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ICIR Twitter conversation looks deep into the IELTS controversy



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THE International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) held a Twitter Space conversation on the International English Language Testing System( IELTS).

The conversation was initiated after a report on the effect of the IELTS exam on Nigerians written by Amos Abba, an investigative reporter with The ICIR, went viral on Twitter.

The Twitter Space conversation was an open forum moderated by Ijeoma Opara, a reporter with The ICIR.

Speaking on the program, Amos Abba said his report was to highlight two main issues about the IELTS.


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“First, it was to establish the exorbitant cost of the IELTS when comparing the cost of writing the test to the minimum wage earned by the average Nigerian, and also to highlight the shelf live of the test, currently pegged to last for two years.

“Why do we have to take a test with a shelf life of two years when our medium of instruction in the country is the English language? Basically, these were the major two reasons that actually spurred the report,” he said.

Abba questioned the policy for limiting the chance of visa applicants who want to travel out of the country to Europe or the UK either for study or work.

“Why do we have to prove we can speak English when we speak English all our lives as Nigerians?

“I think these were the two major issues that actually prompted me to write the report,” Abba said.

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The report generated controversy, especially among those who had taken the exam.

“For example, someone who studied the English language, who had two masters degrees also was asked to take the test that will expire in two years. It doesn’t make sense”.

Abba said the examination has its place, but it needs to be reformed.

Abayomi Aseda, a UK-based Nigerian contributing to the conversation, attributed the controversy with the exam to a general misconception.

He said the test is necessary as a means of preparation to adjust to British life.

“The purpose is that when you get here you will able to relate clearly.”

He added that the test generates annual revenue for the UK, therefore, the effort to market it and maximise profit.

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Ebenezer Wikina, an advocate of IELTS reform, believes the exam is more than a mere proficiency test but discrimination against African countries.

Ebenezer stated reasons why he thinks so:

” I think beyond the need to find out if people are proficient, there is a lot of discrimination attached to the process and the testing system.

“A very good case in point is that, so the UK Home office has exemption list, a list of countries they feel should not be made to write the IELTS test, whether their citizens come for indefinite migration or they come to study.”

Nationals of countries such as Jamaica, Malta, Canada, Switzerland and co who are not as proficient as Nigerians in English are on the IELTS exemption list, he said.

“In fact, in Malta, the Maltese people speak a language called Maltese, and about 98 per cent of that population speak Maltese; English is often called the second language.

“In Guyana, they have almost 18 other languages they speak; in Jamaica, where Patwa is the Lingua Franca, and English always plays second fiddle, how come these countries are on that list, and there is not one African country who mostly are former British colony? There is no one of them on the list of countries exempted from IELTS.”

On the progress made so far to reform the IELTS, Ebenezer said his organisation has gotten to a point where the Vice President is involved.

“Even as we are waiting for some actions to come from the diplomatic angle, we are continuing to also raise public consciousness and awareness to the issue through our petition that currently has over 24 thousand signatures, media outings on the BBC, we have been on Legit and a couple of other platforms. So we are doing our best to push the message out there, ” he said.

Ogbeni Oluwatosin, a UK-based Nurse, spoke about his personal experience.

“I am currently a nurse working in the UK, prior to coming to the UK, I happened to write IELTS, I think about three times, in my O Level result. I happened to have A one in my English language so going to write an English proficiency test then before I started preparations, it was something that was going to come handy for me. But by the time I started preparing and listening to people who have written the exam before, it occurred to me that the exam is not really about the English proficiency, it is not about how well you understand English or how well you can speak English.”

He also criticised the poor way the test is conducted in Nigeria.

A Twitter user who described himself as Scientist says that the exam is a ‘waste of time’.

“I feel we don’t really need that exam. Some people from English speaking countries will also fail that exam because, sometimes it’s not just about writing exam. I have taken some professional exams, it’s about the stress you go through before taking the exam.”

@Sinphia on Twitter also contributed by saying she wrote IELTS about 11 times. She confirmed that writing IELTS in Nigeria is different from writing it in the UK, where it is more organised.

She concluded that the tests should be waived for professionals who were trained in English.

But it should be retained for students coming to study because of differences in teaching methods between Nigeria and UK.

The conversation  highlighted several other challenges of IELTS in Nigeria,  and proffered solutions.

Part of the recommendation by participants is that candidates applying for Master’s degree or Doctorate programmes should be exempted from writing IELTS.

Applicants were also urged to consider other universities that do not make IELTS a requirement for admission.

The list include University of Warwick, University of Essex,  Robert Gordon University in the UK, and University of Concordia, University of Winnipeg in Canada among other universities abroad.

Checks by The ICIR into the 2020 financial report of one of IELTS subsidiaries shows that IELTS conducted tests for 1.09 million candidates in 2020, compared to the 1.28 million candidates who took the exams in 2019.

The number of IELTS candidates in the 2021 financial year increased by 4.9 per cent as 1.14 million candidates sat for the exams in 2021.

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