According to George Kneller, education has two senses. One is broad and the other is both narrow and technical. He says that in it’s broad sense, “education refers to acts or experiences that have a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual”, which implies education is a continuous process that never stops and which actually shapes our entire being. The narrow and technical sense he calls, “the process by which any society, through schools, colleges, universities and other institutions deliberately transmits its cultural heritage i.e it’s accumulated knowledge, values and skills from one generation to another”. I will add to this by saying education brings development in all ramifications to society through a process which not only conduces holistic development of the individual but also raises solution providers for the society.
I believe now more than ever that our educational system needs a complete overhaul if we desire to evolve a more functional society; a new Nigeria. There is no easy way of saying this. The school curriculum is completely outdated, ineffective and altogether moribund, if I may use that term. If we leave it as it is, it will continue to lead us nowhere. It is difficult to decipher the purpose it is supposed to serve. What evidence do we have that it is working? Is our society the better for it or is the Nigerian child better equipped by it? The National Policy of Education of Nigeria (1981) outlines the national objectives, which also double as the philosophy of Nigerian education. These objectives summarize the worldview which the National educational policy is meant to project and they are as follows:
(i) A free and democratic society
(ii) A just and egalitarian society
(iii) A united, strong and self-reliant nation
(iv) A great and dynamic economy
(v) A land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens.
How many of these objectives have come close to being met? We live in a society where protest against police brutality led to the EndSARS agitation, which tragic and brutal end ironically vindicated the genuine protesters angst in the first place; a society where laws appear to apply to different people differently leading to a general sense of injustice among the populace; a society which appears to gravitate ever closer to the precipice of disintegration with different ethic groups sprouting up with separatist clamourings; a society which can rightfully boast of some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the world but which also since the year 2019, holds the unenviable record of being the poverty capital of the world with almost half of it’s 200m population living in extreme poverty; a society where a large number of it’s youthful population leave it’s shores in desperate search of (hope) greener pastures on a daily basis and where the unemployment rate hit an unimaginable 33.3% in March 2021. I will leave you to assess how well the objectives of the National Policy of Education have been met.
Having returned to Nigeria 26 years ago (after my 20 years sojourn to the United Kingdom where I undertook 90% of my schooling) where parents proudly boast to friends and foe alike, that their child has begun school at the age of 2, it fascinates me to learn of a society where children don’t enroll at school till the age of 7; where senseless cramming is totally discouraged and the pupils are not subjected to any standardized test until they reach the age of 16. Despite this, the heavens haven’t fallen and in fact the Finnish society is more prosperous now than ever.
The Nigerian education sector has never had it so bad; especially the government funded institutions. Inadequate funding which has led to poor and demoralizing conditions for teachers and lecturers, drastic cut in educational budgetary allocation, inadequate basic and essential facilities, reformation of a new and disadvantageous pension scheme and discontinuation of Federal Government Scholarship and Bursary Awards Schemes have all contributed to the very low morale that currently pervades our educational system. Government’s inability to honour agreements with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has also led to incessant strikes and students spending up to six years to complete a four years degree program.
According to G.E Azenabor in his paper, Sustainability of University Education (2005), the genesis of the poor funding of universities in particular can be traced back to government’s policy to abolish tuition fees in universities in 1977. The subsequent increase in the number of universities rendered inadequate the available resources and since then, the government universities have suffered from neglect and quite naturally the staff, whose professional and personal needs are not being sufficiently met have become demotivated. As a result, performance and output has and will continue to suffer. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this has also led to institutions churning out graduates who are not worth their salt and the biggest loser is society itself. Of course, some will argue that poor funding of government institutions has more to do with misplaced priorities while others will cite corruption. All may be right.
If the Federal Government has any plans to revamp our educational system and establish centres of excellence, there are a couple of changes they will need to make. First, is the inequitable university admissions policy which after reserving 45% of places for those who qualify on merit; 45% of places to indigenes of the state where the institution is located – both laudable criteria – it then goes on to cede preference for the remaining 10% of places to indigenes of what it calls Educationally Less Developed States. The sin is not in giving these states justifiable consideration but in applying a lower cut-off mark to candidates from these states. The rationale given is to prevent a geographically uneven development of education in the country. On the surface this may not sound too unreasonable but one then needs to ask why these states remain educationally backward compared to others? One may also find himself wondering why states who have the foresight to appreciate the importance of education and commit huge resources to it in pursuit of excellence should now, for all intents and purposes, be “punished” for it. So a student from a more educationally advanced state who scores a fantastic 300 out of 400 marks in the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam can be rejected while a candidate who scores as low as 190 marks or less in the same exam could be offered admission. This singular policy has caused a lot of unease in the system, largely because many people feel some of the country’s best and brightest are being systematically disenfranchised and for a Third Word Country grappling with so many developmental and economic issues, this shortsighted policy amounts to us shooting ourselves in the foot. While other countries look to identify and groom their most promising candidates, we are denying ours their rightful opportunities and we still wonder why we’re not making progress. It’s tragic.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA. Author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.