Today, I continue with my discussions from last week about the paradox of students passing exams while even their teachers cannot pass the same exams. I started with the just conducted competency tests administered on all 33,000 primary school teachers in Kaduna State. The result of the tests indicated that 21,780 of them, or two-thirds, failed to score 75 percent or higher on assessments usually given to their primary school pupils. To address this problem, the governor is going to hire new teachers with sufficient skills to teach and get rid of the failures. The quality of the teachers is just one dimension of the crisis.
I had also raised the issue of the “infamous” school with more pupils than they can be expected to teach. I decided to travel to Kaduna to see the school for myself. I was shocked by what I found in LEA Primary School, Lokoja Road, Rigasa, Kaduna. First, I asked one of the school administrators whether the reports in the media that they had over 22,000 pupils were true. I was told that the current number was even higher because school feeding, which had been stopped for some time, had been reintroduced, and when there is food the numbers spike by the thousands. To know the exact numbers of students in the school, they are planning to carry out a census because they had been directed to document the exact number of students they have. I went round some of the classes. Each class had between 280 and 300 pupils, with a few seated on benches but most of them on the floor. In any case, there wasn’t enough space in the classroom to put benches to sit all the pupils, who were in any case forced to sit on each other. There was no way any learning could occur in such classes which had ten times the maximum amount of pupils that should be in a class. The pupils had no exercise books or any material and they simply chant whatever the teacher says.
I asked a teacher how many of their 71 teachers had passed the competency test recently administered. She appeared very upset by my question. Teachers, she argued, should be assessed on how they are teaching and the conditions under which they are teaching, and not by an exam. She added that should all of them fail and new teachers get appointed, who have no experience trying to teach a class of 300 pupils, what magic can they deliver? I could not but agree with her. It was indeed true that the conditions for learning simply do not exist in that school, so bringing in new teachers cannot address the crisis.
The larger question raised by others is: Why should we expect primary school teachers to be competent when increasing the quality and standards in our universities are becoming poorer? We need to fix our universities so that they can produce good quality teachers for our primary and secondary schools. The State Government is making an effort to address the problem. They have compulsorily acquired houses in the neighbourhood of the school, demolished them and are going to build additional classroom blocks, which would help a bit. The problem is, however, huge because a class is supposed to have about 30 pupils, so if you have 300 in a class, then you have to build ten new classrooms for each existing one.
The additional space is simply too small to make any difference in numbers. I also worry about the health risk. There are eight toilets for about 25,000 pupils, and I did not have the courage to peep into the toilets to see their conditions. I am not a specialist in education but what is clear is that a multipronged approach is needed to begin to address the situation, with many more teachers, teaching aids, books for the kids and a new pedagogical approach of splitting the students into smaller groups. I call on the governor of Kaduna State to make LGEA Primary School, Lokoja Road, Rigasa, a case study of how to solve a deep crisis and bring in the experts to develop approaches that can work. I next visited LEA Primary School Mashi Gwari also in Rigasa and was “relieved” to see that they had “only” 13,600 pupils and their classes had an average of “only” about 150 pupils per class.
The irony is that Rigasa produced a massive amount of votes for the APC and that is where some of the most fanatical supporters of President Buhari and Governor El Rufai reside. Let APC governance have to mean for APC supporters and indeed all others. A lot of the responses I got to my column last week questioned the objectives and appropriateness of the competency tests administered on teachers in Kaduna State. Why were they asked questions such as, ‘write the full name of – the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, the current President of the United States of America, the current Minister of Education in Nigeria, the full name of the Executive Chairman of SUBEB?’ ‘What does knowing these names tell us about the knowledge they have?’ ‘Maybe there is something in it, after all, I was taught similar things when I was in primary school’.
Nonetheless, I do think that some of those criticising the test itself has a point in terms of what the said “competency” to teach in primary schools is about. A friend who is a professor in the United States wrote asking me: “What is the pedagogic value of such knowledge and how would it contribute to the educational development of students? How many primary school teachers in Montana know the name of “the current President of [Nigeria]”? And, why should they care? Why do we in the 21st century continue to fill our children’s heads with stupid, non-reflective, non-critical thinking knowledge?”
The larger question raised by others is: Why should we expect primary school teachers to be competent when increasing the quality and standards in our universities are becoming poorer? We need to fix our universities so that they can produce good quality teachers for our primary and secondary schools. As I argued last week, the core issue is that we are simply not investing enough in the education of the children of the masses because almost the entire elite has withdrawn their children from public schools.