Are You a Student, Or Just Pretending to be One?


Nigerian university students

The craze to become a student is overwhelming. But being a student is mild and resistible. -- Akinyemi AbdulMalik

The idea of studentship has been slowly erased down different generations. Now, we have forgotten what it truly is and confused it with what it isn't.

What is not studentship? For one thing, ACTING.

Being a student is not going to class early, sitting in the front row, going for night class, writing notes, buying handouts and keeping big textbooks in your bag. It is BEING; it is COMPETENCE. Tell me what happens, for instance, when the teaching staff decides to go on an indefinite strike, or when the school vacates, or when test comes up suddenly? The student, if he cannot improvise, loses essence. Unfortunately, our secondary schools and universities gain their essence (the one they so cherished) by training these inessential students.

During my university days, there were students who would make others feel less like students. They had their seats in front of the classes, they listened attentively to lecturers (or so it seemed) and write comprehensive notes. However, when exams approached, they would scramble for the jottings of other students. Obviously, they were not doing the things they had to do to prepare for what was to come. Some would even go for night classes. But trust me, most of them would end up sleeping, or chatting, or playing computer games. I have been there.

For clarification, I'm not stating that going for night classes is bad, neither am I advocating the need for it. You think it works best for you? Go for it!
But leaving your home ̶ acting like a true student ̶ only to return the following morning, having practiced or learned nothing but the latest combination of snore rhythm? It is not worth it.

It is also worthy to note that these so-called students have been remarkably successful in limiting the idea of studentship to the four walls of a class room, or to the landmarks of the school territory as the case may be. Outside the school, they assume totally different personalities. They toss their learning materials aside and wait for the next time they are required to show up in class. I am very sure it requires no scholarly degree to reason out the fates of these students.

During the 2012 ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) strike which lasted for about six months, I could remember a neighbour of mine called me a show-off just because she felt I should not be reading while on strike. She obviously did not know that being a student is an honour, a name every student should live up to regardless of whether one is in school or not. Even until now some still ask me why I spend time reading given that I am a university graduate. Really?

While this act of limiting studentship to the four walls of the classroom may have been accidental, these students ̶ from an ideal perspective ̶ should not and cannot be cut some slack, as it is a sheer act of irresponsibility for a student not to know what being a student entail. It is more like knowing you are a male without knowing what makes you one.

Nor is STUDENTSHIP just about HIGH GRADES. There is indeed a fine line between the two. While studentship means BEING a student, high grades could mean a lot of things. High grades could mean you are good at examination malpractice, or it could mean you have immoral influence on the examiner, or it could mean you are just lucky, or it could mean that you are actually a good student.

To understand this better, let us assume that five students, Chinedu, Kunle, Olivia, Mustapha and John, are sitting for the same examination.  While at it, Chinedu copies the answers from a textbook he sneaked in, Kunle (a boy who knows about 30% of the subject being examined on) was fortunate that most of the exam questions are from the 30% that he knows, Olivia (a girl who is in a romantic relationship with the examiner) does not have any idea as to what to write, Mustapha understands the questions and knows the answers to most of them, and John (another brilliant student who had just lost his parents in a car accident) mix up the answers because he is not in his right state of mind.

When they get their results, Chinedu happens to have 75%, Kunle has 60%, Olivia has 61%, Mustapha has 83% and John has 50%. To the outside world, John is the unserious student, the bad student. Olivia, Kunle and Chinedu, on the other hand, get good recommendations. You can now see why high grades and studentship cannot be equated.

But unfortunately, this studentship-high grades equation is the wheels that give meaning to the wagon of education in Nigeria. And as much as I hate to admit it, we are all victims of a failing educational system. It is not really in my plan to delve into the educational system matter in this chapter, but there is an urgent need to discuss a few things here.

In the Nigerian system, competence is a function of high grades, and high grades is mostly a function of how well you can cram, how well you can duplicate texts and how well you can cheat. Fun has been sucked out of learning. The true meaning of research has now become something like the distant memory of a household name. And if plagiarism were punishable by death, maybe we would not have living students here in Nigeria.

