Background of the Study:
The English Language is the Language Nigerians inherited from the British. Azikiwe (1998) pointed out that the English Language was introduced in 1842 by the first batch of missionaries who arrived in Badagry for education and evangelization. In order to bridge ethno-linguistic barrier .the colonialists implanted the English Language in Nigeria. Today, it is absolutely an essential medium of interraction amongst the different ethnic groups in Nigeria that have no known national language.
It is a compulsory subject in both primary and post primary schools in Nigeria. The study and the use of the English Language are taken serious amongst students and the school authorities of the various higher institutions of learning through the Use of English Unit –General Studies. Examination bodies such as the WAEC, NECO, and JAMB recognize the great importance of the English Language for their candidates and make it compulsory in their examinations.
Besides, there are educational, edifying, and recreational writing in the English Language. These write-ups are popular with the general reading public and in the prescribed texts of various examination bodies. There are printed and well-written books in English in fiction, drama, poetry, current affairs and literary criticism. Above all, the English Language is one of the mediums for instruction in schools in Nigeria. In fact, it is the Language of communication – instruction in the classroom, decoding and encoding of prints in texts in English and media announcements, diplomatic relations as well as in maintaining contacts with former colonial lords.
In many countries where the English Language is being studied including Nigeria, it is common to find parents, teachers, and even the government crying about the standard of both the spoken and the written forms of the language amongst the students. This is because a good pass in the English Language qualifies a candidate to secure admission in school and get good job. It is Nigerians official Language.
It is pertinent to state here that a good mastery of any language is measured by the standard of the language’s spoken and written form. According to Collier (1987) without oral and written English Language skills, students are hard pressed to learn and demonstrate the knowledge of mathematical reasoning, science skills, social studies concepts and so forth. Students who lack proficiency in English are at a decided disadvantage in school. The WAEC Chief Examiner’s Reports of November/December (2002) stated that candidates’ Performance was poor in the English Language and that generally; the performance of the candidates was not impressive. In this report, the main weakness observed in the students’ scripts range from insufficient exposure to the skills of writing, lack of familiarity with the required formats, construction of loose sentences, transliteration from mother tongue to the abuse of basic rules of grammar. The report further advised that candidates should read novels, good magazines, and journals.
The WAEC Chief Examiner’s Report of May/June, 2003, confirmed a similar observation. However, this report advised that:
- Schools should drill candidates on essay writing skills;
- Candidates should be encouraged to read literature books for examination purpose as well as to improve their command of the English Language.
Besides, Ohuche (1992:13) has already pointed out that despite all the changes introduced in the secondary school English Language \curriculum, students have continued to perform poorly in the language. According to him, the greatest shortcomings of these students are in their inability to express ideas correctly in English. When these students enter tertiary institutions, many of them do not gain much from the service English Language lecturers give, for the mere fact that the number of them in a class makes it difficult for the teacher to handle their individual problems. The level of academic achievement for students with limited proficiency in English has lagged significantly behind that of their language majority peers. One congressionally mandated study reported that these students receive lower grades, are judged by their teachers to have lower academic abilities, and score below their classmates on standardized tests of reading and mathematics, according to Moss and Puma (1995).
From the above reports, it became pertinent to look into the learning and writing of the English Language essay of the Senior School Certificate Exam, which often is given much mark allocation than other parts of paper 1 of the English Language to show the importance of writing. Writing is invaluable for effective and efficient diplomatic ties. For the fact that very few students who write the Senior School Certificate English Language Examination obtain credits or distinctions make it a thing to worry about.
Many Language teachers often use essay writing while assessing students literacy development over time since it tests the ability of the students to use English as an effective means of communication to express themselves with clarity and coherence in a manner appropriate to the situation. The process of learning to write clearly and effectively is not a simple matter of acquiring information or memorizing rules. It requires a parallel and simultaneous process of learning to read with more sophistication. Because reading and writing are related activities, learning to write entails a complex interaction between writer and reader. Students write; teachers respond. But a teacher’s response must be more than “correcting” and more than perfunctory grading: Evaluations most involve a detailed reaction, often in conference with the student; to each piece of writing.
Good teachers want to teach as many students as they can teach well. But if teachers are forced to respond to the writing of more than sixty students weekly, they will necessarily oversimplify their responses. Students will regard their own writing as a mere exercise, unworthy of careful attention or serious thought. About five and four essay topics are often set by WAEC and NECO respectively in Senior School Certificate Examinations. Candidates are required to write on ONE. The topics cover a wide variety of essay types such as expository, argumentative, and letter writing.
Exposition is detailed explanation. Expository writing explains a process, an idea or a feeling (Ukwegbu, C. et al 2004). Experts claim that expository writing is not a single form of writing but an amalgam of different writing genres. A good piece of expository writing has the following core features: It involves analysis of key points; A definition of key concepts; A well-defined point of view; A logical presentation of details, and an explanation of details (Otagburuagu, Obah, and Ogenyi, 2001).
Expository essay is written quite often in the present tense, which involves the use of the active voice. The present tense is generally preferred because the process, concept, or idea being explained has relevance not only for a particular time but for most, if not for all times. (Ukwuegbu, C. et al 2004)
In argumentative writing, the audience or the reader is being persuaded to agree to the writer or speaker’s point of view on a controversial subject matter. Since there are always two sides to an argument, this kind of writing requires one to: prove a point present a view point; balance two sides of an argument. However, most candidates’ argument is often illogical and the conclusions often do not follow from the reasoning that had gone before. Many candidates lack the appropriate vocabulary to put across their point of view (Ukwuegbu, C.et al
2004). Meanwhile, a good argument should:
- Have a clear statement of what is to be proved in the proposition;
- Be based on good evidence. This consists of facts that are established. It should not be based on unverifiable information or propaganda.
- Have its evidence directly related to the issues of the argument; it must be backed by authoritative evidence that is current;
- Deal with issues raised in the proposition, not with personalities.
- Must be arranged in a logical order in order to make a maximum impression on the reader,
- Avoid errors in reasoning called logical fallacies such as the following examples:
- Hasty generalization
- Begging the question,
- False analogy
- Non-sequitur (it does not follow) and
- Ad Hominem (Ogbuehi, 2004.)
Descriptive writing, on the other hand, is another type of writing which is important because many aspects of life demand a person’s ability to give accurate descriptions. One may at one time or another be required to describe a person, a place, a process, a scene and an event. It is made in such a way that the mental picture of what is being described is fully registered in the reader’s mind. On this, some candidates may not possess the appropriate vocabulary to convey their description. The topics are treated scantily giving rise to lazy descriptions, which do not register any impression with the reader. According to (Ukwuegbu, 2004) the students’ descriptive writings are often marred by mother tongue influence resulting in usages that do not conform to standard English.