NIGERIA’s poor state of education received a bashing from the Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, at an event to mark the 90th anniversary of Government College, Ibadan. The playwright, one of the college’s distinguished alumni, embittered by the general decadence and the fear that the school has now become a ghost of its old self, rightly reasoned that Nigeria is in trouble.
“Let me not kid you; it is horrifying,” Soyinka said. GCI was founded along with Government College, Umuahia and Government College, Zaria, by the colonial government in 1929. Together with King’s College, set up two decades earlier in Lagos, they became part of the touchstone of secondary education in Nigeria. These colleges groomed those who later became the country’s leaders in the academia, public service and corporate world.
But the once elite GCI is so degenerate now that its 2,000 students have only 24 teachers, typifying the nationwide rot. It is an unacceptable teachers’ strength which the old boys had to complement by employing 59 new teachers. The football field is being fixed by another old boy, says Wale Babalakin, the president of GCI Old Boys’ Association. He said the old boys had spent N500 million to rehabilitate two hostels. The fence and internal roads have also been rehabilitated by two old boys. Yet, more work remains, an agonising scenario encapsulated in Babalakin’s declaration that the college had fallen into disrepair.
Sadly, the situation is messier in less privileged colleges. It is for this reason that Soyinka endorsed the initiative of building model schools – well-equipped to entrench this sense of rebirth for the good of the students and the larger society.
However, where the basic structure or foundation is in a systemic breakdown, with the intolerable quality of primary school education, secondary and tertiary levels, invariably, cannot be an exception. Central to all this is the failure of governance at all levels, exemplified in non-recognition of the primacy of education as the fulcrum of development. This is why many basic school leavers can neither read nor write; whereas, before 1960, Standard Six Certificate holders formed the core of the civil service and teaching profession. They also studied privately to obtain their Ordinary and Advanced levels Cambridge school certificates and London university degrees.
The present anarchic outlook has given rise to calls for a declaration of a state of emergency in education. This is apropos. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who is not oblivious of the rot, should in liaison with the states, fashion a strategy to take the bull by the horns. Just last week, the minister confessed: “Pupils in schools are not learning anything because of teacher quality and most of these teachers are political appointees.”
Much earlier, UNESCO in 2014, had ranked Nigeria among the 37 countries where “poor quality is holding back learning.” As a result, whatever investment – which the body put at $129 billion worldwide annually – made by such countries is wasted.
Leadership is critical in changing this abysmal narrative to giving education priority attention. There are reports of teachers failing tests meant for primary four pupils in some states; and the organised labour ill-advisedly acting in solidarity with teachers to block governments’ moves to weed out such misfits. The classroom should not be a place for untrained teachers who cannot read texts or materials meant for pupils as was the case in Sokoto State, which the Universal Basic Education Commission revealed in 2012. Nationwide, many pupils sit on bare floor to learn – no desks and seats; school rooftops are blown off. Proper learning can never take place in such an environment.
Solutions should be found to why as much as N84 billion UBEC funds meant for the Federal Government to assist the states to rehabilitate their basic schools was uncollected as of September 2018. Governors of the affected states who avoid due processes involved in accessing and spending the money are unfit for their offices as, by so doing, they are destroying the future of pupils in their states.
Now is the time for Nigeria to embrace the United Nations initiative of “Education First,” launched in 2012 by its erstwhile Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. The campaign ensures “that every child goes to school, receives quality education and imbibes values of global citizenship.”
Planning and implementation strategies are crucial in addressing the systemic breakdown of basic education. No educational system rises above the quality of its teachers. Many schools are bereft of mathematics and physics teachers – two key subjects in laying the foundation for science and technology. Therefore, huge investment should be made in teacher-education and retraining. School supervision and inspection should return to the system.
Nigeria missed its way when it scrapped technical colleges, hitherto part of its school system up to the 1970s. With a 23 per cent unemployment rate, it needs a school curriculum with emphasis on skills acquisition for job creation. But a technical education where pupils are taught computer on the chalkboard, and training, instructional materials and teachers are lacking is a non-starter. Other deficiencies such as shortage of classrooms, science laboratories, libraries and, above all, inadequate wages, are huge drawbacks – all catalysed by corruption.
Certainly, the country cannot reinvent the wheel. Countries in Europe and Asia provide models for us. Japan spends $8,748, per pupil at elementary level with its school system focused on pupils solving problems they had not experienced before. In Germany, secondary school leavers not bright enough for higher education apply first for apprenticeship in an industry, which thereafter enrols them in vocational schools for specific skills programme. The government finances and supervises in conjunction with trade unions. Through this scheme, employment is guaranteed after training.
The United States has soared through such a knowledge-based education system. The Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates; Facebook whizz-kid; Mark Zukerberg; and the Apple computer founder, the late Steve Jobs, geniuses of the computer age with no university degrees, because of the solid foundation of learning in the US. This evidence is enough for Nigeria to think seriously about where it messed up her once functional education and act fast to remedy it.
Culled From Punch Newspaper