Re-educate the miseducated Nigerian

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Abraham Lincoln in that famous letter to his son’s teacher implored: “Teach him if you can the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.” Schools ought to expand learners’ intellectual horizons, grow their imaginative capacities and enrich them with ideas for solutions to human problems. But does the Nigerian student get that much?

Many a parent is either unsure of what an ideal school is, or too poor to afford a quality education. Choice of schools is often based on popular opinion. Some grudgingly accept the available institution because the desirable school is inaccessible. And there are tutors who stumbled into education just for the pay cheque, without any conviction in the calling of teaching. That leaves learners high and dry.

Teachers in the public school system are failing so woefully in their responsibilities, becoming agents of miseducation. Yet one must not fail to acknowledge those of our public school teachers who are well-trained and doing their jobs well. The nefarious practices of miseducators in our public schools are obvious, from zero commitment to corrupt practices. Politicians swell the rot in our school system when they get teachers recruited for selfish gains rather than merit. How about government regulators more concerned about squeezing money out of school operators than enforcing best practices? An appalling sight it was when would-be teachers for employment into secondary schools could not answer simple questions in their recruitment aptitude test except by some form of solicited assistance. So what will they teach our schoolchildren when employed?

Without prejudice to private school educators who are moulding young lives correctly, there are schools in the private sector who can only afford our children half an education. High fees and catchy advertisements notwithstanding, and with poor remuneration of teachers to boot, many private institutions fail in teaching our kids how to think and inculcating in them basic life skills.

We can begin a transformation process wherein operators in the educational system insist on doing the right thing. One, can we have a system that recruits teachers on the basis of what they can do rather than who they know? Tall order it seems in a country owned by few people. We need teachers who see their profession as an obligation, rather than a meal ticket or place of rest; teachers who are continuously learning and perpetually improving themselves; teachers who score high on values such as integrity, diligence, selflessness and studiousness. To identify or produce such teachers, managers of our educational system must be people of integrity themselves. It’s hard to insist on producing great educators if you were a corrupt teacher before your elevation to policy-making level.

Next, students must understand the mess they are in and get themselves out. Too many students think that one who gives them assistance by malpractice in exams is helping them. Too bad! And because they are always expecting help to come during tests, they don’t go the extra mile to learn what should be learnt before examinations. But Dear Student, understand that “expo” is help that helps you not to use your brain, and the more you get that help, the more your intellect loses its opportunity to develop. Soon, your innate ability to think for yourself is deadened.

Learners must also understand that they are in school not merely to pass exams and get certificates. They should get motivated to acquire as much knowledge as possible, even when they do not see any immediate use for what is being learnt. In that way, they get intellectually rich and ready to tackle challenges of life.

A proper school should teach our children values. But that is not as easy as it sounds. When teachers ask their students for sex, take bribes from them or display immoral behaviour in the presence of those under their tutelage, students are in real trouble. Yet we can, or we should try to repair the damage through proper education. Abraham Lincoln understood that honesty is worth all the time of his son’s teacher, so he wrote, “Teach him if you can that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. In school, teacher, it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose, and enjoy winning when he does win. And beyond the ephemeral, he advised: “Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.”

Many Nigerian students fail to learn what they ought for fear of making mistakes. They must be taught resilience in the face of failure, the dignity in losing gracefully, honesty no matter what odds, and faith in their Creator.

Faith in God is a vital value that our young ones should learn in school. A lot of institutions claim to be Christian or mission schools, but fail to inculcate Godliness in our children. Parents take care to select a good school, no matter how expensive. One wishes they could also take pains to put their wards under Godly teachers. All the Moral Instruction and Civic Education in this world will not arrest the crisis of decadence in our nation. Only God can. It is a basic necessity for our children to be brought to the knowledge of Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. It is not mere teachers of Christian Religious Knowledge that will do this, but teachers who themselves have been saved by God from their lives of sin.

Our young ones should be taught to think, and not just to memorize certain knowledge by rote. Beyond teaching a child to memorize the fact that “Biology is the study of life”, he should be made to see that life in action. Teachers can demystify Mathematics, by showing not just that 3 plus 3 equals 6, but that the three pieces of chalk, plus three pencils on the teacher’s table, equals 6 writing materials. They should learn to question what the experts (including their teachers) say and to come up with their own explanations of phenomena.

Attitude is another matter we should rejig in our pedagogy. It is not uncommon to see students approach each new problem with a mindset that “gosh! This is going to be too hard”. It gets even more obnoxious when they think only in terms of negatives: about what cannot be done or why a new idea will fail. Schools must teach our children to think only of what is good about life and that every problem has a solution if one can only think deeply enough. Teachers should knock the cannots out of their pupils’ brains, and replace them with can-do. Whoever told them that Nigeria is hell, while heaven always exists overseas? Teachers should get our kids out of such illusions.

Assignment questions should not only be such that one can simply download answers from a textbook or online. They should be life application questions that challenge students to think up solutions of their own or create something new. Of what use is emphasis on the history of computer when there are more important issues to teach and practice, such as how to develop a program or solving an accounting problem using a computer application?

Policy-makers, put your thinking caps on and stop selling the future of our children for political gains; teachers, brace up! Your profession is a divine assignment; students, accept nothing less than the best possible in your academic endeavour; parents, do all that’s needful to give your wards an education that trains correctly the heart, mind, body and soul.
Esara wrote from Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State.

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