Teaching and Learning

Restructure Education to Restructure the Nation

By: Akínpѐlú Yūsuf
That no nation ascends the ladder of development by building a less educated population is the truth. That the growth of every nation is not a subject of her population figure or land area is a fact. In fact, scratch that. High numerical count and spatial superfluity amount to nothing if key institutions they house are not strengthened. And one institution has shown to be the lifeblood of every other institution. The educational institution is that one institution. Talk of building an economically robust nation or a peaceful nation and even a well-governed nation, the educational institution is, no doubt, the perfect building brick. National growth and development are elements that thrive when fuelled with an excellent educational system. This is no baseless assumption; it is factual conclusion.
For instance, 15 out of the 20 countries with the best educational systems in the world are equally among the 20 countries ranked highest on the 2016 Human Development Index. Eight of out of these same countries are among the top 20 nations in the world with the highest Gross Domestic Product. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/08/nigeria-still-ranked-152nd-2016-human-development-index-undp/ Also, there is a strong correlation between education and peacefulness. 12 out of the 20 most peaceful countries on the 2017 Global Peace Index as rated by the Institute for Economics and Peace invest heavily in education. This is not all.
Different nations of the world, at one time or the other, which have deliberately steered the wheel of education to the fast lane, have experienced unprecedented turnaround in their histories. Education was the magic wand that transformed Lenin’s 1917 Russia from an unbelievably, fantastically backward country, poverty stricken and half wild into one of the world’s most technologically developed country. The Midas touch of education also transformed Emperor Hirohito’s 1947 Japan into the third most industrialized nations in the world. So, without it, we can emphatically say that man is a mere vestigial element to not just himself but to the environment that houses him.
Bringing this to bear made the then Singaporean Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, express his belief that, ‘a nation’s wealth in the 21st century will depend on the capacity of its people to learn’. He went further to state that, ‘thinking schools represented a vision of a school system that can develop creative thinking skills, lifelong learning passion and nationalistic commitment in the young. (A) learning nation is a vision of learning as a national culture, where creativity and innovation flourish at every level of society’
Thus, because the nation has become a hotbed of ineptness, all hands must be on deck to massage the erratic joints of the system for only with them can we be lifted from the quicksand of redundancy to the mountaintop of relevancy. And like a popular maxim states, nemo dat quod habet (no one can give that which he does not have), it becomes incumbent on us as a nation to rescue our ailing educational system to give the citizenry an enabling environment to thrive politically, economically, socio-culturally and what have you.
But, to say something is wrong with education in the nation is an understatement. Everything is wrong with it. So, at this time of economic somersault, security depletion and political instability, the least we can do is to ask questions. We have to keep challenging the status quo, questioning authorities and changing the route we have toured in our journey so far. Because it was Pa Einstein who correctly submitted that insanity is doing same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In fact, dwelling on an unyielding strategy for long and hoping to get a dissimilar result is like planting bitter leaf and expecting to harvest rose. Nothing can be more preposterous.
From the foregoing education, being the lifeblood of every sector, there is need for the educational sector to have continuous supply of oxygen; oxygen in terms of funding, orientation, reformation, infrastructure. And the questions we dare ask are what should our education be like for it to meet global standard? Where do we stand? Why are we deeply rooted in the murky water of rote learning? How did we get into this cesspool of academic doldrums? We need to keep asking ourselves. We must never stop questing – because there in our questions lie the answers to our cries.
In saner climes, the best hands are employed to teach students. In Finland, for instance, currently ranked by World Economic Forum second most educated country in the world, teachers are selected from the top ten percent of the country’s graduates, and are required to earn a master’s degree in education. It is, however, a sour sorry story in Nigeria. In a state like Zamfara, 64.05% of teachers are not qualified to teach; and qualified-teacher-to-pupil-ratio is 91:1. What is here is not any different from other parts of the country. And this explains why education in the country is in quagmire, it tells us why 59.6% of the most populous black nation is illiterate.
As the popular saying “like teacher, like students” often goes, students are mirror reflection of who teach them. So competent teachers breed competent learners and vice versa. At primary school level, for instance, the National Policy on Education (2004) mandates the National Certificate Education (NCE) as the minimum teaching qualification. Yet, only a few complies with this directive; that’s why the result has continued to be catastrophic. Judging from this, it tells us one thing: for schools to churn out minds that truly know, checking teachers’ qualification must be a priority.
