By Steve Ekundayo
I write this letter to all literate Nigerians, particularly ASUU, NANS, NUC, Education Ministers, Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, Senates and Councils of Nigerian universities, to draw attention to some invidious maggots which are ravaging university education from within the system, a case of the enemy within. There is a proverb or aphorism of many variants in our indigenous languages that capture the tragic irony of the enemy within. In Yoruba, it is often rendered as ‘kokoro tin jobi ara obi lowa.’ In Ibo it is ‘oti na-ata oji di n’ime oji’ and in Nigerian Pidgin it is ‘magot wey de chop kola de insaid kola’. The English gloss is ‘the maggot/s which eat/s kola nut live/s in the kola nut.’
Certain counter-productive rules and measures are allowed to flourish to the detriment of the system in particular and Nigeria in general. Some of them like ‘blocking’ or ‘sorting’, sexual harassment and open sexual abuse, truancy, insouciance, cultism, insane dressing habits, etc are notorious topical issues. However, there are some invidious maggots, which have been ravaging standard in our universities, weakening performance and ‘wiping off smiles’ from the faces of students, using a fine phraseology by Tanure Ojaide in Matters of the Moment. The maggots in question operate in the form of rules and manifests in certain assessment practices in the universities. Simply stated, there exist in our university system some unfair, questionable and objectionable established scoring methods, invidious assessment and feedback habits and rules, which harm students and lecturers consistently. One of such habits or rules examined here is the withholding of marked examination scripts from students. The other related ones will be addressed in due course.
In our universities, students do not get their scripts back, as a rule, after they have been assessed so that they can see how they performed, why they scored high or low and why they failed in order to learn from them and improve in their next test or examination. I may be wrong in my assertions and thinking, which is why I write this letter so that I can learn from the reactions of more experienced Nigerians, senior scholars and educationists. Are there any genuine grounds why the system sustains such a practice of little or no value to the system? Student victims of the practice sometimes remonstrate about it, but they and their lack-luster students’ union governments do not engage the authorities seriously on the matter. When the results of the previous examination are released on a general notice board for students, they prefer to weep, curse and agonize with tear coursing down their cheeks because they have failed or performed very poorly in a course or some courses in which they were expecting a high grade: “Ah, ah! How come I failed this course?” “What? “But I wrote well, didn’t I?” “God will punish these wicked lecturers” “I wish I could see my scripts!” Henceforth, they react in several ways. Some become demoralized, reading with a dampened spirit. Some others work harder, yet repeating the same mistakes and errors and having the same grades. At times, some of them take a bold step to confront or consult the lecturers for explanations.
Now, the response of a lecturer to a demand for a script or explanation by an aggrieved student depends on a number of variables. The first is the nature and orientation of the lecturer. If s/he is in a good mood and sympathetic to the student’s cause and has the time, s/he may listen to the complainant. The second consideration is whether the script is immediately reachable because lecturers mandatorily return scripts and examination scores to their departments after they have been assessed. To look for a student’s script thereafter and get it out from the piles of Annual Script Assemblies in designated offices is time consuming and strenuous. Often, if the lecturer is sure of his/her assessment of the script, s/he will call the bluff of the student or advise them to write officially for the script to be re-assessed by another examiner. To achieve this, the student has to pay at least ten thousand naira, an amount of money huge enough to discourage (poor) students from contesting their scores. Another factor may be the manner in which the student makes the request. Is s/he confrontational or respectful? The third is the university rule on the handling of students’ scripts, for in most universities, scripts are treated as sacrosanct materials that must be under the custody of the department and university, not to be given to students and must be handled with caution. So, students do not have unfettered access to their scripts, an access for which their academic souls and spirits crave. Should students not be entitled to see their marked scripts, as a standing rule, fundamental educational rights, or privilege, so to speak?
