By: Samuel Osho
For every prestigious institution of higher learning, it is a commendable feat to exude uniqueness in the execution of plans but not all signs of distinction connote outstanding excellence. In institutions where policies are implemented to frustrate the efforts of students, there is a threat to the dimensions of intellectual engagement possible in such climes.
I was shocked and unduly flustered when the grading system of the Nigerian Law School was explained to me by a close friend, Joseph Onele, a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as well as a First-Class graduate of Law from the University of Ibadan. This is an attempt to lend my voice to a cause that is seeking a change in the present grading system used in the Nigerian Law School (NLS).
Over the years, there has been a torrent of accusations and complaints concerning the marking scheme and grading system of the NLS. Often times, these complaints gain a measure of attention as a result of the mass failures that are usually recorded in the NLS Bar final examinations.
In the NLS, the final grades of students are based on their lowest grades. For instance, if a student amasses 4 As and 1 C, his final grade will be a Pass solely based on the “C.” The student is graded based on his lowest grade, 1 C, which is a vicious scale for the assessment of competency in students. If a student has 4 As and 1 B, it implies that his final grade will be a Second Class lower (2:2).
One of the victims of the flawed grading system had a chat with Mr. Joseph Onele and he expressed his frustration in the system.
“I am one of the victims of this horrid system so I could personally relate with the views you expressed. Having graduated at the top of my class in my LLB program I ended up with an inexplicable pass! I still remember clearly the feeling of disillusionment and humiliation when I couldn’t even get into a proper law firm for youth service. Thankfully, this prompted me to look towards a career path in international trade and development mainly to avoid the pain of constant rejection by law firms. I did eventually graduate at the top of my LLM class and presently on my second opportunity within the UN system – (where they do not ask for your Nigerian Law School grade),” he said.
I can completely relate with the tension that grips the six Law School campuses when students are preparing for Bar Finals, it is a reflection of a community that is under intense stress to deliver grades that must not be less than a distinction. There is anxiety over marks and less focus is given to intellectual engagement, transmission of ideas, interactive discourses and rigorous digestion of course modules because all that matters, in the end, is the ultimate grade.
In the eyes of reasoning, the brutal grading system can be interpreted as a sign of weakness and insecurity on the part of the NLS. It purportedly projects silent skepticism in the standards of the intellectual property that is administered to the students. Unexpectedly, asides the final grade, students are not privy to a detailed breakdown of their results. Suddenly, results have morphed into the clandestine assets of the institution; some students only get to see the details when their employers demand their transcripts from NLS. It is believed that the NLS is averse to narratives embellished with success stories of students in Bar Final exams. Every year turns out to give endless tales of an ego battle that ends up with the system triumphing over the students.
Earlier in 2017, Mr. Onele started gathering signatures for a petition to review the NLS grading system and he got a comment from a respected Professor of Law and leading authority in constitutional law, Prof. R.A.C.E. Achara.
“I’ve just confirmed that this policy has been in place for some 25 years. Indeed, that initially, it was not even disclosed to candidates. I have responded by indicating a distinction between internal and external unfairness of rules. Granted that candidates are pre-informed of this grading policy at the point of admission to the school, only the external fairness of the rule has thus been addressed. It is little comfort to Jews gassed by the Nazis, for example, to say that Hitler followed due process in line with the then existing rules,” he said.
It is worthy to note that before the establishment of the NLS, practicing lawyers in Nigeria received legal training in England and were called to the English Bar. It will be laudable to draw comparisons from the grading systems used in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Most of the prominent law schools in the United States use the pass/fail system and this includes Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Yale and much more. Other universities like the University of Kentucky’s Faculty of Law use the GPA and class rank distribution system. This grading system assists the students in reducing the stress and anxiety on marks while there is focus on fostering qualitative education and productive learning. In the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, grades are assigned to students based on their cumulative grade point average with the possibility of falling into one of the five available categories: High Honours, Honours, Pass with Merit, Low Pass, and Fail. These are reputable educational institutions with a proven record of churning out highly competent Barristers and Solicitors. And yet no one sheds a tear about their grading system.
While signing the petition asking for a review of the NLS grading system, a Professor of Law at the University of Lagos and a former member of the Council of Legal Education (CLE) in Nigeria, Prof. Chioma Kanu Agomo.
“I am signing because I do not believe it reflects candidate’s true standing. I was not convinced of its fairness when I was a member of the Council of Legal education over ten years ago; I still do not see any reason to change my mind in 2017,” Agomo stated.
In the midst of criticisms of the grading system, it is safe to pontificate the principles of fairness, justice, and equity. In a sane environment, making an overhaul or a review of the existing grading system will yield bountiful results both for the students and lecturers. That’s assuming that these are lecturers who smile with glee when they see their students succeed and not sadists who are interested in seeing more students fail. Above all, this only reinforces the strength of a philosophical notion which opines that marks and grades are deficient evaluators of quality, competence and excellence.