Sadiq Abdullah’s piece, Education and Democracy in Nigeria: Vision 2020 caught my attention for a number of reasons. The write up made certain valid pronouncements about the ills plaguing the education industry in the most populous collection of blacks in the world. Some of the incontrovertible deductions are that Nigeria has never lacked sound, workable and well-intentioned policy on education neither has the country lacked practicable system of education. Sadiq traced the history of development plans, which he said, started with the 1966-1970 prescription of Gowon administration. The place and effects of the political plurality of Nigeria and its impacts on the administration and actualization of education in Nigeria did not escape the writer’s attention. He laid the foundation of the treatise by revisiting the concern of the current Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili’s, report on education reforms. The report, he affirmed, failed to address ‘the main problems facing education in Nigeria,’ although he said his conclusion was informed by certain commentaries and not on his personal perception of the report because he had not read it. Highlighting the influence, which the three major ethnic groups wield on the socio-political events in Nigeria, Sadiq examines the place of the religious peculiarity of the major ethnic groups on the system of education being experienced in Nigeria.
Tethering his argument to the thought system of the American philosopher, John Dewey, the conclusion is that, ‘ the new education plan should endeavor to create viable and enabling programs amidst the challenges of private vs public education, funding, instructional methods, research, and teacher education, citizenship education programs, and activities that have crucial sustaining the goals, objectives and aspirations of the nation.’ He has a word for the in-coming political ruler ship: ‘as the nation awaits the new president, political scientist, educators, and others continue to express concern about the role of education in providing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for Nigeria. I am optimistic we headed in the right direction.’
This two-pronged summation is a veritable proof that the major problem intriguing the education industry in Nigeria is not the absence of informed, rational, insightful and directional submissions on how to pull the system out of the abyss of rot in which it is currently wallowing. Rather, it is the lack of willingness on the part of the policy makers and those charged with the responsibility of implementing the policies. In order to address the gargantuan challenges facing the industry, one should first make certain salient clarifications, which are germane to an effective search for remedies to the maladies.
Education is just one of the many stages in the process of nation building. Therefore, whatever discussion there should be must be made from the point of view of the other levels of the system. The nature of education is such that the consequences of whatever knock and bashing it receives may take several years to manifest. Education is a life-long activity; the fact that one has left school does not imply that one has stopped learning. So, what exactly has gone amiss with education in Nigeria? Who, when, and under what circumstances has the rudder been rudely uprooted from the ship of Nigeria ‘s system of education?
The active operators of any system are human beings. In an operation that involves imparting knowledge, they are three interactive partners: the policy makers, the implementers, and the raw materials. In the case under scrutiny, the policy makers include the minister, the permanent secretary, the governor, the commissioner and every individual involved in policy formulation. The second leg of the tripod, the implementers, lecturers, the governing council, senate, and all the individuals and groups involved in interpreting policies. The raw materials are the students and those who directly or are the teachers, the instructors, the vice chancellors, the rectors, the technicians, the indirectly benefit from the activities of the second group, the implementers. The dynamism of the interaction among these operators suggests that there is no sharp division in the membership of the three groups: a member of a group may necessarily belong to another of the groups, depending on what role he plays at the point in time.
The 6-3-3-4 system of education and the one before it are all brilliant ideas. The problem has always been the approach to actualizing the rudiments of the system. How does the rot set in? Very simple: the head of government mandates a minister or in some cases, the minister feels he has a good idea he wants the federal cabinet to examine and ratify. Therefore, he presents the idea before the federal executive council. The idea may emanate from the national assembly, it is debated and passed and the president gives his nod by appending his signature.This is the formality of initiating and entrenching policies, the ways of life or the identities, the modus operandi. An integral part of policy formulation is determining the amount of cash needed for the execution of the policy and it is the responsibility of the sitting powers to ensure that enough cash is made available for the actualization of the policy. Very relevant to funding is monitoring .It means, when a policy is formulated, cash must be released for the actualization of the policy and it must be ensured that the cash is used for what it is released for. That, briefly, is the picture of an effective system.
However, is that the case in Nigeria? The answer is a capital no. The very day a policy is put in place, the people who championed the course of the policy are among the first set of people to circumvent the success of its implementation: they explore and exploit all the susceptibilities of the policy to their advantage thereby rendering its essence ludicrous.A practical instance is the system of education in Nigeria. In a write-up titled Beyond 6-3-3-4: A Recipe for the Education System in Nigeria, I painted a modest picture of the how as follows:
It is an understatement that the system of education being implemented in Nigeria today has lost the quality of 6-3-3-4. If not for a handful of Nigerians who, through a dint of handwork, still reflect the indices of being educated, we should be talking of a total collapse of the sector. A discourse that aims to unravel the root-cause of the decay that has laid a destructive siege on the system of education in the most populous black nation on earth should visit each stage of the process, examine it in order to see where the decline began to set in and solutions must be proffered in view of the gist of the discussion.
