I was invited to be the MC at a school’s end of year/graduation party. The event was so colourful. The presentations by the students were wonderful. Parents were proud to see their children perform. There were smiles and laughter everywhere. The event was moving so smoothly until we got to the last item on the programme – the prize and award presentation.
Immediately I announced that the next item was prize and award giving, the atmosphere became charged. The first set of people called were the graduating students. Theirs was just presentation of gifts, no award attached to it. After that came the presentation of prizes to those that took the first three positions in each class – you know, the first, second and third positions. Being the MC, I kept observing the faces of the audience. What I saw on the faces of the students and guests was a mixture of emotions. I saw anticipation, fear, hope, anger, disappointment, envy, joy and so many others I can’t place a finger on. My efforts to relax the house didn’t work. I tried to preach about every child being special in his or her own way; it still didn’t get anywhere. Some students were crying, others were laughing. Some parents were smiling while some were scowling. The party that started so well ended with mixed feelings all because of one culprit – the result grades.
Yes, the students’ graded results brought about the charged atmosphere at the party. If this result wasn’t brought in, everyone would have gone home happy. Truth is that awarding positions in classes is beginning to cause a lot of problems for us. I am not against class positions, so to say, but on what type of assessment is it judged? What is that position saying? Is it saying that the child that took the first position is the most intelligent in the class? I think we need to look into this matter because what I saw that day said a lot.
By the way, it looks like we parents send our children to school not to acquire knowledge but to compete academically. This is the only thing that explains why parents collect their children’s results and go straight to check their positions before looking at their class average and performances in different subjects (that is if they bother to look at them). Whether their children could demonstrate what they learnt or not isn’t their problem. All they are interested in is that their end of term results said that they are ‘better’ than some people in their class. This also explains why you hear parents say things like – “My son took first position”, “My daughter can read and she is just in Nursery 2”, “My son had nine A’s in his WAEC” (even those that cheated), “My son scored 400 in JAMB” and so many others. What we need to hear are things like – “My son doesn’t go near electricity because at school they were taught safety at home”, “My daughter learnt how to bake cake from her Food and Nutrition class”, “My son is speaking French fluently because they taught him in school”, “My daughter studied computer engineering and is doing very well now”. Dear parents, we shouldn’t be interested on who our children are better than in the school but on the knowledge they acquired and their ability to apply it. Let’s stop focusing their attentions on competition, it won’t help them in this present day world.
Because our children know that we expect them to top the class, they only study to pass their (or rather, make good grades). These children spend their days and nights studying to score high in their exams and do not bother to really understand what they are studying.
The teachers, because of the pressure from parents and the system, teach students so they will pass their exams and make good grades. This is why teachers spend time repeating and repeating things until the students memorise them, even if they don’t understand what they are. Later, the teacher will copy notes upon notes on the board, which the students will copy, memorise and transfer to their exam answer scripts. Because teachers are sometimes appraised based on the performance of their students, some of them teach only those areas that will feature in exam. Teachers need to teach students to understand and use what they were taught in real life situation. A student that understands will definitely do well in exam. Let the teaching focus less on exam and more on understanding.
When these students move to higher institutions, the story continues. The lecturers that are supposed to teach them to think will leave them to continue their ‘copy and paste’ format of writing exam. By the end of the day, these students will graduate with good grades only to get stuck in the labour market. This is part of why Nigerian education system is seen as substandard: we are only after grades, not knowledge.
I believe our system in the country is encouraging this quest for better grades with less knowledge. Most establishments recruit workers based on their academic performance. If, for example, you found out that you need to make first class to land your dream job, all your attention will be on making up that grade. But if the company’s requires the abilities of job applicants to perform, irrespective of their grades, less attention will be paid to grades and more to knowledge.
What I’m saying here is very simple – let us stop putting much interest on grades and focus more on the changes our children undergo because of the knowledge they acquire. Let these children showcase what they have learnt in real life, not on paper.