It was on a Saturday, I had retired for the day when one of my staff came to me, almost crying. I asked him what the matter was with the change in his countenance. He narrated how his sister who would be sitting for her Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) this month was driven out of school.
I asked him if it was because of the school fees, he said no. I asked if she paid all the necessary fees to enable her sit for the WAEC examination, he said yes. I asked him, why then are you crying? What is the problem? He wiped out the tears dripping from his eyes and told me, in listless resignation, that he needed a loan of ₦20,000 to give to his sister to pay for “Hall Arrangement”.
At this point, my curiosity was raised, I have not heard anything like that in my life, it was to me as if he spoke in tongues and iambic pentameter. I demanded to know what he meant by “Hall Arrangement”. Although he was reluctant to explain this fully, I understood from the little he did that “Hall Arrangement” is the pseudonym for money demanded by teachers and WAEC invigilators to facilitate cheating during an examination.
That kept me thinking for the whole of that night. I could not sleep because I didn’t know what to make out of that. I didn’t know that our education system had fallen to that level, and I began to wonder where this nation is heading to when the authorities that are supposed to be role models who should enforce discipline are the ones that subvert such trust and encourage cheating. I began to imagine what is the fate of my little children that I send to school believing they will grow up to internalise the finest aspects of life.
This house has fallen. My colleague Carl Maeir wrote a book with that title about the Ogoni crises and the Niger Delta question, and I agree with him in every aspect that this house has indeed fallen. From the education sector to other areas of our national life, this house has fallen. From the Pastor or Imam or Reverend in the pulpit to the congregation, this house has fallen. Why should the house not fall when a nation lacks any value system? Why should the house not fall when our children have been indoctrinated by our religious leaders to believe that hard work no longer pays, that they can get by and make it in life with just a little dose of prayers and miracles from the Pastor? There is no reason this house would not fall—into smithereens, shattered, smashed in shreds— from its weak foundations to the fake materials used to hastily cobble it together, when our politicians in the National Assembly cheat us blind, from our votes to our vaults.
Very soon, if not already, our children will be sitting for the SSCE this month, and many parents and guardians will rush to pay for “Hall Arrangement” without thinking twice of its implication to society as a whole. We as parents fan the ember of this horrific and repulsive onslaught on a supposedly sacrosanct institution.
I am saddened that this request from my staff for ₦20,000 for “Hall Arrangement” is coming at a time revelations are awash in our newspapers of alleged certificate scandals from the Presidency to the hallowed chambers of the Senate. Maybe, for the same “Hall Arrangement“, Senator Dino Melaye got P8 in Geography in his WAEC result as alleged by an online medium and gained admission to Ahmadu Bello University to read Geography and Regional Planning, a course in which Credit in Geography is a prerequisite! Maybe, for the same “Hall Arrangement”, the likes of Senator Andy Uba, Salisu Buhari of Toronto fame, Ahmed Bola Tinubu and many other notable politicians in the country are parading suspicious degrees in their resumes.
We have imperilled our education system, it is in serious and urgent need of fettle. Because of our skewed value system, if we do not address the systemic rot in the area, our children will grow up to look up to the Melayes and the Ubas as role models, not to Chimamanda Adichie who is carrying our lofty banners high around the world, or to the Nigerian teenager in USA, Ifeoma Thorpe-White, who was reported last week to have been offered admission into all the 8 Ivy League universities in the United States, including Harvard and Stanford.
While the West, Europe and Asia are in serious competition to lead the world in every facet of technological and scientific development, we are busy paying for “Hall Arrangements” because we look for certificates, not for the content or character of an individual. We have taught our children to venerate wealth no matter how ill-gotten. By paying ₦20,000 or more for their “Hall Arrangement”, we instalmentally kill the finest ingredients of man and society, which is honesty. We teach them that cheating is the new normal, they grow up believing same and expanding its frontiers to other aspects in life as a new weltanschauung.
Time has come for all of us, from the leadership to the classroom teacher, to interrogate our education system if the world is not to leave us behind. We must demand accountability from the teacher who oversees the intellectual makeup of the child under his or her care in the Kindergarten, to the lecturer or tutor who demands for sorting or sexual gratification and “hall arrangement” in lieu of marks.
Our education system is in a mess, it has come to this sorry pass for two main reasons. First, because majority of those we entrust with the responsibility to groom our children ‘in character and in learning’ are the same people that sorted their way through in school. And two because we compromise standards. Our schools lack the mechanism for quality control, which of course is symptomatic of the general malaise in every sector of our national life. We draft people who do not have the love for learning into our classrooms to teach because they want to earn a living.
There is nothing like dedication any more on the part of our teachers. And besides, we force our children into the university even when it is clear to us that they lack the needed mental capacity to cope with the rigors of learning at that level. We lower the standard for Adamu because we want his geographical area to catch up with the rest in the South. Indeed, our entire education system is gasping for breath, it calls for an emergency.
There is no better way I can flesh out the venom of this malady than by reproducing a thoughtful piece my friend —Dr Bismarck Unya—shared on my WhatsApp wall:
“Collapsing any nation does not require use of atomic bombs or long range missiles. But it requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the exams by the students. The patient dies in the hands of the doctor who passed his exams through cheating. And the buildings collapse in the hands of an engineer who passed his exams through cheating. And the money is lost in the hands of an accountant who passed his exams through cheating. And humanity dies in the hands of a religious scholar who passed his exams through cheating. And justice is lost in the hands of a judge who passed his exams through cheating. And ignorance is rampant in the minds of children who are under the care of a teacher who passed his exams through cheating. The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”
This is food for thought for all of us. “Hall Arrangement” is a dangerous paradigm we have lived with for years in denial. The time has come for us to interrogate it and exorcise it from our education system.