The Nigerian educational sector, with particular reference to government funded schools, has suffered immensely in the last few decades as decreasing financial resources has been invested in it. Reduction in investment has led to a multitude of problems i.e decaying and grossly inadequate infrastructure, irregular retraining of teachers leading to failing academic output, obsolete facilities, late payment of already poor salaries and a general feeling of frustration and low morale throughout the sector. In spite of the obvious constraints of a rapidly expanding population which dwarfs that of most of our neighbouring West African nations, Lagos State has, amongst a few other states, been making a gargantuan effort to improve its educational sector. Even they have a way to go though.
Education is a concept that means different things to different people; often determined by the culture of each society amongst other equally important factors. The two educationists, Kathleen de Marrais and Margaret Lecompte outline a pragmatic purpose of education in their book, The Way School Works (1999). They listed the aim of education as follows: (1) Mathematical and reading skills. (2) Political purposes such as the assimilation of immigrants. (3) Economic purposes such as job preparation. (4) Social purposes such as the development of social and moral responsibility. There are also others who say the purpose of education is simply to equip an individual so he or she is able to provide for himself or herself and live a useful life; so the objection is autonomy. Still, some others believe it’s usefulness should be deduced from its ability to enable self actualization. The list is indeed endless.
The World Happiness Report of 2019 ranked 156 countries and that tiny Scandinavian nation, Finland, took the top spot for the second consecutive year. Several factors were used, including generosity, life expectancy and freedom. The Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index has also, for many years, ranked Finland amongst the most peaceful countries on earth, in addition to it having the highest quality of life. Lucky aren’t they? Well, if you agreed with that, you would be wrong. Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. They’re simply enjoying the fruits of very intentional, well thought out policies, implemented with scientific precision. It may interest you to know that they didn’t need to establish a Ministry of Happiness or any other such gimmick to achieve this. A hundred Ministries of Happiness can never in a million years bring even the faintest of smiles to the face of a hungry man.
For the better part of the last two decades, Finland’s educational system has been ranked as No. 1 in the world. Such a consistent feat doesn’t come by luck. And lest I forget, schooling there is essentially free; meaning, such an accolade has not been earned because they have the most expensive private schools. Anything but. Rather, they achieved this by adopting a three-fold approach to academic achievement. The said strategies include the following; (1) creating and applying a high quality academic curriculum, (2) providing equal access to education for all and (3) a focus to design an appropriate learning environment for both teacher and learner. Critics, have for a long time labeled the Nigerian curriculum an anachronistic one, which has little relevance in the modern world. To further illustrate this widening gap, while the Nigerian educational system is still struggling to provide the most basic space and facilities for the ease of learning, Finland has moved even further ahead in constantly seeking how to enhance learning, by adjusting the designs of its schools! Theirs is a constant search for excellence and perfection and without doubt, they are getting there.
The success of the Finnish educational system is the result of over four decades of sustained and concerted effort by the government in its policy that, “a small country has to promote equality in education by implementing a system that opens, as long an educational career as possible, to all who are motivated in spite of one’s socioeconomic status, gender or residence.” So success wasn’t something they just happened to stumble across overnight. It was planned and the policy has been meticulously executed.
Interestingly, in concert with John Dewey’s proposed direction as regarding education a century before, the hallmark of the Finnish educational system is a very deliberate focus on embedding in the school child, a spirit of collaboration rather than one of competition. It is no wonder, various studies discovered that the gap between Finland’s strongest and weakest students is the narrowest in any country’s educational system. The spirit of togetherness, unity and oneness is unmistakable. They say proof of a pudding’s taste is in the eating and I believe the results of these studies are evidence enough that the Fins were right to displace competition amongst pupils with collaboration.
The bedrock of any society is its educational system because that’s what will determine what sort of society their citizens will produce. Its capacity or lack of it, to nurture intellectual acumen and leadership traits, will determine the quality of policies future leaders will churn out and this sets it up as a most critical foundation. Lee Kuan Yew, the iconic founder of modern Singapore once pointed out how the quality of policies improved when he appointed better educated government Ministers. Quality education is key. The pivotal role it plays in determining the caliber and moral standing of both the future leaders and the general populace, from which the leaders will emerge, makes it perhaps the most critical pillar of excellence upon which other societal pillars must be built.
Changing the nation…one child 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.