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Mass failure in the WASSCE English among Nigerian students: a way out

Abdul-Lateef Solihu

 Nigerian Researcher and PhD candidate,

 Academy of Language Studies, UiTM, Malaysia.


In its article entitled, ‘Mass failure in WASSCE’ published on March 12, 2019, Daily Trust reports a general failure of Nigerian students in English language in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination both the January session since its commencement in 2018, and the other two sessions (May/June and October/November over the years.

This mass failure, according to the source, is attributed to a number of factors including ‘low quality of teachers’, ‘deplorable state of teaching and learning facilities in schools. The source proceeds that the majority of the few trained teachers are themselves products of poor teaching, in addition to low motivation among the teachers, especially those who are in public schools.


Status of English Language

To start with, English language has emerged as the worldwide major communication vehicle regardless of diversity in cultures, races, and nationalities. The use of English language is widely accepted not only within daily social communication contexts, but also in various fields of study and professions. As Thanky (2014) proclaims, English is regarded as the most widespread communication medium used in the international business, science, diplomacy and various professions.

In the Nigerian context, English language plays a unifying role among a multi-ethnic community with roughly 500 distinct languages. As reported by Dyrenko and Fuchs (2018) and Sunday (2013), this cultural/linguistic diversity is so serious in Nigeria that people who live 25 kilometers away from each other communicate in different languages. Given this phenomenon, one would rightly argue that without English being used as the Nigerian official language, the issue of national disunity would have emerged as an egregious aftermath of the amalgamation of the protectorates which altogether form Nigeria as a country.

Over the decades, the language has achieved prominence in all Nigerian sectors of life including media, education, politics, entertainment and so forth (Sunday, 2013). Similarly, English language is dominantly used in the Nigerian workplaces, especially in conversations with senior officers regardless of whether the interlocutors can communicate in the same indigenous language. This situation necessitates that students acquire some communicative skills that would enable them to efficaciously use English in their future communicative events (Christopher, 2016).

Rajprasit and Hemchua (2015) affirm that experts in different fields and professions widely use English language as a means to acquire information, conduct and publish their studies, as well as discharge their duties at workplaces. In other words, English is perceived as a dominant universal language of communication, education, and occupation (Baker, 2006 as cited by Pandarangga, 2015). Therefore, employers are nowadays putting in consideration a wide range of soft skills which include English communication skills with which the employees can effectively carry out the duties expected of them at their workplace.


A Proposed Remedy

The current performance in English language among average Nigerian secondary school leavers has deteriorated over the years and degenerated to the university level leading to the production of a multitude of university graduates with poor command of English language.

At this juncture, one would reasonably agree to hold culpable - for this phenomenon - the traditional approach to language teaching/learning that is still at function in the Nigerian schools due to its failure to ensure students’ successful mastery of English language. As observed by Adebayo (2009) and concurred by Deji-Afuye and Obadare (2019), the teaching/learning of language in Nigeria is faced with several challenges resulting in the annual mass failure of students in English language in the secondary school leaving exams. This striking phenomenon has become a worrisome issue being contemplated upon by language scholars as communicative competence is lacking among the majority of secondary school leavers.

Language pedagogy in Nigeria adopts the traditional approach of grammar-translation which gives consideration to structures and ignores the importance of functions. This approach, which is teacher-centered in nature rather than student-centered, is evidenced in an average English language classroom situation in the Nigerian schools whereby English teachers appear to base their teaching tasks on how sentences are structured, and disregard the use of authentic learning materials with which to expose students into the use of language in different contexts.

Since this approach has proven ineffective – due to the persistent mass failure in the Senior School Certificate Examination - in equipping students with good communication skills required of them to excel in their exams, it becomes necessary to switch to a well embraced modern approach to language teaching known as Communicative Language Teaching which “emphasizes that the goal of language learning is communicative competence” (1992: 65).

Unlike the grammar-translation approach which is learning about a language rather than learning a language, the idea behind this approach is that language is mastered effectively when learners are exposed into different situations in which the language is used rather than focusing upon the forms in which it is structured. As the former approach emphasizes upon the forms and ignores the functions, the latter attaches more importance to functions and forms, while students are given tasks that require them to deal with a wide variety of texts and/or use language various contexts, while the structural aspects are figured out from the texts and discussed respectively.

In conclusion, giving primary importance to functions and secondary importance to structures in teaching English language, our secondary school students will be familiar with the use of language in different contexts and the grammatical structures all of which will enhance their mastery of language and thereby, ameliorates the mass failure in English language.


Adebajo, M. (2009) Factors affecting students’ performance in English LANGUAGE in West African School Certificate Examination in Ilesa Local Government Area, Nigeria. In A Journal for Teachers of English and Communication skills. 7, 24-31.

Christopher, N.M. (2016).  Linguistic diversity, code-switching and language shift in Nigeria. Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences, 3(7),381-393.

Daily Trust (12 March, 2019). Mass failure in WASSCE:

- Deji-Afuye, O. and Obadare, T. (2019). Teaching English for Communication: Pedagogy and Performance in Selected Secondary Schools in AdoEkiti, Nigeria. International Journal of Academic Research in Education and Review, 7(2), 21-27.

Dyrenko, N. and Fuchs, R. (2018). The Diphthongs of Formal Nigerian English: A Preliminary Acoustic Analysis: file:///C:/Users/Prof%20Abdul-Lateef/Downloads/The_Diphthongs_of_Formal_Nigerian_Englis.pdf

- Pandarangga, S. (2015). The transformation of English as a global language in the world.  Lingua, 10(2), 90-96.

Rajprasit, K. & Hemchua, S. (2015). The English language & communication in the international workplace: An examination of Thai computer engineering professionals. The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, 21(3),109-124.

Richards, J., Platt, J, and Platt, H. (1992).Dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics. London: Longman.

Sunday, S.D. (2013). Language policy: Nigeria and the role of English language in the 21st century. European Scientific Journal, 9(17),1-21.

Thanky, P. (2014). Importance of English and communication skills for technical professionals. International Journal of Science Research. 3(4), 211-212.