Who is responsible for the mass failure in English language?

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Opinion by Ibrahim Taofeek Kegbegbe

I do go to the West African Examination Council ( WAEC) office at Ogba either to eat Amala or visit a friend as the office is very close to my school, the Nigerian Institute of Journalism.

Whenever I go there, I discovered that most students that came for their certificate had issues with the English language which I have always felt concerned about. I think it is high time we worked on the main problem and the solution to this yearly immense mess: “The massive failure in Mathematics and English language”. Well, Instead of tackling the problem and providing a solution as well to the massive failure of these two essential subjects, I would rather look at the reason most students always fail the English language and also find the solution to this problem.

As a student of Journalism, I am still within my jurisdiction to discuss any matter that concerns the English language which is a paramount subject that has to be understood by anyone that practices Journalism in Nigeria and the world in general. In my opinion, the main problem comes from the incompetent authors of some English Language textbooks. “There are many hungry authors of English language textbooks in Nigeria,” Mrs. Titilayo Soji-Oni lamented in one of her lectures in the past at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. “They are killing the students academically with their incompetence. It would have been better if they were hungry but competent in the teaching of the prominent subject.”

There is a particular English textbook whose author claims that whoever studies it for examination must be awarded A1 by the examiner. I bought this book in 1999, which was the 7th edition, to clear off my doubt as I had taken the author’s statement as a mere exaggeration. The first edition of this book was published in 1987 with many grammatical flaws up to the moment even though it is almost revised every year. I have the 2015 revised one which was the 16th edition; still, I have not seen any positive change! Almost all the discussed topics in the textbook have grammatical errors.

Let us look at one of them: “THE COMPLEMENT”. The author gives an example under this topic, “He beats James. ‘He’ is the subject; the ‘beat’ is the predicate and ‘James’ is the compliment.’” He explained. Sir, the analytic function of each word in that aforementioned clause goes this way: The subjective; personal pronoun ‘He’ is the subject of that clause while ‘beats James’ is the predicate, you cannot call only the verb as the predicate. In grammar, all the words after the subject are the predicate. Sometimes, a word can be a predicate. For example: ‘The cat died.’ ‘The cat’ is the subject; ‘died’ which is the verb is also the predicate as the only word after the subject. But in your example above, ‘beat’ cannot be the only predicate; it is rather the verb of the clause. ‘James’ is the object of the transitive verb ‘beat’ not complement. This textbook has a lot of other analytical blunders that unlimited space cannot allow me to mention.

Besides this textbook, there are some English textbooks of such in the market! So, if this main problem is solved, others have been technically tackled. “Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow; He who would search for pearls must dive below.” Quoted by John Dryden in one of his friends’ English language textbooks. Yes, the best way to solve this main problem is by having at least three or five textbooks in possession. We should study all the textbooks and work on comparative linguistics. My friend, with a sound teacher of yours, you will get the knowledge!

Another lecturer from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Mr. Akin-Ojo, once said in his lecture that students have access to well-written English language textbooks but they have a preference for fashioned outfits to textbooks. “Moreover, the serious students among others are not mindful of the grammatical concord which is the agreement between the subject; verb and other structures of the clause,” he added that, “the failure of some students is due to not having proper cognizance of the importance of the rules of grammar.”

Nigerian Students, however, prefer holding vigil for religious, interdenominational, and comparative discussions which could lead to religious fall-out, but they cannot go for a round-the-clock vigil for the comparative study of different grammar textbooks for just a night! What a pity!

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