Paradoxically or ironically, in all the departments, lecturers spend long hours, days and weeks marking students’ scripts for mistakes, errors, out of point (OP), good points, etc. Eventually, the students for whom the corrections in red inks are meant never get to see them. This practice damages the system in many ways. First, students do not get to see their mistakes and errors and correct them. So, they keep on committing them from year to year, and at last, they graduate with the same errors, which they repeat during interviews, teaching practice, industrial attachment and in their careers and jobs. Second, the practice damages or weakens the trust that students repose in their lecturers, for the withholding of scripts from students gives the impression that lecturers have something to hide. Indeed, it conceals the many instances of generosity, leniency and upgrading, on the one hand, and over strictness, oversight and sometimes ‘mark downs’ on the other hand, which some lecturers may pen with red ink on a student’s script. Because students do not see their marked scripts, they believe that lecturers do deliberately fail them or refuse to give them deserving marks. Some statements have now become clichés and slogans on students’ lips on campus, such as “that lecturer is fond of marking students down”, “He gave me an F in his/her course”, “That lecturer is too hackeous,” etc.
In a micro study of 5,000 students of the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State and the University of Ado-Ekiti from 2006 to 2012 (Ekundayo, forthcoming), all the students interviewed stated that in one way or another, lecturers have a way of either marking students down or failing them. The questions asked them were Do you think that lecturers mark students down or fail them outright? and How can you prove that lecturers do this if your answer is yes?
Five hundred lecturers (four hundred male and one hundred female lecturers) in the universities were asked this question: Have you ever failed a student who ought to have passed your course? Most of the lecturers wrote ‘NO!’and even added further that they do pad up students’ scores generously, sometimes jettisoning their marking guides. However, forty–six lecturers (thirty-six male and ten female) admitted failing a student in error of mix-ups, haste or carelessness at one time or the other, which they later corrected when the students affected made a bold effort to complain about the performance. Between students’ general belief and lectures’ claim is a clear contradiction. Why do students massively believe that lecturers mark them down or fail them outright? And why do lecturers claim that they never mark students down and fail them straight?
Students interviewed raised five major points to support their claims: (i) ‘lecturers do not ever allow students to see their scripts after exams because they know what they have done and so do not want to be exposed to ridicule… that is where there power is;’ (ii) ‘some lecturers come to class to boast that no student can have A in their course, that C is for the intelligent students, B is for the genius student and A is for God’! (iii) No feedback and revelation about how lecturers score students;’ (iv) ‘lecturers don’t care whether students fail or pass so long as their salaries are paid…’ (v) ‘Whenever a student calls for a reassessment, they are asked to pay a huge sum from their pockets! Why? It is a deliberate obstacle to discourage students from asking for a re- assessment of their scripts’.
The implications of these are grave for both students and lecturers. If lecturers do not really fail students but students believe that lecturers fail them, then it is ironical indeed. However, if students deserve to fail and they are marked fairly and accordingly but they conclude that lecturers fail them, it is also ironical. The tenacity with which each side sticks to its point is also ironical. It is difficult to convince students that lecturers do not fail them deliberately, except for some isolated cases of malicious lecturers or genuine cases of mistakes and mix-ups. That this mismatch of positions and attitudes toward teaching and learning will continue is certain, and this is also ironical. Really, what does the system want to achieve by hiding students’ scripts? It is ironical that lecturers take pains to mark and comment on students scripts, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, but students never get to see them for improvement simply because there is a rule that forbids giving scripts to students.
Against this backdrop, I move that ASUU, NUC, the Ministry of Education, Chancellors and Vice Chancellors should now-now make a standing rule that empowers students to have their scripts back permanently or provisionally to check on their performances and correct their inadequacies. Such a rule will impinge positively on our university system in several ways. First, it will stop students’ bogus claims of deliberate victimization by lecturers. No student can claim that he was victimized or denied of this or that grade because his/her script now in his/her possession can prove it all. Second, it will save the time, efforts and money spent on the reassessment of protesting students’ scripts. Third, it will reduce sexual harassment to its lowest level. Further, it will build mutual trust and respect between students and lecturers. Above all, it will enhance educational standard and performance of our graduates whom both local and international employers of labour look down on and necessarily subject to more rigorous in-training. Scripts should be given back to students permanently or at least temporarily. However, it should be methodically done, an aspect that I shall address in another article.
• Ekundayo wrote from Benin City.