By: ODUGBO Alapa Peters
“Well, my short story is that I am also a writer now.” My elder brother Abiche had said happily. That was the evening of his very first Semester break at home. He adjusted his position on his plastic chair, ran his long tongue over his lips, and continued, “Dad, I mean anyone who is a writer, is not a fool. Writing is not a business for fools. You have to read and read to know how to write what you know”. My Dad sat up right on his chair. Although it was a dark, cold evening, I could tell from where I sat, that my Dad was smiling. At last his son too was now a writer. Only after one semester in school, who knows what will happen after his studies, or even before? Perhaps, he will be somewhere instructing great writers on how to write.
I had not noticed that my Mum was also listening until she had angrily asked Onubu our younger brother who was fanning the Abacha stove she was cooking with, to keep quiet and let her listen to a serious talk.
“Mum, hope you don’t want the food to burn. Can’t you see that the fire is burning too great and that I want to listen to the story too.” He was allowed to do as pleased.
As I sat listening to the stories of how my brother had singlehandedly written his own book, I was filled with jealousy. Why was it not me? But nevertheless, the lies in the story of our book-writer were as pretty clear as the holes in a colander. This was someone I had always assisted with his assignment back then in the school where he was only two classes ahead of me.
Anyways, I had avoided saying anything that evening. The next day I asked to see his much glorified publication, but was disappointed when he rummaged through his travelling bag and produced a stapled sheets of papers, with a list of names and details most of which are in figures, scattered on the front page.
“A term paper?” I managed to ask, burying my disappointment.
“Yes. It is a baby book. It becomes a book once published.”
Now it’s been years since then. My own turn came when I got into the university.
There were so many term papers to write always, and it was such a job that I had come to adore with an overwhelming passion. I loved writing, writing was part me. It has been real fun. But not too long after, this passion soon began wear off. Much of my expectations of what a term paper should be, were not met. I had discovered the term papers have been rendered to a sort of deliberate punishment. My observation sprang out of the fact that most of these term papers when written are not returned to students to look through their errors, and improve. Someone once told me that most lecturers allocated marks to term papers without even caring to go through. At a time, I had every reason to think that that was true, because of personal experience, which is only one among so many others. We were going to submit our term papers one morning, and one of my friends who hasn’t done his went about looking for anyone who would lend his/hers so he could make a photocopy and submit. I much hoped that he would be caught and really dealt with. But things turned the other way. When results were out his score was better than mine. I felt so bad. I had never expected that my sleepless night trying to put in the best will be ridiculed. And as my disappointment became so obvious, the same friend had tried to encourage me not to sacrifice a lot into such an assignment, by maintaining that a term paper was only a matter of formality, a real fulfilment of all righteousness, and that no one care about what anyone did in the term paper. He had said that the number of those who copied their colleagues’ work was really nothing to match with those who did perfect copy-and-paste.
Nevertheless, my point is not that most lecturers on campus do regard their roles so seriously, but that great care has to be given to salient issues, most especially because it pertains to the lives they are building. Everything counts. Imagine that my friend gets through the university with such an act, there wouldn’t be any limit to the crimes he will commit in the society. And such an unfortunate trend may live on at the detriment of the society.
On the other hand, another issue that reduces the objectives of writing term papers, is the fact that on campus most of these term papers are submitted on the day of exams. This complicates issues, because the question of most term papers are often repeated in the exams, and by implication once a student failed in the paper there is completely no possibility of their passing the exams. A lot of students have fallen prey to such a circumstance. At least this can be avoided, if the papers are marked and returned to students before exams to enable them prepare better. This may help in another way in that cases of submitted but misplaced term papers may be discovered and resolved without letting the brunt fall on innocent students. For instance, there was a case of a lady whose term paper was misplaced. When she got to discover this, it was already too late. By then results were out, and she had failed that particular course in which she had put up the paper. She was told when she had confronted the lecturer about her failure that she had not submitted her term paper. She cried as she watched her whole labour waste away, and her dream of graduating with a First Class run out of her reach.
The task of writing requires a consistently frequent interaction between a student and the instructor. It is a practical business, the type of which a student must be shown his errors other than being merely told. It has to be a constant thing. It will encourage a student to read more and to know more and to employ the best way to convey his/her knowledge in the written to the instructor, who will return to the student, with his comments and corrections in his assignment. A serious student will then read through, and try to improve. The case is different today. Where students have no knowledge of their errors, how on earth can they improve, or gauge their progress? In any case, the truth still remains that student must write. There will be the project to tackle at the end of the day. So how does the student go about this, when minor mistakes are never known?
However, term papers are meant to build and not to destroy, to educate, to correct, to teach and to transform. It is a research work based a particular topic, and aimed at assessing a student’s ability to conduct research and garner facts and ideas, and report and present them independently, without ascribing someone else’s idea to him or herself. Similarly, term papers bring students together, especially when the class is divided into groups, to share ideas, to understand and appreciate one another’s point of view and to consequently produce a report based on their findings. Thus, this has a virtue of supplementing what a student already knows. Besides, with the limitations created by lecture periods, at times lecturers nearly have far more unsaid and then said- therefore, the fruits of a good research enrich students in such rare situations.
In this accord there is a need for lecturers to give this issue some serious concern. It is true that having to go through each student’s work, make remarks, point out errors and underline verbatims, may be a very difficult task, and hence the need to stick to the culture of dividing the class into groups, is the only way out. Lecturers should see every need to play their roles so well and leave worthy impression about the vocation in the lives of the people they teach- the lives they shape and transform.