By Titilola Edu
Recent reports put the estimation of out-of-school children in Nigeria to 13.2 million, the highest in the world. No grim fact, picture or statistics really capture the sad reality of Nigeria’s falling education than those numbers. It represents both the individual and institutional negligence that has led the nation into this abyss of educational dereliction. Good education is the bedrock of development in any country and it is unfortunate that Nigeria is bereft of it. We seem to forget that all possible development and achievements, from health advances, technological innovations, agricultural improvements, administration and private sector growth is largely a result of investment in quality education in public and private institutions.
My first experience as a witness to the degrading system of our educational system was during NYSC. My housemate was assigned to a public secondary school. During exams she would bring scripts so I would help her mark some of them. I was always aggrieved at what I saw. You could be deluded with the very nice hand writing but the substance was always horrible and that is saying the least. Grammatical errors were abundant, and the sentences totally devoid of any type of communicative sense. Unfortunately, this is common at all levels of education in Nigeria. The first most important step toward learning is acquiring the basic ability to read and write. The ability to read is also crucial to a child’s capacity to receive relevant information and to find self-expression. Any teacher or instructor who would engage in such teaching process must demonstrate basic capacity to handle it. However, constant training for educational instructors at all levels must be encouraged to further develop capacity and enhance productivity.
There is also the challenge of poor funding. This has been identified as the major reason for the rot and challenges in the education sector, especially tertiary education, which has led to frequent strikes by teaching and non-teaching staff since the early 1990s. Investment in human capital valorises critical investment in education, targeting primarily those within the base of that pyramid. Government must invest heavily in educational infrastructures at all levels, including a major tweak in the earning power of teachers. While indefensible, a factor that has contributed to the mainstreaming of exam malpractices has been the financial inducements for supervising officers. This is somewhat the basis for constant strikes by teaching staffs in tertiary institutions too. This should be sorted.
In addition, endowment funds from private citizens and rich corporations must be encouraged, mediated and supported. There must be a cross-sectional interest in education. While no sector must be demonised to essentialise another, premium value must be given to events and programmes that spark intellectual curiosity in children as opposed to only entertainment. The Cowbell Mathematics competition and InterswitchSpak National competition are good examples of creative, educational contents with incentives that continue to support innovation, ideas and a solution-driven ecosystem. With less attraction for corruption, lack of infrastructure, scarcity and prohibitive cost of books at all levels of education, the nation ultimately sets her foot on redefining the trajectory of our educational development.
There is also a disconnect between what is taught and the living experience of students due to excessive, sentimental attachments to outdated curricula. Majority of what is taught are a blast from the past; repeating the same old schemes of work. Curiously, the same person that taught you, for example, about statutes and land law replicates the same chain of ideas taught by someone else who also taught him. We can do better. There must be a relevance of taught subject principles in view of contemporary realities that students can identify with. We can also do things differently, carry out more in-depth research and make it practical to our students. This helps knowledge to be easily domiciled, if obtained in a real life scenario, not crammed always.
Revamping the curriculum also calls for having conversations about identifying the skills of individual children and improving them towards it. It is a research fact that our current education style, aped from colonial heritage was introduced to meet the needs of the industrial age. The global ship of innovation has long sailed past that age. We are in an information age, a knowledge economy. We must therefore play to the strengths of individual students in view of their own peculiar contribution to our world. Dancing as an art is no longer inferior to Medicine as a science. We must continue to focus on the scientific demands of our curriculum at the expense of the creative side of students. Students from the early stage must be exposed to varieties and supported where they show natural competence to avoid identity struggle through the years.
This is perhaps linked to the cultural factors that affect a thriving educational experience in Nigeria. In the North, for example, religious considerations, nomadic communities and the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency are current challenges in that part of the country. Invariably, any form of social unrest and insecurity is a challenge to education. To meet up with lost years, the government must put a bridge or transition learning centres to address the level of illiteracy and out of school children there. This accelerated learning programme focuses on aspects of basic literacy, numeracy, and civic responsibility and prepares children psychologically for schooling. There needs to be an orientation on the value of education to parents or guardians who are culturally averse to the idea of schooling. We must also think outside the box to operate interventions that would meet them halfway.
Government must also prioritise education and increase budgetary allocations to ensure that a sustained investment in education targets disadvantaged and vulnerable children. By doing this, we lay the needful foundation for addressing unequal distribution that threatens the sustained growth and stability of our nation. The government has a huge responsibility in this regard but should not bear the entire burden alone; all stakeholders must put their hands on deck to address these challenges.