is that every child is now required to proceed to JSS without any measurement of his primary education standard. In effect, recognition of primary education was instantly withdrawn since 2005. One.
Also, the federal government during Obasanjo went ahead to scrap junior classes in all its 102 unity schools instantly, in 2005. When the Yar’adua administration came it raised our hope by rescinding that decision. The National Common Entrance Examination was reintroduced last layer, 2007, and many children sat for it as usual. For the FGCs, children were invited for interview into JSSI. We parents and other stakeholders were happy in no small measure. The federal government released sufficient funds to principals to enable them prepare for receiving the fresh JSS I students. I was among the parents who for three months waited for admission of their wards. However, the admission never came. A new permanent secretary was appointed and he vetoed that ‘there will be no going back on the reforms.’ Do you blame him since he is a former assistant of Ezesikwele (please pardon me if I do not get the name right), the Minister whom we saw desperately championing the scrapping of the FGCs?
Our children were thus left hanging to date because no school could admit them in January this year since they were late by a term; and next year they cannot be admitted into JSS II because hardly do you find a reasonable school which admits fresh students into JSS II. Despite the loud cry from staff of FGCs, many of whom have nowhere to take their children due to the remoteness of their location or the shallowness of their pockets, the Ministry remains defiant. And no Yar’adua can save us from the ravage of this permanent secretary since his children are not affected. Where are the children of the former Minister, for example? Abroad, of course. Two ke nan.
Three. I have witnessed how state governments were forced in 2006 to start implementing the program in a very bizarre manner. They rushed to start junior secondary schools where there are no sufficient teachers to handle all their primary school classes; the few qualified primary school teachers were transferred to junior secondary schools all in the bid to satisfy the policy. In boarding schools, the administration of each school was divided into two: one for junior section and the other for senior section, each with its principal, vice principals, etc. This is temporary, they said, because when 9-3-4 comes in full force, the junior sections will be scrapped and every village child will be asked to stay there until he is due to join senior secondary school. Every boarding school would then in effect be senior secondary school only.
For limitation of space, I will limit myself to the above three examples in my effort to rebuff any claim that the authorities are implementing 9-3-4 in tandem with our needs. The question to ask here is: for whom is this 9-3-4? Is its doctrine a revelation that cannot be challenged? Why should officials continue to be defiant to our concerns? When will we stop becoming slaves to foreign and private interests? I mention private because there are strong indications that proprietors of private schools are deliberately blocking the reintroduction of JSS in FGCs specifically because allowing them reduce their intakes, a view that is widespread among staff of FGCs. Obasanjo has built a private school and it is running JSS! See the hypocrisy?
Well, our children will also grow and learn the true nature of this country. It is a place run by arrogant officials who are always glad to copy foreigners blindly. Then they will know that the tale of our independence in 1960 is the biggest lie written in their textbooks.
If this article will perchance gain the readership of anyone in the corridors of power, it would have satisfied the desire of its author. If it persuades him or her to take the right step of suspending the 9-3-4 until we are really prepared for it would come as a big surprise. The article was a cry, not an appeal because the former is the fate of the helpless, the latter a tradition of the privileged. And we, the ordinary citizens of this country, are helpless before a cabal that is insensitive, corrupt and narrow-minded.

4 July 2009

1 comment:

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