Religion: Links to academic decay in Nigerian universities
It is widely known that religious organisations have been at the forefront of building and managing schools, colleges and universities.
Christian missionaries introduced the formal education system to Nigeria while their Islamic counterparts have established several schools and other institutions of learning.
In fact, today over 80 per cent of the private schools in the country are owned or managed by mainly Christian and Islamic religious individuals or groups.
However, little attention has been paid to the negative effects of religion on the educational system especially the fact that religion undermines academic programmes.
Religious involvement in education has not always translated into academic excellence.
In fact, in many cases, religious teachings and practices are conducted in ways that obstruct learning and acquisition of knowledge.
Recently, students from some universities across Nigeria responded to interview questions on the state of religion and free thought on the campuses.
According to one student, campus religiosity had become a nuisance to the environment. She said: Hmmm! religion in my school is at another level.
Almost everyone is religious or at least believes in the existence of some imaginary beings controlling the universe.
From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day, my faculty, in fact, is the noisiest place on earth as all the classes are taken over by the different Christian fellowships.
The mosque behind the faculty building won’t give one a chance either, with their loudspeakers.
You will find no place to study and can hardly concentrate on anything.
There is at least one mosque beside every single building in the school, including the administrative block.
Actually, universities have sections in their premises where places of worship could be constructed.
So one wonders why the university authorities have refused to act and take steps to sanitise the place and restore some order.
University authorities should be able to demarcate and ensure a separation between prayer and study/reading/lecture halls.
But a student pointed out that such a measure could not be taken because many university lecturers were usually behind these prayer meetings.
A student at a university in Enugu said: …all official social events begin and end with prayer including the inaugural lecture of the Faculty of Applied Natural Sciences. The lecturers encourage students to pray to God to help them pass their courses and they give religion-flavored lectures.
In an elective course on genetics that I did in my first year, the lecturer, after teaching outdated 1980s research work that regarded homosexuality as a genetic aberration went ahead to tell us that the mind was like a garden.
If you keep it clean, clean stuff will grow in it, if not, rubbish will grow in it and went ahead to state how this could be overcome by sheer will and the help of the spirit.
So many university lecturers mixed their teaching with religious preaching. They evangelise the students during the lectures and seminars.
According to one student: It’s sad to note that majority of our scholars and academicians are under the massive spell of religious conformity. Professors who are paid to transmit scientific knowledge are rather busy preaching to students in order to advance their religious agenda.
In the same vein, another student linked the high religiosity among students to the university management: The school management itself is deeply religious and virtually all policies, including employment and admission, are carried out with religious bias.
Almost all the professors in my department are pastors, bishops, deacons etc. At least one of them owned a church.
They leave no chance for critical thinking, and proselytize at any given time.. So what has been going on in the universities is a gradual religionisation of the campuses and a campusisation of religion.
Religion is slowing taking over the academic space, and eroding the culture of learning and intellectual inquiry in these places.
Not surprisingly, campus religiosity has been linked to noise pollution.
In fact, some students observed that the noise that emanated from students religious observance could not allow others to adequately prepare for their examinations: One student said: It’s now time for examinations and on stepping inside the school in the evening, you’d think it’s a crusade ground.
The noise from the prayer grounds won’t even let students who have come to study understand anything.
So many students end up not performing well in their examinations and in other academic engagements.
Despite the high level of religiosity on campuses, some students said there was a future for free thought or atheism in the universities.
Free thought, they noted, could help improve the quality of teaching and learning on campuses.
For instance, some noted that atheism could help change the attitude of students and lecturers to learning.
As one student noted: Atheism would go a long way in at least raising the consciousness of the lecturers.
They need to be reminded that they are academics, not clerics and that they are in the universities to study and research not to pray, to teach and impart knowledge, not to preach religion. Also, I think students should start taking hold of their destinies.
A student pointed out that in one university in Enugu students used to say: “My present course is not important. God already knows my future and what I will be.”
Whilst others say: After all, everyone is going to school.
It’s only God that determines who will get what: It is not how many hours you spend in the night class that matters”. Religion is used to sanctify lack of academic diligence and intellectual laziness.
Students noted that this kind of reasoning was rampant and that the spread of atheistic viewpoints would at least mean fewer people subscribing to this mediocre way of thinking otherwise the university would keep producing half-baked graduates.
Nigeria has indeed been producing low-quality graduates and Nigerian universities are ranked low globally.
But spreading the value of free thought on campuses is fraught with risks because the intense religious climate makes it very challenging for students who are atheists or freethinkers to come out.
One student explained his own predicament: Anytime I made myself known to anyone that I am no longer a sheep to any imaginary shepherd, and that I no longer have time for church activities, they look at me with massive disbelief.
They imagined that I had been initiated into some sort of cult.
For a university full of intellectuals in diverse fields of knowledge, in this second decade of the 21st century to be this religious is unbelievable!
In fact, I stand the risk of not graduating if my supervisor finds out about my views concerning religion.
I hope nobody from my department gets to read this.
This statement testifies to how campus religiosity has made freethinking dangerous.
Another university student observed: Free-thought, specifically atheism, perhaps will require a lot of efforts to take roots here.
Everywhere I mention or hint at it, there is a reaction and it is usually unpleasant, like when some disinfectant is applied to a wound.
And like in that analogy, free-thought is a much-needed panacea in these parts.”
According to this student, with the spread free-thought, the religious bias in recruitment and promotion of persons will drastically reduce.
Only academicians and administrators with the know-how will be put in their employed instead of this ‘my church member’ racketeering going on in the system.
And then we will “have better lecturers, a better management setup, and an all-around better academic institution. Furthermore, a student in Katsina also struck a note of cautious hope and optimism.”
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