IELTS: Nigerians are Questioning Why They have to Prove They Can Speak English ㅡ Every Two Years

Afees Agboola is no stranger to speaking the English language, and that is an understatement. He started teaching the language as far back as 2006 during his teaching practice as a student in the college of education. In 2012, he was admitted to the University of Ilorin where he studied Primary Education and minored in English.

As a sophomore, he conducted tutorials for all levels of students including those in their fourth year. He continued teaching English and Literature at various primary and secondary schools during and after his service year. In short, Agboola has over 11 years of not only tutoring others in English but also preparing people for foreign proficiency tests.

So imagine his surprise the first time he learnt that to qualify for a study programme abroad, he has to pay heavily to write the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination or its equivalents.

“I have been speaking English for ages and I have been a teacher of English for years, so why do I have to write another English proficiency examination to prove that I can use the language fluently?” Agboola expresses his disappointment to The ICIR.

Statistics show that millions of Nigerians currently live in the diaspora and millions more are eager to join them. There are about 350,000 documented Nigerian migrants in the United States as of 2017, 390,000 in Europe, over 88,000 in Italy, and over 42,000 in Canada.

Seventy-four per cent of those back home would move to another country if they had the means, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Centre. Of these, 45 per cent said they plan to move within the next five years — “by far the highest share of any country surveyed”.

But travelling to countries especially in the global North, whether for education, work, or resettlement, requires a lot — oftentimes including writing English proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

Established in 1989, IELTS has been jointly managed by the British Council, International Development Programme (IDP) Australia, and the University of Cambridge English Language Assessment. It is administered mostly on non-native English speakers and recognised by over 10,000 organisations and governments in more than 140 countries.

How much English is English enough?

The British Council states that IELTS test results provide evidence of English language skills in most countries where it is the main language. But one big grouse many have with the initiative is: English is also the main language in Nigeria.

Having been a colony of Great Britain for nearly eight decades, it is both the country’s lingua franca and language of instruction in schools — even, some observe, to the detriment of native languages.

Nigeria’s history as an anglophone country is reflected in the people’s generally good grasp of the language. The country is ranked third-best in Africa and 29th best in the world by the 2019 EF English Proficiency Index. Also, out of over 140 countries who wrote the General IELTS in 2018, Nigerians had the sixth-best performance on average.

“Most of our systems have been set up in the English language. In fact, we even learn our own indigenous languages in secondary schools as electives,” observes Ebenezar Wikina, a development practitioner and editor of NDLink. “We have pretty much learnt English all our lives; so why then do I need to prove to you that I can speak it if we can communicate via email and you understand what I am saying?”

The Harvard-trained journalist had, in January, applied for a programme at Nexford University, an online institution based in the US, which then told him it needed to verify his English proficiency. He says he has never written the IELTS and just doesn’t bother putting in for opportunities that require it.


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