Bring back our pencils, rulers and chalk

I have just read of a call by a very important politician in Southwestern Nigeria, asking the Federal government to declare a state of emergency in the education sector. He has made that call against the backdrop of the recent massive failures at both the WAEC and JAMB examinations which took place sometime this year. According to the politician, ‘we have a strong passion here for education, and in the last four years we have religiously pursued our agenda even though the agenda was not popular’. That report of ThisDay of 8th September 2014 said that only 31.28% of the candidates that sat for the examination made five credits in English and Mathematics. Therefore the politician laid the blame for the 31.28% on the doorstep of parents, teachers and government.

It is indeed true that certain states had a passion for education. My emphasis and concern is on the auxiliary verb, ‘have’, used in the present tense by the politician, and to argue that this is not altogether true that states in Nigeria today indeed have a passion for education. What the respectable politician should have told us is that his state, and indeed most states in Nigeria which were under the leadership of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria under the supervision of Chief Obafemi Awolowo were the ones that actually had a passion for education in word and in deed.

In the late 80s when some of us were in secondary school, UPN governments demonstrated their commitment and passion for education by providing students and pupils with school uniforms, textbooks and a relatively tuition-free education. When we moved from one class to the other, our books, uniforms and teachers were waiting for us. And I remember those teachers as well – there was Adu Gwamfi, the Ghanaian, George Vadakumcherry the Indian and a Mr. Achakpekeri the Biology teacher. Each of these teachers was an expert at what they did – for instance Achakpekeri told us that we must never do our biology diagrams in biro but with a pin-tip pencil and it must be a 2B pencil. Today, not only are students and candidates doing their Mathematics and Biology diagrams in HB pencils, they do so with biros as well.

For Chief Awolowo to provide the kind of environment that attracted teachers from India, Ghana and the Seychelles, he didn’t have to declare a state of emergency. All he did was provide free books, pencils, school uniforms and lunch for school kids. Chief Awolowo obviously knew that to produce a rocket scientist, you didn’t need to be one to know that rocket science begins with pencils, notebooks and erasers – not laptops, iPods, bipods and all of those gadgets that our parents give to their kids these days. And even though it can be argued that today’s bipods, iPods and laptops are the equivalent of the pencils, biros and school uniforms, we cannot discount the inevitable level of distraction that these ‘educational devices’ bring to bear on the psyche of the average Nigerian student and pupil. I have been a teacher and still teach – and while you teach and sweat to impart the skills necessary for the candidate to do well, you just may chance at him or her fiddling with a phone, a laptop or listening to Justin Bieber on his or her iPod. Challenge that student and you’d be lucky if he doesn’t give a beating or get his parents to deal squarely with you.

The one thing that I agree with the politician is that nobody wants to teach again. And why would a PhD holder still want to teach and be paid a pittance when a secondary leaver who is in the National Assembly carts home millions monthly? So what you have today in many of the centres where candidates take tutorials is a curious potpourri of aberrations: one, in most of these centres, undergraduates whose schools are on strike are the teachers – one of them is likely a Chemistry Major who teaches Economics, English and Literature in English. That is not all – after the kids may have passed through a great many of the teachers many of whom didn’t pass through the likes of Achakpekeri and Vadakumcherry, they fall into the hands of the duo of the proprietors of miracle centres, and parents and wards.

And again I must cite personal instances. While teaching English & Literature-in- English in some of these ‘extra-murals’, I have found candidates who just sit there in the classes like vegetables. They used to give me the creeps after I investigate and find out that a host of them who cannot spell such simple things words like ‘chaos’ are the ones who have already gained admission to university. There is one I know who I once worked with – by day mostly, you’d find him either hobnobbing with friends, cradling an I-phone or just enjoying himself. Suddenly he announced that he was going to sit the WEAC three or four states away from where he lived. I knew at once that this candidate had collected money from his parents and employed a brain to write and prosecute the WEAC examination for him – and surely when the results came, the least score there was a C. So how could anyone in his or her elements deign to hire this fellow? How would this sort of person contribute to national development?

What is happening in the education sector is a reflection of the drastic changes that we have made to our sense of values as a people. We have drifted and shifted from a goal and value-oriented society to an acquisitive one. We all want the allure and comfort of the dotcom era without wanting to significantly contribute to establishing that allure. Unfortunately for us all, the actions we need to take will never be taken, and that is that in most cases the people who should speak out – the pastors, imams, legislators, doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists, high-ranking government officers, engineers & co – all have children who they willy-nilly fund to cheat at exams.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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