Sadiq .A. Abdullahi made me interrupt a writing assignment again with his ‘reflection’ on his earlier article titled Education and Democracy in Nigeria: Vision 2020 published on this forum in January 2007. Sadiq called my reactions to the article ‘compelling’; so I am compelled to air one or two things about the writer’s ‘reflection.’
In his defense of the shortcomings of the article articulated by some critics, Sadiq raised three basic approaches to appreciating and perhaps solving the problems plaguing the system of education in Nigeria. First, he argued that ‘we can all agree that the Nigerian education system needs a total overhaul. We need to revamp or restructure. The primary and secondary education sectors need immediate assistance.’ His second antidote is that ‘we have to revisit our conceptual and philosophical underpinning guiding the purpose of education in Nigeria.’ His third cure is that, ‘it is my hope to travel to Nigeria soon to gather the necessary data and evidence so that Nigerian students can use the information in their history classes…’
From the foregoing, I want to believe that Sadiq is a passionate Nigerian in the Diaspora. He hopes the best for the system of education in his beloved Nigeria just like it is happening in America where, I think, he is currently residing. As a Nigerian who has never stepped out of the shores of ‘Niger Area’ except for a seven-month holiday in Nairobi in the almost fifty years of his existence, I want Sadiq and other fervent Nigerians to assess my reactions to the writer’s homily.
There is no doubt about it that the system of education being practiced in Nigeria is currently facing a serious calamity. The nature of the crisis is not in the structure of the system but in the nature of the execution or actuality of the structure. There are five participants in the process of actualizing any system of education: the government, the learner, the parent, the system being interpreted, and the society itself. The first three actors are active while the last two are dormant. Achieving any quality in the operation of any system requires a conscious, sincere, and faithful role-execution from the actors in their interaction with other layers of the society. Any approach short of this prescription is doomed.
In our situation, we have been able to establish that the running of the system of education is wishy-washy but there has been a hazy perception of the antidote. What has been happening is an unprecedented display of illogicality. And government is the guiltiest party. Instead of providing the sincere attitude, what the administration at the centre did and which it directed the state government to take cue from was to pile more pressure and stress on the decaying implementing approach by declaring UBE, Universal Basic Education programme. The funny thing is that the infrastructures for the execution of the programme were grafted from the existing dilapidated ones. Young graduates are being employed on contract, without a hope for pension and gratuity. Yet millions of naira is earmarked as salary and allowances and entertainment for legislators, the executive and other political appointees and their lazing lackeys.
While this is going on, the parent who should shout foul have been hounded into a horrifying silence by a criminal economic climate that sees him running around in circles after the worthless naira. The pupil’s sensibility is assailed with the social aberrations and political abracadabra which make him sees more but benefits less. So he is determined to employ any crooked means to obtain a worthless piece of paper called certificate and join the ogre of madness that has been unleashed on his subconscious: he has to unravel the mystery behind the political abracadabra.
When the three active actors had mutually deprived, browbeaten and bamboozled themselves into a state of unqualified stupor, the first and the most ‘qualified’ of them went to the market of reason and found the most ‘credible’ solutions to the problem: establishment of private schools! One expectation is that the products of the private schools will provide the necessary moral, character, and an ideal manner of existence to the products of public schools! The sheer absurdity inherent in this reasoning is palpable.
My honest submission from my experience, teaching at all levels of education in Nigeriais that, nothing is wrong with the 6-3-3-4 structure of education. What is amiss about it as it is realized in Nigeria is the ‘how.’ Like Sadiq said the system needs a total overhaul but the question is what manner of overhaul?The daunting fact is that it is not only education that is in a deplorable condition in Nigeria but virtually all the aspects of Nigerian life. The good thing is that the wrongs can be corrected with a change of attitude. However, I do not think the people who should provide the right attitude are geared for the task, which is a depressing feature of the process. It is not only the primary and secondary education sectors that require overhaul. The tertiary sector also requires an emergency surgery. So we should be thinking of a holistic approach which should comment simultaneously and not picking a stratum for examination.
Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the philosophical and conceptual underpinning guiding the system of education in Nigeria. The approaches were formed with the right attitude and intentions. But it is one thing to conceptualize; it is another perception to actualize; it is the actualization that is faulty in the Nigerian situation. One hard fact which I have garnered from my more that eighteen years of teaching experience in Nigerian schools is that all the active actors in the industry, including myself, have superimposed economic interest over professional consideration. One of the philosophical tasks of the Nigerian system of education as contained in the National Policy on Education is that the system should ‘establish an egalitarian society.’ What is potentially egalitarian in the current dispensation in our country?
Sadiq’s third focus is to visit Nigeria to collect data for use in schools. Good intention. I want to say that Sadiq is welcome home. He should please let us know the outcome of his research. I am particularly dying to inform my student about the basic reason for our backwardness in spite of the budget allocations released to the ministries year in year out. Why is Nigerian education still crawling while that of Japan and China is flying in spite of the fact that about four decades ago the three countries were laggards? I am very sure that Sadiq will be astounded by the rag tag data he will find because, I do not think a country that cannot conduct a credible census can provide any reliable data for use in its schools or any of its institutions.