Oyindamola Olofinlua

Will Special Centers Be the End of Nigeria’s Educational Future?

If you ran a poll for the best secondary schools in Nigeria, mine in Ota Ogun state would likely not get a mention. So when people who attended big-name schools start to brag, I simply console myself that such a supposedly bad school as Ansar-Ud-Deen (AUD) Comprehensive College, Ota, made me and was, in fact, where I formed many of the values that have shaped my life today. Indeed, there is a lot to be grateful for and I appreciate the process and the journey that led to this day.

A school founded by Muslim missionaries, AUD intentionally cultivated in its students the values of hard work, diligence, and a consciousness of the place of the ultimate being in the affairs of mortals. These values were passed on to us right from the morning general assembly to every class and every subject. The impact of those six years remains with me to date so much that when the mosque opposite my house calls for prayers, I, a Christian, still recite the Fatiha.

While we may have been unable to boast of some of the best equipment in the world, we could boast of some of the most committed teachers that gave their all, despite the glaring limitations, to ensure we all became better people. Our teachers imbued in us the importance of diligence and commitment to excellence. Looking back today, I dare say their effort was not a waste.

In SSS 2, the class before we wrote the WASSCE, our school witnessed the mass exits of students who went on to enrol in private schools. The story was that remaining in AUD would only guarantee failure. I could not dare mention to my parents that I wanted to leave the school, so I read extra and managed to pass so well that I got the best result in art class in the whole of Ogun state – from this same “bad school”.

It was only recently that I understood the reason for the mass exit: many of the students went to ‘special centres’ – schools, mostly privately owned, that support students who were willing to pay extra to be allowed to cheat. In fact, the answers to the exams were literally provided for them. I was shocked to realise that this practice is on a whole new level as parents now look out for these centres for their children, and that quite a number of the schools that boast of their students having straight A’s are nothing but special centres.

With Coronavirus keeping many students out of school for months, the demand for special centres seems to have increased. There are more stories of parents who go out of their way to ensure that their children’s school has a ‘special package’. Meanwhile, the period when these children were home could have been used to study hard and not have to rely on expo.

I shudder to imagine how parents, big on the win-at-all-cost and the-end-justifies-the-means mentality, would face their children, who typically should look up to them in all things, to tell them to cheat in an examination. I shudder to imagine the impact these people – being nurtured to believe that the ‘how’ does not matter and that hard work is irrelevant – would have on the fabric of the Nigerian society. I don’t even want to imagine what future this lot would bring Nigeria.

And then the teachers! If any profession is worthy of being classified as noble, it must be teaching. These people mould an entire nation! To have them wilfully participate in this practice is nothing but heart-breaking. Picture this: these teachers would, on the assembly ground, sing and raise holy hands unto God, only to turn around to write answers to exam questions on the board for students. There have even been stories of teachers who refused to cooperate being fired, and because it is tough to get a good job in today’s Nigeria, many have become complicit.

Even the officials of the examination body are not left out. A friend told me of how a prominent secondary school in Lagos negotiated with a WAEC external supervisor to help the student in this ongoing exam. The students do not have to study anymore, everything has been sorted.

We all can complain till eternity that Nigeria is not working and the government has failed us woefully, but the last thing we want to do is to fail ourselves by refusing to act right. After all, we are Nigeria. While the government has a role to play in many facets of life, we all must consciously choose to do the right things in our own corners and not jeopardise the future for Jacob’s red pottage.

This article was also published on Bella Naija.

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