If I had my way, students would stop writing examinations – Adeosun

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Dr Oyenike Adeosun is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lagos, where she teaches English Education. In this interview with EduCeleb.com, the educator shares some of her thoughts about improving the education sector in Nigeria.

Majority of those admitted to study at teacher-training institutions are those who perhaps performed poorly. Don’t you think that that would affect quality in the education sector?

I am a full advocate of admitting people, who are first of all interested in studying education. At different fora within my university, I have spoken about it. A situation, where students come in with a mindset of coming to “manage” education or temporarily gaining admission with the hope of transferring to another faculty is usually an empty promise. By the time they come with that mindset, they are always looking out and they wouldn’t concentrate. So, when the reality dawn on them that this is not possible, frustration comes in – even killing the little interest that they might have had. I remember that there was a particular former Dean (of Education) who was able to take it up with the university management that candidates who originally chose education as the course of first choice, even if they score 50%, should be given priority in admissions. Then, whatever lapses that we have at UTME level, we can always fill it up with people who had gone through NCE for Direct Entry on admission. Therefore, we don’t want education to be a second choice of course. For a while, the university agreed but this doesn’t seem so anymore. The “go and manage education” idea is killing education and the school system. Most of the time, this thing has moribund effect to especially the lower level of education and trickles to the basic school and secondary school levels to the universities. If I were in a position where I could have influence on policy, I would insist that provided the candidate had interest, it would be easier to teach and encourage them to perform better than others who don’t.

Are you suggesting then that only interest is required and scores shouldn’t matter?

No, don’t get me wrong. You will notice that university admission is highly competitive. In the last admission, there was a lot of outcry that some candidates who scored very high got no admission. I understand that there is no pass mark in the UTME. It is a competitive rating exam and in a rating exam, there is no pass mark. Indirectly, the candidate determines the pass mark. Those admitted are then those who passed. Admission has become very competitive. So, there is a minimum benchmark that we should not go lower than. In most first generation universities, I think it is about 50%. If you score up to that, you still have a hope of gaining admission. I don’t think education is that bad that we should go below the minimum standard. But coupled with that, the person must also have interest in the profession.
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There is the trend of schools employing teachers for phonics or diction today. Is foreign accent really important in learning English?

I understand that English as an international language gives room for national and dialectical variations. That’s why we have American English, Scottish English, Australian English, South African English and so on. The realisation that, no matter what, your mother tongue or first language would always have an impact is why there is that flexibility in speaking English. And that is why also, in training, we target international intelligibility. But that doesn’t mean that I must learn to speak like a Briton. When you now talk of diction teachers, what is their exposure? They were also exposed to wrong pronunciation and “certified” even with that. They are now taking all the certificates around saying that they are diction teachers. In fact, there are a lot elitist schools which tend to follow such trends. The other one is Cursive Handwriting introduced in schools. It makes some handwritings get worse. Let children write naturally the way they can and improve on that. Having a diction teacher is good but they should have better exposure and their own language background should not be affecting English pronunciation too. That is not that necessary, especially with digital technology in the classroom where you can log on and all the children will listen directly to the native speaker rather than having a bad teacher teach them.
…if I had my way, I wouldn’t set question for examinations… I believe more in research. Producing your own knowledge is better rather than regurgitating knowledge, which is what exam tests. Oyenike Adeosun PhD

Is there any bright future in the adoption of indigenous languages in the classrooms?

There is hope in that. You would discover that it is in this side (South West Nigeria) that we are having issues adopting our indigenous languages in schools. Northerners are quite comfortable in their languages. If more states could start emulating the sort of Lagos law promoting that, things may likely be different. The local languages are dying. Yoruba is not being used as much as before. My Igbo colleagues would even say that it is worse in their own place. With technology, the awareness is more now. It is only that as speakers of that language, we should be more committed to promoting them.

What is your view on conducting examinations?

I tell my students that if I had my way, I wouldn’t set question for examinations.

So, what would replace it?

