In “The Ticking Time Bomb” a news report published in the forty-ninth edition of Tell (December 13, 2010), the issue of the downward slide in the quality of graduates churned out by Nigerian universities was given prominent attention. As a matter of grave concern, Funke Oduwole, the writer and reporter, stated that the collapse of Nigeria’s educational system and its massive production of unemployable graduates portend “grave danger for the nation’s pool of human capital, national development and the achievement of Vision 20-2020.”
There is no doubt that it is becoming increasingly clear to many people today that Nigeria’s future will continue to stagger on the brinks of uncertainty as long as the questions arising from the malaise in the educational sector remain unanswered. Today, both the private and public sectors are disappointed with the turn of events in their organizations as a result of their goodwill to inject fresh and new brains into their sectors. Many had hoped that new graduates will reposition their companies, corporations and businesses for greater and efficient service delivery through the vital interplay of ground-breaking ideas, theories and strategies, but shortly after these graduates took over the management of their organizations they were found to be inept and deficient, unable to add new value to the present status of their organizations and quite unable to defend their academic certificates.
Many business executives are now forced to either lay off these new workers as a result of their gross incompetence or retain them on purely humanitarian and charitable grounds. This saddening situation raises so many questions in our minds about the unfolding of issues in our country and what future lies ahead of us. As Funke Oduwole remarks, “It is now very common for employers in the private sector to voice their frustrations over the declining qualities of Nigerian graduates. It is presently believed that present day graduates lack sufficient knowledge, skills and possibly, other attributes that will enable them serve their employers and the larger society effectively.”
Across the international community, the state of Nigeria’s educational sector is also raising grave concerns. Keith Richards, the managing director of Promasidor, as far back as 2005 when he was CEO of Guinness Nigeria, lamented this ugly development and blamed it on the failure of the educational system. In similar vein, the World Bank joined many other global institutions and stakeholders to alert the nation of this dangerous trend which is taking a huge toll on service delivery in virtually every profession today. Bemoaning the deteriorating quality of the educational system which produces half-baked graduates, Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s former Head of State stated in his address at the 21st and 22nd Convocation Ceremony of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), that “We really need to be careful with the way education at the tertiary level is managed. This is because it is at this level that the spirit of enquiry is fully fired. Bad education at this level will not help to produce the men and women that are needed to lead Nigeria.”
For a nation that sincerely aspires to be among the 20 most developed economies of the world by the year 2020, one would naturally expect its possession of a vibrant educational sector to champion the course of this aspiration through the generation of sound political ideas and workable economic theories to furnish this lofty ambition. But the contrary seems to be the case today. In the last couple of years, a high number of casualties have been recorded in the medical and health sector due to the gross incompetence of medical personnel pumped into the sector. The rate of collapsed buildings across the country leaves no doubt that quacks and ill-equipped civil and structural engineers are ever more on the rise. Our law courts and judicial systems are today loaded with young men and women who cannot distinguish between facts and fiction in their analysis of legal matters, not to make mention of the incompetence of many lawyers in writing sound legal papers and proposals. Even in the literary world, a horde of people who are unable to write a single research paper or make news reports or even write simple articles are continuously being plunged into the mass media. Little wonder today that we experience a corresponding decline in the standard of reading, writing, public speaking and research, the prominence and frequency of grammatical and spelling errors in literary works and the increasing proliferation and production of literary trash in the journalistic profession.
It is true that a combination of several factors is responsible for this malaise. Over the years, government’s insensitivity and indifference to the overall development of the educational sector has been very shameful. Budgetary spending on education has been reduced to a paltry sum unable to cater for the needs of our schools, colleges and universities. While many academic institutions of higher learning run on gross inadequacy or complete lack of research facilities, lecturers have suffered the painful effects of intellectual stagnation as research grants and facilities no longer reach their tables. Students whose professional orientation behoves them to accomplish more practical tasks end up with simple theoretical formulations devoid of real life issues, and often have to contend with theories are redundant, archaic and obsolete in the worlds of their professions.
Dilapidated academic structures, poorly equipped libraries and laboratories, poor system of remuneration and motivation of teachers, poor learning environment, the unhealthy imbalance in student-teacher ratio in many institutions and the demoralizing effect of the break of symphony between the academic curricula and the needs of industries are among the chief issues which continue to engender the fatal state of education in Nigeria. Today, incessant industrial strikes in the academic sector have made many, if not all Nigerian universities to run arbitrary calendars that are not in consonance with the rhythmic symphony of their counterparts across Africa and in Europe. The demoralizing effects of these elongations of the school year for many students have caused many people the difficulty of projecting into their future with hope and confidence since they are never too sure of the time they will graduate from school.
Students themselves are not immune from the factors that have heightened the fears that now trail the educational sector. Gross irresponsibility, the loss of a moral sense of good discipline, the pursuit of vain ambitions, intellectual laziness, the loss of will-power to take up creative and innovative academic challenges and the growing wave of ‘settlement culture’ between lecturers and students either by illicit sexual affairs or in monetary forms have given the crisis a huge moral dimension. While parents seeking sound education for their children send them to renowned private schools at home and abroad with their financial power, many teachers and lecturers have continually found solace in plying their trade in European and American universities and colleges where they find suitable environment conducive to learning. With the brain drain phenomenon and the inability of poor parents to send their brilliant and prospective children to good schools, the dangers ahead are equally grave.
