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Education

A tale of two regions in school reopening crisis 

When the northern part of Nigeria supported the Federal Government’s decision to keep schools closed and the South West took a different route, the educational gap is destined to be further widened with its attendant increase in out-of-school children, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL.

On July 11, Nigeria’s 19 northern states issued a communique throwing their weight behind the Federal Government’s announcement that it had rescinded its earlier decision to reopen schools on August 3.

Representing the region, 19 education commissioners held a virtual meeting to discuss the central government’s suspension of reopening of schools amidst rising COVID-19 cases. At the end of the meeting, a conclusion was reached in a communique signed by the Kaduna State Commissioner for Education, Dr Shehu Makarfi, who is also the chairman of the Northern States School Exchange Programme.

   
The meeting was attended by commissioners of 13 of the 19 northern states, namely, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Niger, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Taraba, Kogi, Kwara, Katsina, Kano, Borno and Jigawa.

They agreed with the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who had vowed to keep Federal Government-owned schools shut for the sake of keeping students safe and healthy. According to them, keeping schools closed and withdrawing from participating in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) exams slated for August, given the circumstances, are the right steps in the right direction.

The commissioners, apparently echoing their governors’ words, also resolved to carry out a holistic assessment of schools to determine safety status for reopening and submit reports to their respective governors for consideration.
 
There has always been a fault-line between the education sector in the northern and southern regions of Nigeria and that fault-line was illustrated when the country’s six South-West states also came up with their own position and resolution, just a few days after the Federal Government and northern states’ position.

While the Federal Government is backtracking on reopening its schools, especially for senior secondary school students to sit their final-year exams, the six states are gearing up for resumption.

Contrary to the Federal Government and the northern states’ stance, the South-West states recently announced that they were ready to allow their SSS III students sit the 2019/2020 WASSCE.

As a show of intent, they issued a joint resolution at the end of an online session organised by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission and a forum of South-West Commissioners for Education, Special Advisers on Education and State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) chairmen.
   
The parley focused on the need to jointly agree on modalities for the examinations and reopening of schools for graduating students.

Their resolution stated: “After careful deliberations, considering peculiarities of each state and options available, we have reached a consensus on the subject matter and are expressed thus: On WAEC examinations, state Commissioners for Education have signified readiness to allow students sit for the 2019/2020 WAEC examinations.”  

They also stated that there was no going back on the August 3 resumption for SSS3 students, but urged states to approach the Federal Government “at the first instance” seeking the postponement of the WAEC examinations “by at least three weeks” from proposed resumption.

In the second instance, they want states to directly approach WAEC to seek an extension of the examinations to commence on August 24, instead of the proposed August 4. They went further to suggest to WAEC to consider using the computer-based tests while each state should deliberately intensify efforts and invest more in education technology.

The region is also tinkering with setting up a regional examination body similar to the IJMB in the northern part of the country. In March, WAEC had suspended its 68th Annual Council meeting scheduled for Monrovia, Liberia, from March 23 to 27, 2020. The council made the decision after its international A & F Committee’s 176th special meeting in Accra, where it was agreed that it would not augur well for large gatherings and close interactions which normally characterised the events of the Annual Council Meeting.

Last Monday, the Oyo State government reiterated its readiness to present candidates for the exams as well as other external examinations, as the world prepares for the post-COVID-19 realities. The Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr. Nureni Adeniran, said, judging from the readiness of the state through the preparation of students in final-year classes, the students would face any external examination, including WAEC and the Joint Admission Matriculation (JAMB) examinations, anytime the organisers are ready.

   
Sounding defiant though progressive, he argued that whatever WAEC says should be the final, not what the Federal Government thinks should be done.
 
Oyo State, like other South-West states, believes it is on top of the situation and preparing “its students and pupils” for all examinations, especially those in terminal classes.  
   
It has been a trying time for the Federal Government, which appeared until now to be caught between a rock and a hard place with Adamu, insisting that the government did not mind keeping students away from Federal Government-owned schools for one year as long as they are safe and healthy.
 
The education minister was reportedly miffed that WAEC did not carry the ministry along. But there is a more important reason, according to Adamu. The minister claimed a meeting of stakeholders was called to review the situation and what needed to be done to reopen schools, but while the meeting was ongoing, WAEC announced plans to start exams.

Politically, economically, religiously and now educationally, the South and the North have not always got along well. No matter how much muscle the South-West states flex educationally, it is not likely that WAEC will dance to its tune; 19 northern states plus one mighty Federal Government are strong enough to make the exam body change its mind. That is, postpone the exam date a second time.

