While Section 1(6e) of the current and 6th edition (2014) of the National Policy on Education (NPE) lists the goals of education in Nigeria to among others include the “Development of appropriate skills, mental, physical and social abilities and competencies to empower the individual to live in and contribute positively to the society”; Section 1(7b) of the same policy document itemizes six specific goals of education in Nigeria that among others seek to “ensure the quality of education delivery at all levels” including basic education.
Basic Education is defined in the NPE as the education given to children aged 0-15. Section 2(12) of the NPE states that basic education, which is to be provided by government shall be compulsory, free, universal and qualitative. This section also defines the stages of learning at the basic education level to consist of one-year pre-primary, six years of primary, and three years of Junior Secondary School (JSS) education; bringing the entire period of basic education to ten years. It would be nine years if the one-year pre-primary education is excluded.
The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Commission, which was set up under the UBE Act 2004 has the mandate (among several others) to formulate policy guidelines for the successful operation of the UBE programme in the country. It is also to “prescribe the minimum standards for basic education throughout Nigeria in line with the NPE and the directive of the National Council on Education (NC” One of UBE’s monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance to policies and standards is the carrying out of routine and specialized supervision and evaluation by States Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs). Whether this is being done or not is a question to be answered by those in charge of implementing the monitoring mechanisms at different levels. It may be necessary, by extension, to equally interrogate Quality Assurance departments or units at various implementation levels of the UBE programme.
Besides being free and compulsory, one important feature of basic education is that the nine years of primary and junior secondary education is designed to be uninterrupted; meaning that every school-age child in Nigeria is not expected to drop out when he is registered into primary one until he graduates after his JSS education. It sounds like what in the past was called “automatic promotion”. This reminds me of the visit by Commodore Murtala Nyako to our school when he arrived Minna in 1976 to assume duty as the first Military Governor of Niger State. He announced to us as he did when he visited other schools that “no more automatic promotion”. It would be wrong to insinuate that nine-year uninterrupted basic education is a deliberate attempt by government to produce substandard graduates of JSS. My understanding of the phrase “uninterrupted” could be discerned from Section 2(24) of the NPE, which states that “There shall be no common entrance examination for transition from primary to junior secondary school”. I find this to be an appropriate interpretation.
Anyway, one of the fundamental objectives of basic education as stipulated in Section 2(22a) of the NPE is to “provide the child with diverse basic knowledge and skills for entrepreneurship and educational advancement”. With some basic knowledge in technical and pre-vocational subjects such as woodwork, metal work, electrical/electronics, fine arts, and home economics, the JSS curriculum is diverse enough to equip academically-poor students with rudimentary proficiencies needed to prepare them for entrepreneurship. It is important to emphasize here that the attribute of “uninterrupted” ascribed to nine years of basic education does not in any way relegates the place of assessment of learning experiences through tests and examinations. We shall later come back to this point.
There is a school policy in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where teachers in its basic schools have been directed that under no circumstance must any student fail at the end of school terms or sessions. As a relatively-old school teacher, I consider this directive to be a misconception and equally a misapplication of the policy thrust of the UBE programme which prescribes “compulsory and uninterrupted nine years of primary and junior secondary education”. The policy is not a justification for educational managers to jettison the practice of determining successes and failures from students’ academic performance through continuous assessments and examinations.
In spite of the fact that all basic education students are expected to proceed to the next class at the beginning of every session, it is still necessary to distinguish between those who earned their promotion and others who did not by giving details of their academic performances. Some negative implications of the “No student should fail” directive could affect students’ learning achievements by suppressing competition among students; thus making them academically indolent. It could also adversely affect the professional dignity and role of teachers. The directive under reference further seeks to undermine the authority of teachers to compel students to do class work or exercises, tests, and practical assignments. Other attendant consequences of the directive include the possibility of students becoming truants.
Because it sounds unethical in the teaching profession, such a directive should not have been issued in the first place. Assessments, whether continuous or terminal, have implications for students as well as teachers. They periodically reveal strengths and weaknesses of teaching and learning approaches. Of course, a school principal who says no student should score zero in a subject at the end of a school term may be right within the context of operational guidelines of continuous assessment. Even if a student were to have the lowest Intelligent Quotient in a class, he is not expected to score zero in the cumulative result of a subject if he regularly attended lessons in that particular subject. Meanwhile, continuous assessment constitutes 60 percent of a student’s final evaluation in a school subject.
Educational administrators should avoid directives that would give students, their parents as well as teachers the impression that continuous assessments or even examinations have nothing to do with their academic advancement in school. The practice of conducting, documenting and using all academic records and dossiers should be emphasized and sustained in all schools because of their relevance and value for academic purposes. The FCT Minister and authorities in charge of basic education in the territory should, through school principals, PTA meetings, and if necessary circulars, consider reversing this un-written but operational directive. Students and their parents should be educated that the “compulsory and uninterrupted nine years of primary and junior secondary education” has not ditched the evaluation component of the UBE programme; and that a result showing details of actual performance of students in every subject should be prepared and issued. May Allah (SWT) guide us to take the right decisions in the implementation of the NPE as it affects the UBE programme, amin.