By Chukwuemerie Udekwe
I had known Ed for a year, or two or three. He is stoutly built, barely fair in complexion, had stubby fingers, an athletic gait and an awkward head of hair. In contrast to his not so amazing physical features, Ed was amazing in the mind. He was fun and brilliant. He did not take the first position in any of the terms after he had joined us from whatever school he had come till we graduated from Exquisite High School, Awka. But we all revered him for his intelligence. Some said he had not the kind of intelligence of those who took first in class - the kind of intelligence of those who crammed the textbooks and vomited them verbatim in their examination papers. We all agreed he was the versatile type; the kind that applied knowledge to the daily aspects of life and need not spend the whole night studying to make 70 or 80%.
So when Ed called me about three years after we graduated, I was shocked. It was not that we had lost contact, nor that we were not in friendly terms. No, for once in a while, we had our chunk of chats via WhatsApp or Facebook, and sometimes, though rarely, we bumped into each other and exchanged pleasantries. But not calls. So when my phone beeped and I saw his name, I was not so wrong to be nervous.
“Hey, hello, Ed how far?” I tried to be normal, amidst anxiety.
“Hello, I'm good. What about you…”
Then the conversation began to flow. And after a while…
“I need your help, brother.”
Yeah. We were brothers, and will always be. And help was one thing brothers did to each other.
“Nna, how far? What's up? I replied. I was honestly open for whatever help a brother was going to ask.
“See, please I really need some money now, please, can you lend me some?”
I was going to ask what for, and I was going still to think against it. But neither became necessary, since Ed continued.
“It will sound weird, but I'm still going to be honest with you. I need around twenty thousand or so to sort some lecturers in school…”
Ye, of course, it sounded weird. Ed? No! What had happened, the Ed I knew was equivalent to a brainbox? Had he degenerated to this level? If yes, what would have caused it? Why?
No matter how much I tried to resist it, I still heard myself scream, “You said, sorting?”
Ed did not feel embarrassed. He must have understood my point of view. So, instinctively, he took his time to explain.
“See, I'm tired of seeing my grades go down.” He began with the tone of one battling with regrettable tears.
“I'm tired. I can't stand it anymore. This isn't what I bargained for when I enrolled myself into the tertiary. There is this lecturer in my department. Not like it's just him though, but his seems so urgent now. You can only get B in his course if you sort him. Of course, he still won't give you A even if you do, since he wouldn't want his schemes to implicate him. But if you dare not comply, be sure of C if you are super intelligent and D or F if you are just average. I'm tired of getting C no matter how hard I study. It affects my G.P.A so badly and I'm fed up. Now, I'm forced to comply if I'm to save my grades. I just can't help it anymore. Please just help me, I will surely pay back I promise.”
'Promise' was however the only thing I heard distinctly. My mind had become numb and I thought I had never felt so befuddled all my life, before.
“What?” I screamed.
“You won't understand. It takes more than a miracle to get an A here. Some even bluntly tell us before the examinations that no matter what you write, you would never make A. While others go forward to put forth that since they themselves, professors, didn't make A, why would we think about getting it in the first place? They think getting A makes the education process look cheap and substandard, while the 'merciful' ones would have already concluded in their minds that only one or two or three persons would make A, so whether 10 or 15 persons merit it is no longer their business. So you see why I can no longer afford getting C? The whole process is skewed from the start. We are being wired to fail, or at best not to reach the highest top. So just help me, please.”
Unfortunately, my mind was already in distant places, many miles further than the plane where the contemplation of helping or not was possible.
Education? Which way forward? Little wonder while illiteracy continues to be a major threat in a society where increasing number of schools, be it tertiary, secondary or primary is prevalent. How could illiteracy be defeated in an environment that sponsors mediocrity, feeds it and unleashes it out to the public? How can students be cajoled into believing they can never get As by professors who are the supposed upholders of knowledge and excellence. Which benefits the system more? Students believing that excellence is possible only if there are willing to work hard, face challenges and burn midnight candles or students been encouraged to forget about pushing the frontiers of knowledge since they would never be able to reach the top no matter what efforts they make? Such educational and psychological blackmail. If education is truly the key, whywould the supposed professors of knowledge ask students to shy away from moulding master keys? When students know that A is possible, then they are pushed to fight for it by hard work. But when its impossibility is impressed black and white on their psyche, then even the expected geniuses draw back. Hence, our education system continues to export graduates who shy away from excellence, preach impossibility over possibility and carry along the notion that hard work never pays after all.
Do these professors know that denying a student who deserves an A his grades simply to show that education is hard, is synonymous to denying an eagle the right of flight just to drive home the point that flying is hard after all? It relinquishes these students of their talents, capabilities, and fruits of efforts. But of course, of what use is it to make extra efforts when you are still going to end up in the same grades with the normal, obviously?
Excellence spurs excellence, so when there is no show of excellence, then mediocrity takes over, and then it holds sway. Professors should be however proud that a good number of students could make A after they are being taught. It is rather a plus than a minus. It encourages other student to target for the highest point, knowing that its achievement is possible, and most importantly go home believing that they can become real achievers, attaining whatever heights they aspire to, if only they are willing to give hard work and commitment their dues.
As the strike draws to an end, lecturers must be wary not to propagate mediocrity over excellence. Not to mould students wired for failure, or at best, the normal. Students who behold challenges and look down, not up; with the certainty that surmounting them is incredible. But sketches of students who love success and are fond of surmounting the unimaginable. Conquerors! And if we are to grow a posterity that will relish hitting for the highest points, the apogees and climaxes of whatever field they embrace, then such educational cum psychological blackmail must be tackled. Now!
Let students be able to beat their chests in allegiance and say, “I didn't get an A because I couldn't meet the demands. Not because the lecturers did not want to give it anyway.”
To whom do grades belong? Teachers or students?
The teachers? Then why are they required to give them out in the first place? More, why can't they dish them out to whomever they like, whether the recipients are even enrolled in the school or not. It is theirs after all.
To the students? Maybe that’s why they are required to have it at the end. Then, let it be given, without prejudice, fear or favour.
The former may only be temporary custodians of what actually belongs to the latter!
To whom it is due, let it be given. Be they one or fifty. That is justice. And justice isn't scared of numbers!
“Be strong, nna.” I said looking into my brother's tearful eyes.
“Take heart Ed. Do not lose heart!”