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A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. A few Nigerian university teachers wrote to tell me that many Nigerian universities have now instituted p...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A few Nigerian university teachers wrote to tell me that many Nigerian universities have now instituted periodic student evaluations of instructors as part of the academic culture. But they quickly admitted that not all universities have adopted it, and that even in universities that have adopted it, it’s really of no consequence.

 In other words, even in universities that give students the opportunity to evaluate the instructional effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their teachers, no teacher has lost his job, suffered a pay cut, or received an official reprimand, etc. as a consequence of consistently negative student evaluations. So, it’s basically pointless.

That’s why Nigerian universities have some of the worst instructional practices in the world. Nigerian university students habitually complain that a majority of their teachers aren’t actually teachers; they are infuriatingly mindless dictation machines. They do no more than dictate boring, lifeless notes to hapless students, semester after semester. They brook no questions or quest for clarification, stifle or punish dissent, allow little or no interaction, and generally treat their students with overweening hauteur. In other words, they are pedagogical dictators—in both senses of the term. That is, they dictate notes to students (making them literal dictators) and are overbearingly arrogant and condescending to their students.

A lot of Nigerian university teachers also don’t come to class consistently. I had an undergraduate teacher who came to class only three times in the entire semester! I’ve heard of worse cases. And several teachers who teach large survey classes don’t even bother to grade students’ papers; they just arbitrarily award grades, yet they think they deserve “excess workload allowance” for their heavy instructional load. 

Now, let me be clear: not every teacher is guilty of this indefensibly abject instructional fraud. There are indeed many excellent teachers in Nigerian universities. One of the best teachers I’ve had in all my life, for instance, is a Nigerian university teacher by the name of Professor Saleh Abdu who taught me European poetry in my second year at Bayero University, Kano. He was passionate, enthusiastic, cerebral, creative, patient, and made learning fun and worthwhile for students. He made us look forward to every class with dewy-eyed eagerness. He never missed a class, never dictated notes, encouraged us to challenge him, and graded us fairly. (My friend and former classmate at Bayero University, Dr. Moses Ochonu, who now teaches at Vanderbilt University here in the US, has suggested that we write a joint article in honor of Professor Saleh Abdu, whose pedagogical excellence both of us benefited from and still cherish. I’ll take him up on the suggestion someday soon). 

There are many Nigerian university teachers like Professor Abdu. But that’s not the point. The point is that the instructional unaccountability of Nigerian university teachers is a huge structural problem that transcends pockets of instructional excellence here and there. Instituting mandatory, anonymous evaluation of teachers by students every semester—and taking those evaluations seriously—will fish out, and hopefully flush out, teachers who show up in class only at their pleasure, teachers who merely dictate ill-digested lecture notes to students, teachers who have no respect for their students, and teachers who sexually and financially prey on their students. As it is now, anybody can be a university teacher in Nigeria since all it takes to be a “teacher” is the capacity to dictate notes.

Teaching in the United States requires more pedagogical resourcefulness and accountability. Unlike in Nigeria, teachers have to plan their syllabi and course schedule weeks in advance of the start of every semester and make these available to students on or before the first day of class. Teachers also have to have grading rubrics for all assignments and tests so students know exactly what they need to do get an A or a B or a C. 

 In the United States, too, student evaluations of instructors are a crucially important part of the university tradition. University teachers here get fired for having consistently bad student evaluations. Toward the end of every semester—before final grades are released—students fill out an anonymous, usually online, survey to assess the instructional effectiveness of every teacher that taught them. The surveys capture both quantitative and qualitative data. 

After the surveys are submitted, heads of departments have one-on-one meetings with teachers to discuss the results of the survey. Even in many research-intensive universities, teachers will never get tenure (life-time employment) if their student evaluations are consistently poor. Of course, teaching-heavy universities rely almost entirely on student evaluations to determine the worth of teachers.

But as many American university teachers will tell you, teaching evaluations aren’t always foolproof. For instance, lazy students who do poorly in a class sometimes use the evaluations to “get at” their teachers. And, some teachers, desirous of positive student evaluations to keep their jobs, teach “to the evaluation,” that is, they dumb down their courses in order to win the approval of their students. In spite of their deficiencies, however, student evaluations have served and continue to serve the American academe really well. They ensure instructional accountability. They compel university teachers to take their jobs seriously and to be respectful of students and their learning needs—at least in more ways than is the case in Nigeria. 

Now that Nigerian university teachers will be paid gargantuan “excess workload allowances”—including allowances for work that should normally be a part of their teaching, research and service responsibilities—students and parents should start a concerted movement to demand instructional accountability from university teachers.

 Like it is in the US, students’ anonymous evaluation of teachers every semester should be available not just to university teachers and their heads of department; they should also be available to deans, academic secretaries, registrars, vice chancellors and their deputies, and officials of the National Universities Commission. Results of these evaluations should form at least 50 percent of the criteria for the promotion or continued employment of all university teachers. 

To be continued

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