All Play and No Work

With the continuous poor performance of candidates in various external examinations, one does not need any powers of divination to recognize that there is a problem somewhere. While the cause appears multifaceted, it is clear that one of its faces is the proclivity of many students for fun and entertainment.

The recently released May/June 2015 WASSCE results showed that out of about 1.59 million candidates, only about 38.68% obtained credit in at least five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics. It can be inferred that a large number of the other 61.32% would sit for the exam again (some may already have results from a previous sitting to combine with this one). This follows a dismal trend of 31.29%, 36.57%, and 38.81% in the same exam for the years 2014, 2013, and 2012 respectively.

As is the custom in Nigeria, the release of the 2015 results was followed by moaning by many Nigerians about the sad state of the nation’s educational system. Older Nigerians usually use this opportunity to begin a nostalgic reverie about the “good old days”. Fingers are pointed everywhere in a bid to hang the responsible culprit. While blames are heaped on the government, schools, teachers, parents, and even the students, many forget that President Buhari’s famous statement could be aptly adapted in this case. It is everybody’s fault, and it is nobody’s fault. The problem is multifaceted, and each face has to be addressed.

In an earlier post, I talked about the shallow foundation possessed by many students that makes them virtually condemned to a life of mediocre performance. In a bid to help shore up the foundations of the students I volunteered to teach, I decided to give them a nice dose of homework after clearly explaining and applying concepts in class. While writing some questions on the board, a talkative student calmly complained that I was reducing his playtime.

That complaint encapsulates the feeling of many students when assignments are given. Even if we consider that some teachers act inconsiderately when giving assignments, (I’ve had such teachers), for many teachers, the aim of giving assignments is to help their students—not punish them. However, many students do not see it this way.

The student who complained about my action failed to recognise that I was simply doing him a favour. The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing God’s Word”. In the same vein, mastery of mathematics comes by “solving and solving more problems”. How can a student who is deficient in maths turn his fortunes around if he does not practice maths? Practice, they say, makes perfect. This statement has never been truer.

I posted this assignment issue on Facebook, and a friend wrote a sobering comment for the “clearly inexperienced and misinformed genius”:

”Did you let him know that he and everyone in that class are Nigeria’s only hope? That by giving him that assignment, you are only doing your civic duty to your fatherland of trying to prepare him to face the challenges of tomorrow’s Nigeria, a Nigeria only they with their own portion of creativity would be capable of saving. You have to show them WHY education is important”

It is a very serious issue. In today’s high-tech world, there are enough distractions to keep students from their studies. Movies, TV, games, and diverse social media platforms have come to demand a share of the students’ time. With dopamine passing through their neurons, the incentive to play is always present. It does not have to be so.

What many students lack is the capacity to curtail playtime. This may be due to a lack of knowledge about the effects of their responsibility (or irresponsibility). This is where parents and guardians come in. If the adults can regulate their wards’ time properly, a win-win situation is possible. The wards get to spend useful time on academic matters, and spend useful time on academic matters.

Another strategy is to make learning more play-like or entertaining. However, I am sceptical about the appropriateness of this tactic for every subject. The concept of “edutainment” could be useful in getting students interested in learning. Already, there are programmes and apps that promise a pleasurable learning experience. This should increase the amount of quality time students spend on their academics.

All work and no play is said to make Jack a dull boy. However, if Jack decides to reverse the wheel and embrace excessive play, he would become something worse than dull. There has to be an appropriate balance. That balance would clean up one face of Nigeria’s multifaceted educational crisis.

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