IELTS: Nigerians reject UK’s explanation, insist language test a “scam”

Nigerians have maintained that the continuous request of an English Proficiency Test from Nigerians, and citizens of other Anglophone countries in Africa, seeking to study or work in the United Kingdom, “is simply a way of swindling the citizens of these countries of their monies by the UK authorities.”

Many participants, who spoke at the maiden edition of PREMIUM TIMES’ TwitterSpaces on Wednesday, condemned what they described as the UK authorities’ unwillingness to include Nigeria and other African countries on the list of its Majority English Speaking Country (MESC).

PT TwitterSpaces is an innovation of PREMIUM TIMES to advance conversations around issues of national concern and those that may be trending on social media and particularly Twitter.

Many participants had argued that English being the language of instruction in Nigerian schools from kindergarten to tertiary level is a testimony that Nigerians speak and understand the language.

As of Saturday, over 75,000 people had signed a petition by Policy Shapers, a public policy organisation, on Change.org, seeking a policy reform by the UK on its request for English Language Proficiency from Nigerians who are migrating to the UK to study or work.

The cost of the test, which currently stands between N80,000 and N90,000 in Nigeria, is almost three times the country’s minimum wage of N30,000.

Apart from its high cost, the test is only valid for two years and can only be taken in 12 cities across the country.

Individuals requiring it for their pursuits would have to take the test again if they fail or did not relocate to the UK after two years of taking the test.

UK Home Office reacts

In October 2021, Policy Shapers wrote to the UK Home Office seeking answers to why none of the Anglophone countries in Africa was part of its Majority English Speaking Countries, and what it will take for the UK to include them on the list.

Three months later, in January 2022, amidst the growing number of signees of the Policy Shapers’ petition, and growing Twitter trends of #ReformIELTSPolicy #IELTS, #TOEFL, most of them tagging the UK home office’s twitter handle, the UK replied the inquiry by the public campaign organisation.

Parts of its reply read: “To be included on the Majority English Speaking Country (MESC) list, we must have evidence that most people in the country (more than half) speak English as a first language.

“We rely on publicly available evidence such as official censuses to make this determination along with other academic sources.

“We may also consult the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office where additional evidence is required. Currently, based on the information available to us, Nigeria does not meet the requirement.

“This list is periodically reviewed and updated, and new countries are added if they are found to meet the requirements.

However, speaking on PREMIUM TIMES’ Twitter Space, Ebenezer Wikina, the founder of Policy Shapers, and a champion of the #ReformIELTSPolicy campaign, said the UK home office is too elaborate and not specific in what kind of public evidence it relies on to verify that more than 51 per cent of Nigerians speak English.

He said: “Public evidence is very broad. There is a lot of public evidence on why Nigerians should be on that list.”

To back his claims, Mr Wikina cited how Nigeria made the top 28 countries for six consecutive years in the English Proficiency Index released annually by Education First, a Sweden-based international education company that specialises in language training.

Mr Wikina said: “We actually deserve to be on the list. And I think that we should be on the list and that’s what the campaign is all about.”

He also hinted that Policy Shapers is working on a policy brief to be presented to the UK Home Office.

Others react

A participant, Senibo @Sen_Abbey, argued that IELTS is designed as a standardised IQ test and not necessarily as a language proficiency test.

He said: “It’s more of an intelligence quotient test than an English proficiency test. I have been to several classes, where I have to learn or study under someone to prepare for the test. And I have come to discover that what they are only testing is your IQ. How good you are and how fast you are in answering questions, which is the same thing with every other exam. These guys just go and rip us of our money, every two-two years.

“For me, it’s a scam, there is nothing else to it. It’s just a pure scam. These guys are just there to collect our money and that’s it. So for me, I will say this thing should be scrapped totally”.

Another participant, Joe Abuku @JoeAbuku, said: “Proficiency doesn’t get worse, it gets better. The ultimate goal is to scrap it”.

Munachi Deca-Anyanwu, @munadeca6 said: “For me, I am for the total scrapping of the test because our primary schools, high schools and our universities all teach in English.

“I have a friend who goes to France who went to language school before they go to university. There they finish a language school and they go to university and they get their masters. People who never spoke French. So why would people who have immersed themselves through English all through their lives will now have to go through another English language exam? And if somebody is going to the UK to study if you cannot speak English, that should be the person’s problem.”

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