Now that the gloomy reality of the unemployability and unsuitability of present day graduates to drive the nation’s economy forward stares at us in the face, the challenge is for us all to seek for veritable ways and means to address this catastrophe. It is obvious today that young people themselves have lost faith in their leaders, in their fathers and in the accoutrements of external authority. In the society of past generations, many young people
looked up to their parents and leaders for guide and inspiration. Today, the situation has drastically changed. In a society in which many young people harbour deep-seated unhappiness and are really unimpressed with the way their leaders, fathers and elders order the life of the society, it is difficult to witness a new generation that will be loyal to the old ways.
Today, millions and millions of young people are expressing, without fear and compromise, their utter disappointments with the way things are done in the country. The result is that such happenings effect a gradual transformation of their mentality and attitude to everything around them, and many of them are prepared to take it out with the society as soon as they make their way into the corridors of power. As Henry Nouwen, a great religious writer of the twentieth century observes, when we look into the eyes of young people today, we can catch a glimpse of three major characteristics many of them share in common: inwardness, fatherlessness and convulsiveness.
By inwardness, he means that today’s generation of young people is one which gives “absolute priority to the personal and which tends in a remarkable way to withdraw into the self.” This, he says, might come as a surprise to those who think of today’s youth as activists, card-carrying protesters, highly expressive and think of them in many terms, but never in terms of inwardness. On his part, Jeffrey Hadden speaks of this behaviour as a symptom of something much more general, basic and influential. It is the behaviour of people who are convinced that there is nothing out there or up there on which they can get a solid grasp; something which can pull them out of their many uncertainties, vagaries of social exigencies and confusion. They see authority, institutions and external influence as powerless and helpless to liberate them from their anxieties and problems As such, they are inclined to the inward way. For them, if there is nothing out there or up there, then there is, perhaps, something meaningful and solid inside. This widespread observation is supported by the German sociologist Shelsky who speaks about our time as one of continuing reflection in which instead of an obvious authority telling us how to think and what to do, young people take the preeminent liberty to chart the course of their own lives.
Hadden summarizes the deadly effect of this kind of lifestyle. He says: “inwardness can lead to a form of privatism, which is not only anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional, but is also very self-centred, highly interested in material comfort and the immediate gratification of existing needs and desires….The inwardness of the coming generation can lead…to a higher level of hypocrisy.”
Nouwen analyzes the second characteristic of fatherlessness to the effect that “We are facing a new generation which has parents but no fathers, a generation in which everyone who claims authority- because he is older, more mature, more intelligent or more powerful- is suspect from the very beginning. There was a time, and in many ways we see the last spastic movements of this time still around us, when man’s identity, his manhood and power were given him by the father…. I am smart when some father gives me a good grade. I am important when I study at a well-known university as the intellectual child of a well-known professor. In short, I am who I am considered to be by one of my many fathers.”
Today, these assumptions no longer hold true for the younger generation. Seeing that the adult and fatherly world stand helpless, clueless, powerless and hopeless before the threats of atomic warfare, eroding poverty, hunger and starvation of millions, the young generation, who are acclaimed as leaders of tomorrow, will ensure that no father or authority figure has anything to say to them simply because he has lived longer. The wisdom traditionally associated with age and gerontocracy will be set aside by young people while they look up to themselves for guidance and direction. The piercing and touching lyrics of a portion of the music sung by Ian McDonald and Peter Sinfield, “I Talk to the Wind” seem to capture with genuine clarity what the young people of today are saying:
I’m on the outside looking inside.
What do I see?
Much confusion disillusion all around me.
You don’t possess me
Don’t impress me
Just upset my mind.
Can’t instruct me
Or conduct me
Just use up my time
The only thing left for young people today is to try it alone. They prefer to plunge themselves into the world of the unknown rather than rely on the guidance and inspiration of their elders and fathers. They will prefer failure arising from their trial rather than believe in those who have already failed right before their eyes. This absolute self-reliance of a young generation which rejects its fathers and quite often reject the legitimacy of every person or institution that claims authority faces a new and imminent danger of being captive to itself. David Riesman, as at October 1969 had already predicted in Psychology Today what the situation will become. In his words: “As adult authority disintegrates, the young are more and more captives of each other…. When adult control disappears, the young’s control of each other intensifies.” Instead of the father, the peer becomes the standard; many young people who are completely unimpressed by the demands, expectations and complaints of the big bosses of the adult world now show a scrupulous sensitivity to what their peers feel and think about them while they simply give an ear of indifference to what the adult world feels and think about them.
On the third characteristic, convulsiveness, Nouwen argues that “Everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression. They know that what is shouldn’t be the way it is, but they see no workable alternative. Thus they are saddened with frustration, which often expresses itself in undirected violence which destroys without clear purpose, or in suicidal withdrawal from the world, both of which are signs more of protest than of the result of a new-found ideal.”