The First Class controversy


The First Class controversy

The University of Lagos recently held its 49th convocation ceremony in which 231 First Class graduands emerged from a total of 5,472. As an icing on the cake of their First Class, two graduands recorded a perfect score of 5.0.  These are Miss Taiwo Bankole and Miss Oyindamole Omotuyi, who repeated the feat recorded by Mr Ayodele Dada of the same University last year.

I had celebrated the spectacular success of Ayodele in “Dada’s magic wand” in this column on March 15, 2016 saying, among other things, that “he deserves the highest national honour in the land”. I later sought his phone number, called to congratulate him and gave him an offer attached to his decision but I realised he had other opportunities.

What has been described as the First Class rain at the University of Lagos began with the graduation of 119 First Class graduates in 2009/2010 convocation ceremony when the University recorded its highest number of that category at that time. The number of First Class graduands increased to 125 in 2013/2014 session and at this year’s convocation, the number increased to the ground-breaking 231.

Many people within and outside Nigeria have expressed their views on the assumed proliferation of First Class and the perfect score of 5.0. So impactful was their outrage that the Vice-Chancellor himself, Prof. Rahaman Bello, had to come out to vehemently defend the development.

“We don’t give anybody scores and we don’t mark anybody down. To get a first class, you are not being taught by three to five lecturers alone. You are taking courses across various places and taught by a minimum of 15 people. So if anyone scores well to be able to get first class, so be it…If you work for first class, you get first class,” he said. This is a sound argument because you just cannot manipulate all your lecturers over a four- or five-year period.

However, to the cynics, it is ironic that  everybody says the standard of education is falling in the country due to our complaints about Government’s neglect and other problems while at the same time the system is producing the best in history. A comparison with what operates in some parts of the Western world seems to suggest that our standard is cheap, due to the way we calculate our Cumulative Grade Point Average.

In the whole controversy, one point that I find missing is the role of the Information Technology and the use of the Computer-Based Testing in achieving the feats recorded by today’s graduates which were not recorded by the graduates of the past. Apart from access to materials, the computer has removed the human factor that accounted for many poor grades in the past, as I operationally work on the premise that the CBT is not inferior to the Manual-Based Testing (MBT).

Today’s students are lucky in the sense that there are brighter chances of making First Class and Second Class Upper grades now than before. There were lecturers who would heckle at their students that 70 belonged to God, 60 belonged to the angels, 50 belonged to the exceptional, 45 belonged to the brilliant and 40 belonged to the average.

With this mindset, being God was impossible and being an angel was improbable. When I was an undergraduate  student in the 90s, a Second Class Upper grade could not be recorded in many  Departments for some years. Now, a Second Class Upper grade is common because hardly can anyone decide to “mark you down” especially when you are in a large class and you are assessed objectively or with the aid of the computer.

So, while many students complain about the challenges associated with University education nowadays, the good news is that they have better opportunities of excelling now than those who preceded them including their lecturers. Every cloud has a silver lining and the normalisation of CBT has removed the power of the academic gods who used to say they would fail students many times and nothing would happen!

For the First Class graduands who are now in more supply, the risk they take is that they won’t be respected out there if they are not truly exceptional. I once invited a First Class graduate of a private University in Nigeria for a chat and at the end of our interaction, I rated her 2:2 and never met her again. If you are truly First Class, something must be striking about you. If not, your “First Class” would be in inverted commas and you would get hostility from those who would  believe, wrongly or rightly, that the system was manipulated to your advantage.