The starting point is the pre-primary education, which is given to the child between ages three and five. These schools, otherwise called nursery schools, are run like private businesses, which should yield bountiful profits. As a result, the founders ensure that they do everything in and out of the books to maximize profit at the expense of rendering service to the Nigerian nation by employing qualified teachers. Emphasis is laid on rote learning, the hapless youngsters are made to recite stereotype lines day in day out without any regard for correct pronunciation, grammaticality, etc.
The most unfortunate thing is that these highly impressionable kids believe and trust what their dullard teachers tell them than the correction the discerning observer wants to make. The ubiquitous refrain is “thez what Aunty said”. I have had the unfortunate experience of accosting some of these products on two levels-as nursery pupils and as students – what they display in regard with expressive ability at the kindergarten class is enough to make the Queen recoil with disgust. In the secondary or tertiary level, they are unmitigated disasters when given pen and asked to write what they have eloquently recited. Emboldened by their ‘successes with nursery schools, these education merchants have ventured into adding elementary school to their list of destructions. It is therefore common to see – Nursery and Primary School (government approved) scattered all over the place.
What happens in these primary schools in the area of curriculum implementation and interpretation is not far removed from the situation in the nursery schools. The miss- educated and miss trained products will definitely proceed to the secondary schools where a replica of the treatment they had at the mushrooming nursery and primary school with a difference, awaits them. The difference is that unlike, the suspicious quality of teaching staff, the teachers at the secondary school level can be presumed qualified (some may debunk this opinion as argument is wont to show later) but their enthusiasm for the job as a result of an amalgam of reasons is waning.
The salary structure in the public service does not favor teachers. In year 2004 in Ogun State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the state that produced giants like Obafemi Awolowo, Wole Soyinka, Tai Solarin, Professor Sodipo Olubi and the likes) the salary of a graduate teacher is less than 10,000 naira per month, about 66 dollars. If you consider the running inflation on food, accommodation, education, transportation, books, electricity, water consumption, and what have you, one will not wonder too far while teachers spend most of their contact hours searching for petty contracts, hawking underwears, all in the name of making ends meet.
In the tertiary schools, the case is that a typical pupil that went through the experience I have discussed in the nursery school will find his way to the primary school, from there he will go to the secondary school, and depending on the greed of his parents, he will be admitted into the university where he is wont to exhibit the tendency Professor Soji Amire described earlier. With the highly mouthed and flaunted no-nonsense academic climate in our tertiary schools, it has been conclusively recorded that our teachers in these schools are not insulated from the rot that has taken over the system of education in Nigeria. So it is not uncommon to see lecturers double as booksellers: it is always a case of “have you bought my book? Then make sure you register your matriculation number with me.”
Those executive students who can afford to replace the tires of their supervisor’s car have already graduated! Any individual who understands the workings of social and political networking in Nigeria understands that these teachers are indications of what happens in the other sectors of the economy. The argument is teachers do not have contracts to inflate, they are not privileged to appropriate fat salaries and allowances for themselves, they do not run impress accounts, and they do not have access to government cheques. So, because the teachers know that those who run government in Nigeria are worse than armed robbers and they are not likely to be apprehended, and where they are caught and convicted, the President of Nigeria is wont to grant them pardon, they also replicate these anti progressive tendencies of the elected rulership, using the instruments available to them. It is as simple as that.
It’s time people who are making noise about reforms understand that, right from the kindergarten class to the tertiary school, the situation is not cheering. An average Nigerian student of today cannot perform like his counterpart of the sixties and early seventies, and this is in spite of the availability of sound resources, which the proprietors of schools in Nigeria have graciously refused to provide. What sort of future leadership trait and disposition can one expect form a student who through the active collaboration of his parents, bribe his way through school?
When the sabotage has been put in place, the movers and shakers come in with private tertiary institutions for the simple reason that the quality in the public tertiary schools is dwindling. So, a sitting president and his vice will establish schools to cater for the interest of the people in their class, as if the product of these private schools are going to work in Mars or Neptune. Of course, the implementers are not deaf, they are not blind and with their impoverished background, the stage is set for them to unleash their own brand of sabotage on the system of education. A graphical demonstration of this pitiable state of our development is aptly demonstrated in a cartoon on page ten of a Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation of Tuesday, January 23, 2007. A young boy of about ten asked his father why he always insisted that he studied hard. While the father was pondering the question the young boy provided a leeway when he said, ‘while I can con, steal, grab, bully, and live happily ever after…just like our leaders.’
One may be tempted not to add to the message of the picture but a last almost insignificant observation will suffice: Education in Nigeria and in most part of Africa is in serious state of disrepair. Only a sincere, concerted attack on what is threatening the system can save it from a total collapse, if it were a physical structure. We are all going to suffer the repercussion of our negligence and indulgence; may the gods forbid it For Nigeria, I regard Sadiq’s prediction as a dream. The major problem of the decline in the quality of education in Nigeria is corruption with a capital ‘c,’ and, if it is not banished from our shores, there is no magic wand anyone can wave. If our prognosis is, the next thirteen years, then we need to examine our last thirteen years because, it is the past that informs the present and it is the present that shapes the future. A thoroughly perforated present cannot assure a sound future; the only condition for such assurance is thorough mending of the perforation.