Having qualified teachers is a means to up the ante of education but not the destination. We also need to meet their demands, cater for their welfare and sustain their interest in working efficiently. A case of the current ASUU strike is one in too many. With past history of long term industrial actions of three to six months one would wonder how long this would be and imagine what have become of the students in Nigerian universities in the two weeks of the strike so far. No serious nation goes to sleep with its future under threat.
In addition, our institutions of learning, particularly the public ones at all level, need to be given financial shots in the arm. Continuous flout of the “26% budgetary allocation to education” recommendation by the UNESCO is a real dent in the system. It is sad to say that this year a terribly meagre 7.4% is all the educational sector has. Yet schools keep proliferating by the day. What we should be after should not be number of schools we have in the country but rather how standard are the ones we have. And this can be done by earmarking sufficient funds to the sector; spending the right amount on the right project; and focusing on infrastructural and human development with the funds.
Rwanda, a tiny east African country, understands this well as government in the country have pulled the bull by the horn by investing ‘hugely in expanding capacity and teaching infrastructure at public schools across the country; introduced the school feeding programme and abolished school fees.’ Currently in Rwanda, government-owned schools have become affordable, preferable and reliable. http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/rwanda/Business/Improved-public-schools-see-private-academies-close-down/1433224-4064492-dlujesz/index.html It took a twelve-year basic education policy in getting this underway. But the poser is: are we ready to make a move?
It has been submitted that six years in primary school is to acquire proficiency in literacy and numeracy; six years in secondary school is meant to impart introductory knowledge in the Sciences, Arts and Technology as well as reduce unemployment by providing sellable and vocational skills; and university is to refine a readymade product for market consumption, a mind that is fully aware of his world and independent of the choice he makes. These are priorities that should be set at every level of education in the country. Rather than aiming at these, schools have different things in mind. The repercussion of neglecting this is manifest in the grievous unrest befuddling the nation. So we need to redirect our direction away from this path of endemic doom to the path of epistemic bloom.
In the students’ circle, it is not hard to hear students announce their hatred for schooling. This explains why many a student wishes for strike. And each time they get it, it is always a feeling of ecstasy. In truth, they may not be totally blamed. Learning in our institutions is less attractive and crude. Learning should not a boring, rigid system. It should give room for innovations and creativity not stagnation in old models. Or would someone explain why lecturers still use their undergraduate notes as lecture notes? Or why did the Kaduna state government decide to build 34 lavatories in a school with only 3 classrooms and about 400 pupils? In most Nigerian universities, Computer Science students still study FORTRAN, a programme last used in the late nineties. Why? If we truly seek a change, we need to update our system and adopt trending innovations in the world of learning.
To add, recently, the highway of social media was filled with dust when the picture of the best graduating student in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who was to receive a sum of ten Thousand Naira, crept to the scene. http://www.currentnewsnow.com/outrage-see-unn-best-graduating-student-received-gtb-causes-stir-online/. When compared to twenty-five million naira which was Efe’s lot as the winner of Big Brother Naija, the question ‘is education worth it?’ became flyovers with which every commuter on the highway would not stop using. This clearly shows what we cherish as a people. We rank frivolous antics above intellectual exploits; and we bemoan surging of crime in the society? We need not to. We caused it. To salvage our situation from this savage mind-set, we must ensure students are entitled to financial motivation. We should let their learning power be their earning power. Periodic stipends would do. Maimonides captured it all well by asserting that when you “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; [when] you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
To end, everything boils down to a simple logic. With education restructured and available to all and sundry comes a better nation whose citizens have the tools to join hands in building restructured a nation. With improved standard of education comes population of people whose minds are free from ignorance of perpetrating evil, who are competent and purposefully driven to bring the economy back on track by creating jobs, who are through bred leaders that would lead their nation away from where it is to where it should be. But this is no wishful thinking; it requires a purposeful rethinking. It is just what Benjamin Disraeli, the first earl of Beaconsfield and one-time British Prime Minister, correctly announced as, “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.”

About the author

Akeem Alao

Akeem Alao trained as a language teacher. He graduated from Adeniran Ogunsanya college of Education where he studied English/Yoruba Languages and Ekiti State University where he obtained a degree in English Education.

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