Nigerian Education at 60: We are Only Just Beginning the Journey
By Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa
INFOMEDIA – Everyone accepts the view that education is imperative to the development of an individual, the nation, and the entire global community. Some who accept this pay lip service to it, present addresses of hope and promises but return to their base to do nothing or very little to advance the cause of education that is most critical for the survival of the individual and society.
There are some who actively invest heavily in education with expectations that the investment will yield the benefits for the contemporary and future generations. The decision of The Guardian to encourage a discourse on the past efforts in the education sector is commendable. It is hoped that such an effort will help to identify the issues that have aided or discouraged educational development and led to frustrations and disappointments.
The discourse will also help to identify areas of strength and weaknesses so that the present generation will learn lessons from the history of education. It is hoped that this presentation would encourage readers to search for books and articles that have addressed this subject in a more robust manner and therefore join in the search for the charting a new course for the education of the century.
There is a point of view that Nigeria should acknowledge and hopefully appreciate the strides made in the education sector since Independence. For example, it has to be noted that the educational curriculum has been reviewed and indigenous knowledge has been brought into the preparation of the future generation.
We are no longer just satisfied with learning about the virgin Queen Elizabeth the first and her friends in the court. Nor are we limited to knowing about how Europe became great and extended its domination to Africa and beyond during the Scramble and subsequent partition of Africa.
Today our students are taught about the indigenous value of respect, sacrifice, and courage. We are reminded of the fierce battles for independence by patriots like Jaja of Opobo who suffered deportation and death while maintaining the integrity of the Africans to take control of its trade.
In schools, the children are no longer taught that the Scotsman, Mungo Park, “discovered” the River Niger but are encouraged to learn that it was the people who had lived around the banks of the River long before the parents of Mungo Park were born that discovered the adventurer. Progress has also been made in the areas of the development of national languages.
The curriculum at all levels of education now contains aspects of traditional medicine, traditional religion, traditional art, traditional music, traditional economy, and traditional methods of farming and cultivation of the soil. In a way therefore we can conclude that Nigeria has recorded much success in the education sector.
It is important to note that education was given considerable attention because of its importance as the wealth of the country and the hope of its sustainable future. This was why Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria, invited Lord Ashby to assist with the planning of the post-secondary education programmes in the country.
That careful planning gave birth to the University of Lagos, among other innovations. It is for the same reason that Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced the universal primary education programme that has continued to be an asset to the development of the Western Region of Nigeria.
All three regional Premiers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, introduced regional universities that were encouraged to develop the vision for the best and brightest human resource capital for the country, while pre-university education was a pride to behold.
Shehu Shagari introduced elements of mass education including the return of the mass education campaign and the Open University system. The return to democratic rule under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo brought a vibrancy that included the launch of the Universal Basic Education programme for the country. President Jonathan had also accommodated the almajiris in his inclusive education programme.
The idea was to ensure that every Nigerian had access to educational provision as a fundamental right. Educated citizens would always be in a good position to contribute to ideas and activities of governance and development while the illiterate would always remain a stumbling block because of the ignorance displayed.
It has been shown that mass literacy has the capacity to attract business, reduce the noise level in the society, work against the promotion of rumours and fake news and encourage good discussion of party manifestos and policy documents.
Yet there are other views that contend that the fortunes of the education sector Nigeria have been adversely affected by many factors, one of which has been the coming of the military which doubted the integrity of the intellectual class. It is therefore not surprising that some of the military heads of state had been indifferent to the prolonged strikes and industrial actions by the universities.
Staff welfare was ignored and the take-home wages and salaries of staff could no longer take the staff home. It has also been noted by this school of thought that policymakers have been idle and not proactive to the demands of the changing society with new skills required and new methods of approach to teaching and learning.
The policymakers have thus been described as dancing around education development issues without frontally confronting the subject. In this direction, attention is drawn to the inadequately conceived, and poorly implemented education policies and programmes.
This school of thought laments that the Nation has been tossed about in uncertain waves which provoke the country to leap around education policies. For example, the policies have been driven by forces which have much faith in the British education system and the British standards of educational attainment.