   
But more unsettling is the considered setback the failure to reopen schools across the country come August 3. Northern states have always been far behind in education and the COVID-19 pandemic has further deepened the chasm between the level of education in the South and that of the North. There are little or no sign students in the North are being catered for via virtual learning.
 
To illustrate the likely catastrophe ahead, in August 2019, Abia, Anambra and Edo states led other Nigerian states, including the Federal Capital Territory in the 2019 performance ranking chart of WAEC but Jigawa, Zamfara and Yobe states sat at the bottom three. Lagos State was the only state in the South-West that made the top 10 though. Kaduna emerged as the best northern state sitting in the 12th position overall. Zamfara occupied the 36th position, leaving the bottom slot for Yobe State.
   
The top 10 performing states at the 2019 examination were Abia, Anambra, Edo, Rivers, Imo, Lagos, Bayelsa, Delta, Enugu, and Ebonyi. While Adamawa, Osun, Sokoto, Bauchi, Kebbi, Katsina, Gombe, Jigawa, Zamfara, and Yobe occupied the bottom 10.

Statistics that covered 2005 to 2009 NECO-SSCE exams indicated that the South-West zone had the highest number of valid results released (1103659), while the North-East zone had the least number of valid results released (572494). Out of the total failure results of 2530054, the North-Central contributed 593411, South-West 524560, North-West –501011, North-East -382814, South-East -347891 and South-South 180367 as the least.

Another research work revealed that between 2000 and 2009, the South-South zone had the highest percentage performance for the 10 years under study with 58.91 per cent followed by South-West – 47.59 per cent, South-East – 44.40 per cent, North-Central – 40.52 per cent, North-West – 31.81 per cent and finally North-East – 25.43 per cent. 
   
Similarly, the North-Central zone took the fourth position (among the six geo-political zones) in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The best zone could achieve was the second position in 2001 and had a mean ranking of 2.9 for the 10 years under study. The North-East occupied the last position (6th) in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009. The best from that state was the fourth position in 2005. It had a mean ranking of 5.7 for the 10 years under study.
   
Meanwhile, the North-West zone occupied the bottom position (6th) in 2005 and 2008 and managed to keep the fifth position in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009 with a mean ranking of 5.2 for the 10 years. However, the South-South zone topped the chart in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 with a mean ranking of 1.1 for the same period.

The South-East zone was second best in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008; with its worst outing only in 2005 when it came fifth and had a mean ranking of 2.9 for the ten review period. Its counterpart, South-West’s worst position was the fourth position in 2004 and the best performance was the first position in 2005 with a mean ranking of 2.6 for the same period.

The South-South zone had the highest percentage performance, while North-East has the least. The ranking of the zones from best to the least as of that time is as follows: South-South (1st); South-West (2nd); South-East (3rd); North-Central (4th); North-West (5th); and North-East (6th). Not much has changed today.

It is true that the nation’s education system has taken a turn for the worse. There is a phenomenal dysfunction going on in the northern region. To illustrate further: a pupil from the South seeking admission into any of the unity schools must score at least 140 points out of a possible 300 to stand a chance of securing admission. But a candidate from the North doesn’t need to stress himself as such to be considered for admission.
 
The cut-off mark for a male pupil from Yobe State in the 2018/2019 session is two. It is four points for the male candidate from Zamfara, while the male candidate from Taraba State only needs three points out of 300 to be a proud student of any of the Federal Government colleges he so chooses. But the minimum score is 139 for any male or female pupil from Anambra State nursing the hope of getting a place in a unity college.

The full list of cut-off marks for the 36 states and FCT in the 2018 academic session will perplex any optimist in the unity arrangement. Abia was 130; Adamawa 62; Akwa-Ibom 123; Anambra 139; Bauchi 35; Bayelsa 72; Benue 111; Borno 45; Cross River 97; Delta 131; Ebonyi 112; Edo 127; Ekiti 119; Enugu 134; Gombe 58; Imo 138; Jigawa 44; Kaduna 91; Kano 67; Katsina 60; Kebbi 9 (male) 20 (female); Kogi 119; Kwara 123; Lagos 133; Nasarawa 58; Niger 93; Ogun 131; Ondo 126; Osun 127; Oyo 127; Plateau 97; Rivers 118; Sokoto 9 (male) 13 (female); Taraba 3 (male) 11 (female); Yobe 2 (male) 27 (female); Zamfara 4 (male) 2 (female) and FCT Abuja 90.

In 2018, the Federal Government admitted that at least 13.2 million of the country’s population were out-of-school children, and the majority of them were northern children.

Yet, beyond educational deficiency in the region, many northerners are also disadvantaged in other areas like health and basic amenities. If schools resume in the South on August 3 and they remain closed in the North, the educational gap will be further widened.

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