A remedy still serving the cause?
Remedial education, called pre-degree in some institutions, has become popular among tertiary institutions. Its essence, as the name implies, is to help remedy the incidence of insufficient grades in senior secondary school certificates while providing a platform for easy admission into higher institutions.
It is also designed to compensate for perceived educational disadvantage, especially in science-based courses. Rough estimates credit remedial education as providing as much as 30 per cent or even higher in some institutions of students who gain admission into the universities yearly. The rest go through the Universities Matriculation Examination (UME) or Direct Entry (DE).
The programme involves the re-teaching of senior secondary subjects or redesigning lessons to make the students remedy lapses in their results, so as to get placed in their desired courses in the university. The Federal Government, in a bid to improve the rate of admittance, especially into universities, gave autonomy to higher institutions to run remedial programmes for prospective students with result deficiencies.
Thus, most universities, especially those in the Northern part of Nigeria and other educationally less-privileged states, started remedial studies simply because many students from the region found it very difficult to gain admission through UME and DE. Thus, the School of General and Remedial Studies (now School of Basic and Remedial Studies SBRS) of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, was established. Today, almost all higher institutions are undertaking the remedial programmes. In fact, some universities have gone further by establishing a remedial campus separate from the main campus. Examples are: ABU, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka (UNIZIK) and University of Ilorin (UNILORIN).
ABU commissioned the SBRS campus in Funtua, Katsina State, in 2002.
A close look at how the programme is run reveals that it has somewhat deviated from the original motive. Many universities now see it as an avenue to generate unnecessary funds through the bogus fees being charged. The original average charge for a remedial program as at 2001 is far less than what is obtained now. Schools now charge between N40,000 and N150,000 for a-one-year remedial programme. It has by far doubled and some even tripled the original initial cost. For University of Ilorin, a leading university in Nigeria, the average charge about five years ago was around N30,000-40,000, It now goes for about N100,000 annually. A fee many considers as highly outrageous.
In Nigeria, the cost of regular university education has reason in recent times; however this could explain the rise in cost of remedial education in the country. In 2007 Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the largest university in the country and in sub-Sahara Africa was closed down for about 4 months because of students’ demonstration against increase in school fees. The school fee was increased by more than 200% the initial amount. The school was later reopened after several dialogue among the concerned bodies i.e school authority, students’ body, the Government, and all other parties involved. During this period, the school fee of the remedial school was also increased. This shows that the rise in cost of remedial education is reflective of the rise in cost of university education.
Some prospective remedial students who spoke to UPIU say they are unable to get into the programme because it has become even more expensive than the main programmes, as institutions use it not as a way of helping them but as a revenue-generating tool, first and foremost.
"Was the programme implemented to serve as revenue source for schools or to help students with result deficiency like us still get a shot at acquiring higher education," asked Sani Abdullahi, one of such student.
It was learnt that the high fees charged has discouraged students, especially those from less-privileged homes, from undertaking the remedial programme, thus denying them access to their desired course in the university or other higher institutions.
Despite the high cost in fees, UPIU investigations revealed that many students still enroll for the program. Many remedial institutions now battle with the problems of overpopulation, low teacher qualifications, access to curriculum materials and library facilities due to the high influx of students every year. Many see it as the easiest way to gaining admission into the University and even other higher institutions of learning. Getting admission into a university in Nigeria through UME or PCE is really not an easy task; remedial education has thus made this very easy especially for the science based courses. At the Ahmadu Bello University, School of Basic and Remedial studies alone, the average enrollment per year is around 7,000 students. And it keeps increasing increasing every year.
A parent, Mr. Tunde Toye, told UPIU how easy and cheap remedial programme was when it started. According to him, it was easy for students from poor homes to have access to university education.
"In those days, apart from the free education we enjoyed, we had free food delivered to our hostels daily. Also, our laundry was always taken care of, but this is not the case nowadays. Rather, the universities only look for ways to extort money from students, no thanks to the government which has continued to show a lack of real interest towards education," he said.
It has also been discovered that not all students who opt for remedial actually have deficiency in their results. Some who could not gain admission through the UME or PCE undertake remedial with the hope of getting admission into their desired courses if they meet the cut off points of the school.
Some educators and policy makers have proposed alternatives to remedial education. A lecturer at ABU’s SBRS, who spoke with UPIU agreed that though remedial fees are becoming too expensive and students from poor homes might find it difficult to enroll, the university also has to generate its funds as funds from the Federal Government are always not adequate to run the university’s, thus remedial schools are good avenue for this. On how the education in Nigeria can be improved in the country, he said “secondary schools should always cultivate the habit of repeating classes for students if their grades fall below targeted level, this will ensure students make their papers at first sitting and, therefore, reduce the clamour for remedial programmes. In addition, universities should not re-teach the material that secondary schools have taught students in the first place,"
However, many educators disagree with this policy, pointing to research indicating that students who repeat classes demonstrate no long-term gains in academic achievement. Critics also argue that requiring students to repeat classes is generally more expensive than implementing a well-designed remedial programme.
Ebenezer Dauda is a 100-Level Computer Science student of ABU who just gained admission through the remedial programme. According to him, the major problem he encountered during the programme was that of standard of living. "I would love the institutions and the government to see to the living conditions of students in remedial campuses," he said