Then forces arrived from those who trained in the United States and who believed that a change to the United States driven and influenced the educational system of semesters and course systems would be best for Nigeria. The 8 6 2 3 education policy became the 6 5 2 3 policy and then got transformed into the 6 334 system and finally the 9 3 4 system, still counting. It is argued that the policymakers were not fully aware of the implications of the adoption of the American system of education.
Incontestably a powerful tool for the building of the nation, the United States education system was a potent weapon for teaching the young mind about the American dream and vision of greatness. Like the United States, Canada has made education a pillar of national integration and stability. Each province in Canada owns the educational delivery mechanism.
That arrangement provides a healthy competition among the universities to excel. While they are encouraged to generate resources, the regular subventions are provided to strengthen the universities and make quality education the goal. Nigeria missed the mark here.
While trying to invent the 6 3 3 4 system of education it was assumed that guidance and counselling would be able to identify the strength and weaknesses of individual students and encourage the students to pursue areas of their capabilities and capacity. Those students who at the end of the secondary school are found only capable to pursue technical studies would be kept along that line.
Those with “academic learning” would proceed to the universities. It has been discovered that few parents if any are willing to admit that their children are incompetent to gain admission to the university.
The result is the emergence of more and more universities, built by the Federal and State governments as well by private individuals or religious groups which offer an increase in access to education. The private institutions will be encouraged to increase the number of their pupils, and students so that the issue of access is more equitably addressed.
The coming of the private sector participation in the educational sector has been most rewarding. It has helped to complement efforts of government as a private nursery, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions have emerged. Many of the institutions are first-rate and have attracted resources from wealthy individuals who have been eager to contribute to the sector, most times at personal sacrifice.
In recent times, old student associations of some schools have risen to reposition the decayed schools which have become a shadow of their former selves and to restore them to the status and standard that had produced them for life career. Some of the students have been disturbed by the decline in the educational standard and quality in their alma mater, knowing what the lofty expectations of the founders were.
They recall the old boarding system which had helped them forge relationships and inculcated the values of discipline, integrity, dedication, and hard work, as demonstrated in the beautifully crafted book titled Heritage Schools wrote by Oyinkan Ade Ajayi. Some have pleaded with governments to hand over the administration of the schools to them.
The working conditions of staff have also attracted some attention as it has become clear that only a highly motivated teaching force can be trusted with the preparation of the future generation.
There is still much to be done in the education sector for the country to meet up with countries such as India and Malaysia with whom we were once colonies of Britain. It is pathetic that Nigerians still opt to study in those countries where learning is done in a more conducive environment including adequate security, good libraries and laboratories, and habitable hostels and halls of residence.
There is also an urgent need to meet up to review the scope of educational delivery to meet with the demands of the new century. For example, the international standing of Nigeria on global education issues which was respected during the time of Hon. Aja Nwachukwu, the first Nigerian Minister of Education, must be revived.
Nigeria should be a key player in international education. The country should also convert the brain drain, in which Nigerians trained in the country plough their expertise in the already advanced countries, into brain gain, in which competent Nigerians educated abroad are brought back to support national development efforts.
The country should also address the issue of quality of education. The situation in which only one University in the country is among the best 500 in the world is not satisfactory. Universities should be able to attract foreign staff and students as in yesteryears and thus meet the criteria required in the global ranking.
The point must be made that there is now an urgent need to re-visit the education sector which has not been empowered to fulfil its mission to the nation, mainly for lack of adequate funding and resources. The current Education Ministerial Strategy has been found credible and capable of moving the nation forward, but it must be fully funded to take up the challenge of the out-of-school population and other pillars listed.
It is instructive that the Plan also has arrangements for the return of the mass education that can bring literacy to the adult population which had been left behind and excluded from the schooling at an earlier age. The mass education agency has a competent and professional leader and appropriate staff that are looking forward to the provision of opportunities that can help them launch a mass education drive.
It must be recalled that mass education had helped the Soviet Union and other developed nations engage the total population in the development agenda of the nation. In this age of digital technology, the content of literacy must also be upgraded to meet the required conditions for livelihood in the new age.
The quality assurance agencies at all levels should be further empowered to maintain the necessary standards and every Nigerian must take on the ownership of the educational provision and invest in it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of INFOMEDIA