The Deception of Second-Class Uppers in Nigerian Universities
By: Deji Yesufu
A young man I work with on the mission field is trusting God to get a job. We all know that to get a job in Nigeria is only akin to finding a needle in a haystack; only second to Moses’ dividing the red sea. It is pretty difficult and even more difficult in an economy like today’s. So I reached out to an acquaintance and asked if my friend could be helped at their organisation. He said “…o yes, he can be taken in as a graduate trainee”. Except that the young man must have nothing short of a “2-1”. That information drew out an avalanche of nostalgia in me. The almighty “2-1”; the unatenable second class upper has again returned to hunt me.
My days at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was a lifetime. I entered school at the age of 17. I left the university when I was 25. I literally grew up in school. I did a five year course; I had an extra semester – which culminated in an extra year; and ASUU strike gave me the remaining years in school. For a long time, my mates and I held the record of the most years spent in a Nigerian university. Besides the long years in school, there was also the pursuit of a good grade. I mostly hovered around a third class grade. But in my final three years, I found a secret to getting good grades (studying past questions) and this propelled me into a comfortable “2-2”. But all the talk among my mates was that if you don’t have “2-1” you will not be invited for tests with companies that offered good jobs. I remembered how some of my friends nearly killed themselves getting “2-1”. At the long run, everyone got a grade and we left school to face real life.
Now, this is my summation of what real life is. Grades, particularly those obtained from Nigerian universities, are the worst form of accessing the academic capabilities of students and graduates. Ideally grades should tell you which student is better than the other. But the problem is that the way and manner many of our students get their grades leave them worse than they were when they entered school. My point is that many Nigerian universities do not train their students to be experts in their fields. They train them mostly to pass examinations. So that after a year study, a student knows mostly the theory in his training and not the substance. And the pursuit of grades makes this worse: students cram; they pay their teachers for grades; they cheat; and in some extreme cases sleep with lecturers to get grades. So, you get a graduate with a “2-1” who knows practically nothing in his field of study. In the other realm, you have students with third class who are walking encyclopaedias of the course they read.
Recently I concluded a Master Degree course with a foreign University. It was as if I had never been to school. I left the school with a walking knowledge of my course of study. Funny enough, the school did not test us in the traditional manner we examine students here. All our examinations were “open book”. We were required to even quote our sources, etc. Now I understand that this will work better in the humanities than in the sciences. But my point is that the aim of examining the student was never for getting grades but whether or not we understood our subject of study. I left that school with a hunger to read all my textbooks all over again. I see my teachers when I’m on my field of practice. I see their warning, their advice, etc. Not for once did we study to pass because there was no need for such. And this malaise with Nigerian schools is not just in Engineering alone. I see it also even in the manner our medical doctors are trained and tested. You often get the impression that the aim of examining students is for them to get grades and not for them to have an understanding of their field of study.
It had been 22 years since I left the university. A few years ago, one of my classmates created a WhatsApp group where we all meet to interact. I can tell you for free that most of the guys that had passes and third class are the ones doing well among us. Our first classers and “2-1”ers are either lectures in universities or at best consultants with institutions. It is the third classers that are the business men and the professionals on the field. And I am talking of a class of an average of one hundred electrical engineers. I met one of us at a burial recently, who had graduated with a third class. You could tell he was being very modest as he curtailed how well he was doing in life so as not to shame the rest of us. I can tell anyone for free: Nigerian university grade systems are the worst ways to evaluate the capabilities of individuals that leave our schools.
My friend is still trusting God for a job and I have told him not to worry himself too much; it will come. His “2-2” is a silent humbler that will prepare him for the right employer. He will do better in life than teaching in a university or working as one beggarly consultant somewhere.