In my final year in the university, I asked my project supervisor whether or not I would be asked to test a device I was working on, since it was only halfway ready, and it was way past submission deadline. He told me: “You don't have to worry about that. Even the devices built by students that graduated with first class degrees didn't work.”

I cannot really say if that came as a surprise, but I do not really blame the lecturers. They are also victims of this failing system. Practically 99% of them graduated from Nigerian universities (70% of whom may not be categorized as competent students). They came from the system and were pushed back into the system to uphold its norms. So we should not be all that surprised when we just get more of the same. A sow will only teach the piglets how to play in the mud, nothing more.

During the last two years of my time in the university, a lecturer who taught us digital electronics decided to solve a test he had just given us in class. In the process of doing that, things got really confusing for him. Some students, having noticed that, told him how he should have done it and so he rubbed off what he was doing and did exactly what they wanted. Another set of students, who had answered the question differently, told him that the first set of students were wrong and so he rubbed that off again and did exactly what the students wanted. The former protested and he rubbed a part off again. He continued rubbing off the answers so much that we were confused as to which answer was correct. And up till this moment, no one knows how he graded that test.

I could also recall that an NCE student once told me that during a physics class the lecturer had to consult his textbook over and over again before he could solve a problem he gave them as assignment.

Most of these lecturers teach students to have good grades, not to know the real deal.

Do you recall that I mentioned building a device in my final year in the university? I just want you to know that I did not actually build the device. My project supervisor did almost everything. All I did was get the materials needed, and, surprisingly, he did not charge me for workmanship. From what I could tell, he was only interested in keeping his name. He did not want any student to tarnish his image with whatever it was that I would have done had he not helped me out with it. And at the end of everything, I got the grades that I did not deserve. Looking at it from an angle, I could say I was one of the best students in my department, but from another perspective, I was not a student at all.

Some of these lecturers do not even know beyond their lecture notes. They would mark a student wrong if he dared to interpret any definition in his own words. These lecturers, because they do not really understand the courses they teach, copy answered questions online or directly from a textbook and examine students on these questions. But some Nigerian students are wise enough to discover the trick. They cram their way to get good grades, without understanding what the questions were all about.

No doubt, these lecturers force students to be mediocre. Some would even come to the class to preach for more than half of the time they were supposed to be lecturing. This is sheer lack of perception. Is the class a church? Why would a lecturer go to the class to preach when he can easily get his THE LORD'S CHOSEN apron, go out there, and cook up words from the bible? I mean no disrespect for the Christians.

And the student, upon graduating, believes he has attained a formidable stage of studentship; whereas he is more than 3000 light-years away from it. Sorry to burst your bubble, but these people know very well that they have just trained yet another set of graduates that lack intellectual acuity. No wonder some schools give their best graduating students #9500… or has it been increased to #10000?

A true student enjoys the learning process. He is not manipulated into being a mediocre by his mediocre lecturers. He is not afraid of exploring the true nature of his course of study, even if he would still succumb to the system’s whim to pass his exams. He works to make his high grades a true reflection of his competence.

As a matter of fact, we have few real students here in Nigeria, but what difference has that made? Nothing! Why? Because some ̶ among the remaining students ̶ don’t really attach importance to education. They believe education is not the key as they were taught (even if it were, the lock has been changed behind their backs). They only put up the student act to satisfy the requirements of the society.

While the ones who are trying hard at being students long desperately for a better system. And maybe it is their longing that is the problem. They are waiting for a rescue at the cost of their own redemption. They do not want to be the change. After all, being a student is a pretty hard job.


Let me know what you think in the comments section. And Please don't forget to share. 


Thank you for reading. Please leave your comments.

  1. This is very enlightening. Thank you so much for this. I'm interested in the book. Here's my email:
    [email protected]

    1. Thank you, Tosin. You'd get the book shortly.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful write-up. I will love to read the book. Here is my Gmail: [email protected]

    1. I am glad you liked it. I'll be sure to share the book with you.

  3. Thank you for this amazing eye opener
    Jazakumullahu khayran

  4. Very enlightening work sir.

  5. Thanks for the advice. It was really helpful

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