Education in Nigeria: The great leap back
Similarly, the “generals” of the ragtag militant groups in the Niger Delta are almost exclusively uneducated or barely educated persons who suddenly discovered a quicker route to easy life. Before taking to the creeks, the leader of the most notorious gang in the Niger Delta infamously dropped out from the University of Calabar. Because of their lack of education or, if I may add, their “mis-education,” northern and southern militants do not place value of human life or civility.
It is a fact that education always has a sobering influence on the recipient. If the educational system is right, the more education an individual obtains, the more civic, sombre and humble he or she becomes. The absence of civic education in our “modern” primary education curricula is only part of the problem because of the tragedy of untrained and unmotivated teachers. The problem will remain even with improved curricula for the best curricula will be useless if teachers are untrained or if trained teachers are unpaid.
Decadence in our education sector is further manifested by the spectacle of pupils or students seating uncomfortably on the floor or perching on desks in public schools. We cannot expect such pupils to pay much attention to the teacher who also lacks the barest teaching aids. I do not know what to expect from students who are taught “alternatives to practical” in their science classes. Even so, I am reminded that we will be worse off without such “alternatives,” if there are no laboratories, workshops equipment and common reagents or electricity. Today we have graduates from “respectable” universities who did not have the “luxury” of using a flush-toilet throughout their four-year stay in the university. The reason? No water! Citizens from this type of educational background cannot be expected to be exemplary persons in the office or the community.
As many of us have since found out, the more education and knowledge one acquires, the more he or she is humbled by the fact that there is so much more to know. Knowledge is actually the power to know more. Education is the medium that turns the human being into a citizen. The summary of my submission here is that the failure of our educational system is largely responsible for our insecurity. Our neglect of the educational sector has led to the graduation of misfits and illiterates from our primary and secondary schools. To these we may add the myriads of unskilled, unemployable and antisocial outputs from our numerous institutions of higher education.
Following from my argument above, poverty may be conceived as a clear corollary of poor education. A poorly educated citizenry is automatically and directly afflicted by poverty in all its manifestations. Irrespective of, howsoever, we define poverty, education is ultimately implicated. Modern nation state is largely a creation of education, and the economy is inexplicably stunted by poor education. The creativity and innovation expected from a properly educated work force are lost. As a result, the economy cannot grow and unemployment blossoms. And with that, poverty and insecurity loom large.
It is now a known fact nations that pay attention to education transit into development, countries that do not wallow in poverty and ascription. Verily, the modern world is now a dichotomy between the rich (developed) and poor (underdeveloped) countries, a dichotomy determined by how seriously education is taken. With strong emphasis on education, the rich countries leap forward with innovations in science and technology, while the poor ones are preoccupied with ethnocentrism, indigeneship, traditional rulers and dubious chieftaincy and bogus religious titles. Chiefs suddenly become “high” while society degenerates.
Material poverty in poor countries has ramified into a certain psychological or moral poverty whereby the atavistic elite take the centre stage and our common patrimony is privately appropriated openly. Because of our neglect of education, we are still inflicted with a citizenry that depends on “prophet” Joshua to explain why a wayward girl will elope with a man. Under the watch of a legion of regulatory authorities, our federally funded universities have degenerated into ethnic enclaves where indigeneship is now the principal criterion for selecting a Vice Chancellor, not scholastic erudition and preeminence. This is the ultimate and logical extension of the neglect of our education sector.
The same atavistic elite, which dominates our civic space has just declared that Wole Soyinka is not an indigene of Lagos State and is therefore unfit to hold a largely honorary appointment. These are the same forces which, some years ago, summarily deported the Majority Leader of the Borno House of Assembly, Alhaji Shugaba Darman, to Chad simply because he believed in a different political cause. Now, these people have informed us that the study of history is one of the causes of our underdevelopment! Therefore, we must forget our history.
Note also the puerility of their incomprehensible back-to-agriculture advocacy as the panacea for unemployment. In the 21stcentury, they still do not know that reduction in the proportion of the workforce in agriculture is an irreversible trend in modernity. Indeed, there is little doubt that the fallout of the mental poverty of our elite is graver than the more apparent material poverty of society.
In conclusion, Nigeria should take a cue from historical examples, which unmistakably show that investment in education yields more dividends than investment in anything and everything else. The experience of all newly industrialized countries points to the fact that education holds the key to the future in the modern world. Every so often, we point incredulous fingers at Cuba. That country is a most spectacular example of how priority to education can positively affect the survival of a nation. For the avoidance of doubt, the Cuban success story is not about Fidel Castro’s communism, which was only a tool of mobilization. The key was the priority given to education.
Right here in Nigeria, even the village farmer is already sold on the importance of education in the modern world. His first priority is the education of his children and his biggest challenge is school fees. He knows the benefits of education. The earlier the country understands that, the better for us. Decades of tinkering with the Washington Consensus on education has led Nigeria to a dead end. Rather than baulk from the imperative of funding education or ship out public responsibilities to the private sector, we must remind our leaders that another global organization, UNESCO, has continually advocated for increased public expenditure in education. Between the Washington Consensus and UNESCO, the new Nigerian leadership must now take a decision.
• Prof. Okolocha, is visiting Professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Abuja.
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