Making sense of our educational system (1)

EducationG.K. Chesterton said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” The ‘soul’ in this quote, can be likened to the anima, the subconscious part of a human being, the invisible, imperceptible component that enlivens the physical bodily functions.

The anima evolves and changes over time and a slight transformation can produce enormous physical variations, both positive and negative, in every human being. Such is the power of education.

Education is the soul of a society, a people and a nation. Its quality is therefore a huge determinant of the heights a nation can attain or the depths to which it can descend. Today, Nigeria as a society is near comatose.

The reason is not far-fetched; our educational system is in a shambles, the connection between education and societal development is lost and the only solution visible appears to be: ‘Put more money in it!’ When one talks about education, it must not be mistaken with the acquisition of technical information.

Education in the real sense of it is the awakening of the human mind to the realities of its immediate environment, the challenges that need to be overcome and the opportunities that can be exploited.

It is also training in the proper use of freedom that enables an individual to appreciate his or her own uniqueness and understand that others are entitled to the same considerations.

In short, the right education should provide one with the skill to function and participate in society, both as an individual and as a member of that society. In this sense, for education to be effective, it must have an identity, a locality and a place of abode.

Prior to the advent of colonialism and the arrival of western influence, education took place within communities all over Nigeria. Members of a community with certain skills passed this on to others.

Clustered parenting was practised, children were educated in the norms of society and thought how to function effectively in the social environment. The education of each child was everyone’s business.

Folklore was propagated through games, dance, tales, songs, art, proverbs and idiomatic expressions. Apprenticeship was another practical vehicle for the transfer of requisite skills. Usually, younger members of the society are attached to an older member with a specific skill set like blacksmithing, palm-wine tapping, wood carving, sculpting or other artistic works.

The educational system at that time was thus tailored to meet these two fundamental objectives: an important instrument for the continual sustenance of society and the immediate sustenance of the individuals receiving the instructions. Formal education in Nigeria commenced in the 14th century with the coming of Islam to Northern Nigeria.

This form of education dwelt on the study of the Quran which was written in Arabic. The value of the education acquired was more spiritual than physical. In other words, Islamic scholars were able to train the memory as they memorised lengths of texts from the Quran.

They also grew in serenity due to the long hours spent studying and practising meditation. These acquired traits, however, conferred a certain kind of authority on the scholars and imbued them with enormous political and social influence.

This prevails till this day in Northern Nigeria, and the ‘Islamic culture’ has somewhat assumed the status of the natural culture of the people. Western education berthed the shores of the country at the same time as colonialism.

Due to the changing needs of the society, it became inevitable that people acquire the communication skills required to interact effectively with the new ‘Lords of the Land.’

As the establishment of formal institutions in the colonial administration increased, the educational needs of the society began to shift more towards provision of labour at various skill levels for the running of these institutions.

The Christian missionaries weighed in heavily on this area as they embarked on widespread establishment of educational institutions to provide the skills required by the evolving Nigerian civil service system.

At the same time, they passed on Christian principles to the beneficiaries of the new educational system. Most of these schools were, however, domiciled in Southern Nigeria.

The Northern part of Nigeria witnessed very low penetration of Western education due to the already entrenched Islamic educational system, which was largely accepted and had merged with the socio-political and cultural structures of the region.

In addition, the colonial masters made a pact with the feudal Northern leaders not to allow Christian missionaries’ access to the North, for fear of converting Moslems to Christianity.

In the early 1880s, the colonial government began to set up systems to manage and influence the formal education structures already set up by the activities of the Christian missionaries and the Islamic scholars.

Several years after, the West African Examination Council was set up and the university system also began to grow to meet the educational needs of the Nigerian populace who had to travel outside the country to acquire higher level of education.

The acquisition of higher level education, however, was instrumental to the successful emancipation of the country from colonial powers. With the exit of the colonialists, the educational needs of the Nigerian society began to change dramatically but unfortunately, the educational system lacked the equivalent dynamism. Today, the situation is dire.

The present educational structure is in no way capable of providing for the present educational needs of the country. The aspirations of the nation cannot be fulfilled with the present manpower development capabilities. Consequently, the dreams of a nation collapse like ashes at the foot of a towering educational structure with little relevance to the present and evolving socio-political, economic and cultural trends of the Nigerian nation.

Civic education which at present, should constitute over 50 per cent of the educational content of schools, receive less than 5 per cent attention. Engineering, sciences and law are highly priced and esteemed, whereas the nation lacks the competitive advantage to utilise these skills. Agricultural education both at the formal and informal levels is seen as inferior.

Even business education is an afterthought, despite the highly commercial nature of the Nigerian economic landscape. TO BE CONTINUED. As already highlighted, education is not an end in itself; it is a means to many ends.

To determine the kind of educational system required by a given group of people, the ends which the society seek must be defined, well-articulated and very visible to the people.

Fundamentally, every person needs to be adequately equipped to understand and appreciate his or her uniqueness, discover his or her space in the society and fill that space.

To fill that space, the person needs to acquire the skills required to function effectively in the designated role. Hence, our current educational system is obsolete and dysfunctional as it has no bearing on the general and specific requirements for an individual to thrive as a Nigerian.

It neither empowers one to live in harmony with his or her immediate environment nor play a selected role in the society. Therefore, recipients of this type of education cannot contribute positively to the development of their society. Our present educational system needs to be urgently revamped.

Most of the schools at the primary and secondary levels (the highly ‘desirable’ ones at that) have curricula designed to equip the students to function in societies outside Nigeria.

In fact, a good number of them provide education specifically tailored to enable the students ‘enroll’ in foreign educational institutions seamlessly.

Very little emphasis is placed on acquiring knowledge/training relevant to the immediate socio-political, economic and cultural environment.

The government as the agency with oversight and the responsibility to ensure the sustenance and continued development of the Nigerian nation needs to begin a thorough review of our educational processes especially at the primary and secondary level.

The prevailing exploitation by ‘education merchants’ that take advantage of the ignorance of parents should be frontally combated. A vigorous reorientation of the populace on the true essence of education and a focused application of political will in ensuring the right kind and quality of education is provided at all levels in the Nigerian educational system is needed.

The right orientation must be given to parents, who should be the primary decision makers where the education of their children is concerned.

Parents should take deeper interest in the education of their children and assume full ownership of this responsibility instead of abdicating it to teachers and proprietors of private schools.

Quality education costs money but ‘expensive’ is not always equal to ‘qualitative.’ Parents should take a deeper look into what a child needs to learn and what a school is actually offering.

School proprietors and administrators should also endeavor to improve on the content of their education delivery so that it becomes more relevant and helpful to solving the problems of the Nigerian society.

One-time Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, once said: ‘‘Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.’’

The ideals of nationhood hang in the balance and our potential ability to compete globally is seriously threatened. We have to stop rearing our population solely as workforce for the developed countries of the world or risk the dimming of our prospects of self-realization.Let us come together as a people, remind ourselves of who we are, and determine where we want to get to, then decide what we need to get there. This will be an effective guide to achieving functional and effective education, for today and tomorrow.

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