At the moment, Nigeria and Nigerians are undergoing a seismic event that is questioning the very foundation of the Nigerian state. The #EndSARS protests is right in the consciousness of the public and of the government. And this is because it speaks to the collective agonies and aspirations of all Nigerians. From the immediate issue of police brutality, the anxiety and anger that triggered the protests had quickly encompassed larger issues of governance and restructuring.
Education looms very large on the list of what is wrong with the Nigerian state. And yet, in the midst of all these agitations, the National Examination Council (NECO) deemed it fit to insist that its examinations must go on.
When the examination body announced that the Computer Science practical scheduled for the 19th of October, 2020 was to be postponed, there were a few parents who wondered why it was that paper alone, and not the entire examinations. No parents want their children to fail, even within a country where education has become less than what it ought to be—an enlightening dynamic that makes students thinkers and doers. Indeed, we can argue that at the foundation of Nigeria’s postcolonial predicament is the lack of fundamental attention to the role that education plays in national development. The millions of graduates Nigeria produce every year do not convert into a critical human capital that feeds Nigeria’s productivity profile. NECO, as well as the General Certificate of Examination (GCE) and the West African Examination Council (WAEC), is an institutional part of what is not quite right with Nigeria’s education system.
Yet many parents insist that their children write these exams. What choice do they have? I insisted too, as a parent. But then, how do you insist on writing exams when the state is boiling? Should we talk about the insecurity involved in wading through a group of angry protesters? Should we discuss the psychological trauma involved in abandoning your car to take a bike; dodging protesters on your way to school; and then asking such a student to sit and write an exam that even the examination officials came late for because they had to go through the same situation? Remember that most students do not have parents to bring them in cars. I am a teacher; I know what it means to do offset the psychological balance of a students who needs to write an examination in unsuitable conditions. I know what it means to ask a student who came to school very early to avoid protesters, was told the exam will no longer hold, but was then called back about an hour later (when the student was already home) that the invigilators were around! How do you write an examination with the fear of COVID-19 battling with the thought of velocity and calculus in your brain? How do you concentrate when the righteous indignation of protesters in the vicinity—or even the very thought of their presence—sends jitters down your brain? And how do you grade the scripts of students that had been so traumatized in writing an examination that situations have not made favorable for them to write?
WAEC was written at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. NECO is being written in the midst of one of the largest protests Nigeria has ever witnessed. And these are the students we are preparing to form the foundation of Nigeria’s human capital framework! Parents would always be parents: always concerned about their children, and ready to go to any lengths, even contradictory ones (like trying to avoid protesters agitating for the collective good), to push the fortune and future of their children. Wouldn’t it, at least, be the most sensitive thing to do to postpone the NECO examinations till when the national situation is more auspicious? What happens to a student who legitimately missed a paper because he or she was caught in traffic? If some states of the federation have put a hold on all activities, like going to school, should that not be an indication that the moment is not appropriate to write examinations?
The point is that insisting that an examination must go on in a situation that makes it unwise does not bode well for the organizational and institutional legacy of NECO. It is the height of insensitivity to want to pursue an organizational timeline at the expense of the psychological well-being of the students. After all, what is the essence of an examination if it demeans the dignity of the students who write it? And what’s the worse that could happen? My daughter, and many other students will miss the examinations. Heavens will not fall! Let that be my daughter’s induction into the protest culture.
Adeshina Afolayan teaches Philosophy at the University of Ibadan