Preface – A discussion between Ramus and Rantina
Ramus: “…studying abroad is easy … Isn’t that why, when Nigerian students travel abroad, they do very well?”Rantina: “I really can’t tell, you know. At least I’ve not been there before. But something I know is …
Ramus: “You don’t have to be there to know. In Universities abroad,they have all the tools they need and the students don’t have to do much studying. I even heard that in some of the exams they allow people to discuss freely….”
Rantina: “Yes, I heard something like that too. That is why Nigerian students, after facing the hard time here find it easier to study and pass abroad and still get a distinction…You remember Ify?
Ramus: “Ify? Oh! Ify, tall…glasses….yeah the one that got admission and left after our final year for a master program in Warwick?”
Rantina: “Yes! That is Ify. Do you know he finished here with a third class and went to get a distinction at Warwick?”
Ramus: “I said it. Didn’t I?”
I can’t but take my mind back to idle discussions similar to that of Ramus and Rantina above that I have either participated in, or listened to in the past, and I realize how it always appeared logical that studying will certainly be easier outside the country. Who would contest that? After the last two months of preparing for exams and sitting through one in the Diaspora, I will share my experience in the most balanced manner my wit can spare to give you a true picture if you don’t have it yet.
As pointed out, albeit subtly in the chat above between Ramus and Rantina (who happen to be blood relatives) the italicized points form the key discussions in this musing. First, studying abroad is easy …. and students don’t do much studying and still pass … Second, students who happen to be not so bright happen to do very well under overseas conditions. As logically as I can I will take this assumptions one after another and apply my ‘Diaspora’ experiences to explain, reinforce or counter these premises.
First, studying abroad is easy and the students don’t have to study much
In fairness to the educational system in some of the Nigerian universities, there doesn’t appear to be a possibility that any other educational system in the world can be more tedious and more physically and mentally demanding than that which some of us had to go through in our undergraduate days. I remember nights when my architecture colleagues and I will have to set up our drawing boards out on the road median in the cold all through the night in order to take advantage of the solar powered streetlamps to draw – simply because we have a submission in the morning and a power outage has thrown the whole school in total darkness. How more difficult can it get? In truth there are more gross chronicles of woe we can recount on ‘the hard University days’, that it becomes almost obvious that studying can’t be more difficult than what we have gone through. By simplistically comparing these unfortunate experiences to the educational experience outside the country, it is easy to assume that ‘the other side has got to be easy, if here is so hard’. But it is not so simple.
I will like to side with Ramus and Rantina in saying that facilities here are far more superior to what we have back home. I mean, so far superior that if I begin to write about library resources, IT infrastructure and teaching methods employed here in the UK as compared to back home, this episode will likely win an award for the ‘off-trackest’ episode in the series so far. That notwithstanding, if this availability of resources is what is termed ‘easy’ then certainly, it is so easy here that if the Lord Jesus will pardon me pun on His words: “It is easier for fifty camels to pass through the eye of a needle (stacked above each other) than for a student in a US or UK university to draw under the lights of a street lamp because of power outage”. Going back to the argument, the question is: Does the presence of all these tools make education easier in Diaspora? I say maybe, maybe not. In my opinion, the pertinent question should be this – With ultrahigh facilities on one side of the divide and very-low facilities on the other, what are the expectations of both educational systems and how do these expectations relate to the gulf of differences between them? This perspective of expectation, in my opinion changes the ball game drastically.
Using my last exams as an example, I had to write only three exams. As you probably know already, one of those exams was structured in a way that we had the exam questions right from the beginning of the semester and over the course of the semester, the exam questions formed the basis for classes. Despite all these band aids, for the exams we were even required to bring printed notes along with us to the exam hall, which we submitted alongside our answers. Easy? Yeah right. I must confess that I spent the most time studying for this particular course than for others which were unseen papers. It was so bad that I and a friend had to schedule hour long phone calls to revise just days before the exam just to be sure that if we were to sink, we will sink together.
So why? You should ask me. Had it not been handed to us on a platter already? I pause here for you to ponder and probably ask me, “So what was the expectation?” to which I will answer that the expectation was for each one of us to present ‘our’ own logical arguments and personal reflection on the exam questions, probably challenging established principles and authorities in the field and not just show an understanding of the principles but our ability to apply it. This expectation was what led me to reading and researching so far outside the course that, were the exams shifted by another week, I will still have been busy finding out more. This kind of exam did not have a marking scheme as such, and it required detailed reading and criticisms by the lecturer to mark each student’s arguments correctly. I stand to be corrected, but back at home, such in-depth analysis is not required and simply spelling it out the way I had been taught usually earned me the high grades. I tried joking with a lecturer once in my undergraduate days by stating a bizarre unpopular opinion blatantly in the exams just to see how he will react. When I saw the exam scores, I appreciated that he did not have the same sense of humor I had. Now here I am, over 200 hours of studying and a couple of hours of writing non-stop in the exam hall, the results are released barely a week later and I am just hanging there in the average and I can’t seem to stop asking, “What else did they want of me?” Whoever told me it was easy, I’ll ask them to say that again.
