The Demise of Educational Standards in Africa

By Venansio T. Muludiang, PhD

University of Juba

At the entrance gate of a university in South Africa, the following message was posted for contemplation: “Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long range missiles… It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in examinations by the students…” Patients die at the hands of such doctors… Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers… Money is lost at the hands of such economists and accountants… Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars… Justice is lost at the hands of such judges… The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation”.

The message cited above tells us a lot about what has happened to educational standards in Africa. We have heard a lot about examination scandals in a number of countries across the continent, both at the pre-university and at the tertiary levels. The mobile cell phone technology has exacerbated this problem. The end result is poor quality university graduates. If you ask honest employers, they will tell you the truth. It is heart-breaking that the message cited above is posted at the gate of a university in an African country that boasts one of the best educational systems on the continent. But that a university in that country has sounded the alarm does not in any way suggest that the problem in question is a South Africa’s problem. It is Africa’s problem. South Africa houses some of the prestigious universities in the region.  It also enjoys a good pre-university educational system. So what has caused the observed decline in our educational standards?

To answer this question, we need to look at the system of examinations in our schools and universities. We have heard a lot about scandals of cheating in exams in these institutions. The stories are more and varied. But let me give you a sample: At the primary and secondary school levels, examinations are reported to be leaked and sold in the markets prior to the exam dates. Teachers are paid or induced to solve the questions and give answers to candidates to copy. So even pupils and students with empty brains end up with good grades and certificates. At the tertiary level, lecturers and other poorly paid university officials are reported to leak exams for money, and in the case of the former, dish out good grades in exchange for sexual favours and other considerations. Strict invigilation is no longer the norm because lecturers have no time for it. In a nutshell, there are many factors contributing to this near-pandemic phenomenon: the mobile cell phone revolution, poverty, poorly enforced regulations, immorality and peer pressure, to mention only a few. Parents only delight in seeing the final outcomes. They celebrate because they want their sons and daughters to become medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, economists and what have you. So whatever they do in the educational system to get there is nobody’s business.

Rather than suggest solutions to this problem, let us brainstorm to shed more light on the challenges facing the educational sector in Africa. How many countries in Africa have well-designed curricula at the primary and secondary school levels, and how many employ trained teachers? How many have conducive school environments? How many pay their teachers decent salaries? How many African countries have what deserve to be called universities or respected higher educational institutions? How many of the public universities are truly autonomous? How many of the so-called good universities are thriving in the glory of their past? How many applicants get admitted to these universities with genuine certificates each year? What proportions enrol in public and private institutions respectively and why? How many students are able to take notes in class? How many rely 100 percent on lecture notes? How many visit the library to enrich their lecture notes (if at all they take any)? How many graduate from these institutions annually with degrees and diplomas but without university education? How many are able to practically utilize the knowledge they are supposed to have acquired from their university education? If you can answer these questions, then you have what it takes to fix Africa’s educational problems.

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