As a lecturer, I have never given students test over the years. I give assignments. Assignments would take them out of their convenient areas to go and research. I believe more in research. Producing your own knowledge is better rather than regurgitating knowledge, which is what exam tests.
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On my part I make the Continuous Assessment 40 and the Exam 60 as against the 70-30 university variation of marks allowable for a course. There should be more focus on practically oriented classroom activities and we should develop rubrics for grading or rating those activities rather than exams. You know, even when you go and invigilate an exam, you see students struggling. Some of them would not even had slept overnight trying to put so much in their heads. And after the exams, all the materials, including textbooks and hand-outs that they might have photocopied or written would be left at the exam venue. The message that is passing across is that: “We don’t want to have anything to do with this course again”. Even when you now teach them another related course the following semester or year and you ask questions relating to that, they are blank. As far as they are concerned, they had written the exam and they had got a 5.0. That is where it stops. Over-emphasis on exams rarely allows linkages, connectivity or application of knowledge, which is what learning is. Learning is the transfer of experience. But exam is like once you do it, it is gone. So, if I had my way, I would not allow exams anymore. I don’t believe in exams. I think I became a better student when I stopped writing exams.
The “go and manage education” idea is killing education and the school system. Most of the time, this thing has moribund effect to especially the lower level of education and trickles to the basic school and secondary school levels to the universities. Oyenike Adeosun PhD

Do you consider the current Nigerian curriculum relevant to present realities in technology?

Curriculum is broadly divided into two – content and process. In terms of content – the theme and the topics – they are up to date. But the processes are still very weak. Sometimes, it is funny when you go to elitist schools and they say that they are using technology to teach. Then, you go there and discover that they are doing trash even with technology. That is why the user of the technology matters. They use smart board to replace textbooks. But the other components of the smart board are not incorporated into the classroom. Even the people who came to train the teachers on the use of the smartboards cannot even understand the vastness of their applicability to learning of the smartboards because they are not teacher but technologists and technical people.
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So, before we can start talking about technology in the class, the users of the technologies are very important. What skills and knowledge base did we expose them to for them to use technology effectively? Then, technology changes every minute. So, it is not also possible that you would prepare (the curriculum) in anticipation of that. But if you develop in the teachers’ capability, creativity skills and adaptability skills, they can blend in relation to different dimensions technology will lead them. That is what is still lacking in our school system. We’ve been able to programme our minds that chairs are for sitting and never look at any other possibilities. So, even if the technology is there, the possibility of its functions is not there. It is more of opening the mindset of teachers to possibilities.

The integrity of some degrees awarded are more at stake today with marks not being awarded entirely based on merit. Money or sex for marks are being suspected in some cases. What is the way forward?

I know these sometimes happen. But it is not as common as is being presented. What are processes that lead to awarding a degree? You have the exams and the Continuous Assessment. Every examination score that is published is vetted. At the end of the semester, we have a meeting at the departmental level, where we present results as lecturers. Where there is so much disparity in the award of marks, we ask questions. From the departmental level, the results move to the Faculty Board of Studies and then to the Senate passing through scrutiny all through. There are instances that while we are at meetings, we ask colleagues to bring students’ scripts or even the CA where necessary. I remember a case where a senior colleague taught over fifty students and about forty of them scored A. We had to ask the lecturer to defend it. Then, we’ve had students make such claims without showing evidence of any irregularity.

Can you confirm that this system works like that everywhere?

Of course, the system is there and processes have been put in place to prevent some of these things. But how faithful are we to that system? It sometimes depends on the thoroughness of the participants. Sometimes, we overlook some of these things. But the system is in place. If there are situations like that, it is the implementers of the system that are not doing their due diligence. In a situation where you know that your colleagues would be diligent, that’s a message to you to be careful already. But where otherwise, you can do as you like. So, it depends on different departments. While I used to be course adviser, I would scrutinise results and question awarded marks where necessary. For instance, a student who did eight courses and scored 1.0 or 2.0 in about six or seven and I see a 5.0 in one, I will ask questions. I don’t have the authority to query the lecturer but somehow I would just jokingly discuss that with them. If it were the other way around too that an all-round top scorer scores 1.0 in one course, I will call the student to ask why the abysmal performance in that particular course. Depending on the response of the student, sometimes, I will take it up with the lecturer through the Head of Department.

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