The second claim, which I will also discuss from my experience in the last two weeks of writing my first exam in the diaspora is that, Nigerian students who happen to perform poorly back home become shining stars here in the Diaspora.
Even though, I won’t claim that this notion is a popular one, I will say that I have heard it once or twice before. So first, is it true that the Diaspora environment has a way of turning otherwise dull students into stars? And is this in any way a rule of thumb? Answering the second question first, I say boldly that this is not a rule of thumb as even in my short period here I have seen as much Nigerians and home students fail courses and have to resit or retake them. Okay, maybe back home (in most universities) there is no chance for a resit, and I totally agree! But notwithstanding, there is no law that says you will find it easier here despite all the facilities available at your disposal. However, to the first premise – does the school environment here have a way of re-orienting students? I will say a very subjective yes! Since students differ widely and the braces that turn their ratchets are so diverse, I say it is possible for a student who for example can cope better with applied learning, to do better in a place where he or she does not have to learn by rote. Even though I have used applied learning and rote learning broadly here, it is no presumption that all universities in Nigeria encourage rote and vice versa. It doesn’t also mean that changes in the school environment from one Nigerian university to another will not have a positive impact on a students performance as when switching to a foreign institution. Nonetheless, a different teaching method and approach may have a way of transforming students’ performance, and where applied knowledge holds the key, I can safely say that universities in diaspora offer wider berth in the demonstration of application than what universities back home provide.
A particular (calculation) exam, which I wrote, required us to orally discuss our calculations alongside the workings in the exam as if we were having a discussion with a real life client. For every line of equation, we had like four lines of running commentary to discuss why we did what, in the manner in which we had chosen to do it. At the end of the exam, even though I appeared to botch it and had the equations all mixed up, I felt as if, if the next second a client came along to query me about the principles of the course, I won’t sound like a novice in the manner in which I will respond to his or her queries. Despite this narrowed down notion that the difference in teaching style and application based learning can influence a change in a Naija certified ‘dullard’, it still doesn’t change the average concern that a student is likely to remain at par here or even retrogress if care is not taken, as the bar is raised a lot higher and the expectations are more.
Another important factor, which one of my Nigerian colleagues in class usually joke about, but which I consider important is the motivation of our investment in education in Diaspora as Naija boys or girls. The average non-funded Naija boy or girl, after his or her one year masters’ course in Diaspora will have spent between £15,000 – £20,000, in naira terms this translates to N3.8m – N5m. Except such monies have been unearthed from a treasure trove or won in a lottery, this huge investment is enough motivation to make you wake at 7a.m. mid-winter and get you to trek in the snow to your school laboratory to do that one last experiment that might fetch you an additional mark or that one last sleepless night that might clinch the extra point for you. One of my lecturers rightly assumed this when he said that in his class, the international students appear to be more eager to learn when compared with the undergraduate home students. The impact of the motivation of this huge investment cannot be understated.
Finally, in relation to students performances in and out of the Diaspora, other factors may also come to play such as our relative maturity by the time we get to masters’ level. I am only able to say this as I do not have a first-hand experience of the undergraduate study program in diaspora. Nonetheless, an average Naija boy in the Diaspora is way older than his or her classmates – by fate or by design. Hence a more matured approach to studying and assimilating, which might have been absent even in that person’s undergraduate days back home. So where we see students who have ‘faffed’ around (as the British will say it) all their undergraduate days and ended up with terrible grades, you may find that such students will secure admissions in the Diaspora and become shining stars overnight. As there are no hard and fast rules to all of these positions, the premises stated to a large extent are my observations and are in no way exhaustive.
Notwithstanding, before the dust of the last examinations had settled I find us launching headlong into another semester with full force, and I say that I find that merely understanding a subject here in the Diaspora is not enough. Your ability to argue critically and write logically and convincingly is perhaps of greater importance, if you want to be a star here. As the exams and course work results trickle in, I realize more and more that sustained improvement is probably the best way of making it out of here in good condition and I intend to strive hard to achieve that. For Ramus and Rantina, I deem to say that if they don’t want to adopt ‘Igno’ as their father, the Diaspora is not as easy as they probably think it is and even though one can shine here if one is poised to, students will need to go above and beyond the call of duty to stand out of the crowd in this very different educational setting.