Enough of emphasis on certificates

At the last count (in May 2015), Nigeria has a total of 236 universities, 42 of these are federal, 44 are state-owned while 150 are private universities. Yet, as Prof. Odiaka of the University of Ibadan observed in his article published in The PUNCH, July 29, 2015, none of them appeared in the first 2,000 universities in the recent world rankings.

What have been the achievements of all these institutions? Harvard Physics department has 10 Nobel laureates in physics while the whole of Africa has none. The recent noise on the admission process in the country made me write this piece. It is a known fact that to get admitted into the best schools in the United States, a student needs score high on the GRE/GMAT/SAT test, provide 2/3 formidable letters of recommendations, a detailed resume, statement of objective etc. With all this, most students get admitted into their desired programme with total scholarship. This process not only ensures that the very best get admitted but “only those who have got interest in academics” go in. In turn, their graduates are innovators, world changers, entrepreneurs, billionaires etc

In our own case, there is a Joint Admissions and Matriculation Examination that only repeats questions in the annual Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination as if it has run out of ideas. These days, we see students get high scores in the UTME but whose brains are empty. There is a post-UTME exercise whose purpose of establishment has been outlived. The first problem is that we place emphasis on certificates and not knowledge. Give me and my colleagues the opportunity to set next year’s UTME questions and there would be no need for post-UTME exercise! Over 500,000 students graduate from Nigerian universities annually, yet over 80 per cent of these are mere certificate holders who have only “la cram la pour”, meaning, no need to understand. A great number have learnt nothing and thus have nothing to offer to the nation which in turn increases the astronomical rate of unemployed and confused citizens. What happens to Nigeria when a great number of the population constitutes “educated illiterates”?

Our graduates are not employable because they lack the basic required skills to be marketable in the labour market. Why do all those students who get As in their O’level results not become useful in the university? Malpractice is the order of the day perpetrated by those who are so religious and bring their religious/ethnic sentiments in everything they do except when they want to perpetrate their evils. In the world of today where students abroad make history, we see our own students are more active on social media than in real life.

Annually, we see our universities churn out first class graduates who are empty. What kind of research do our students do? Many even pay as high as N70,000 for a final year project with nothing tangible to learn. Today, money is the name of the game. Can any of our private universities compete with our glorified secondary schools (federal universities)? Let alone compete with institutions abroad. Many of the students in a private university paid as high as N1m as school fees but didn’t even learn what I learnt in my year two when they graduated. One of the requirements for admission into MSc/PhD programmes abroad is to write the GRE subject test; it is a 2hour 50 minutes test comprising of all a student learnt in the four years of the programme based on international standard. The physics test, for example, comprises 100 questions covering all undergraduate curriculum. Why do our graduates especially the first class we turn out annually shy away from this opportunity? Rather, they go pay millions for a Masters’ in one down town school abroad. You want to know the intellectual ability of Nigerian graduates? Give them a GRE subject test past question in their field of study!

While preparing to apply to Harvard University’s PhD programme in theoretical (Mathematical) Physics in 2011, one of the basic entry requirements was to submit scores from the GRE Physics Subject Test. When I got the past question papers, I realised why I and my friend, James, were the first Nigerian to sit for the exam in a country of over 160 million citizens. There was a time I went to meet a professor to help me with some of the answers to the questions. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, “Jude, you don’t need this exam; just go do your Masters here and come and get employment in the department.” I was shocked! That was when I confirmed that some Nigerian professors are really not it.

It is a known fact that professors abroad are world class. It is a norm to see a professors who had their first degrees in Chemistry, Masters in Physics and doctorate in Mathematics. Many hold Professorship in more than two different institutions (Check the profiles of Harvard’s and MIT’s lecturers)

Jude N. Onicha


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