[Bamidele Upfront!] Wanted: A Culture of Learning, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Every facet of our national life is a presentation of oddities. Part of the reasons why we have no defined vision and no definitive national character is because our learning got ossified at the rudiments. Most unfortunately, even the foundation on which this country rests, is objectively disordered for lack of evolutionary learning after its conception. We need a culture of learning to remold  rebuild and rebrand Nigeria, if we are to succeed and compete.

Nigeria stopped learning by the late 1970’s when it started defunding education, stigmatizing vocational education and apprenticeship by excessive glorification white collar jobs. By the early 1990’s, the failure of critical thinking and the triumph of rote learning started manifesting itself. By the 2000’s, the circle was complete, Nigeria was in full embrace of willful ignorance. After decades of tinkering around the edges and avoiding the hard choices, we are yet to adopt sound education, quality training and skills acquisition as the basis of our development. Can we succeed in helping our exploding and impoverished population learn without good public education? No! We must revive, restore, improve and equip our public and vocational schools to global standards. This country must believe, adopt and embrace equal access and equal opportunity to qualitative education as a fundamental right. Nigeria cannot get anywhere if we fail to prepare all children regardless of their circumstance and socioeconomic status for productive citizenship.

For Nigeria to endure, remain viable and compete, we urgently need to revamp how we learn, think on our feet to be able to identify and respond to emerging opportunities with greater ingenuity and speed. Our thinking must change, we must re-learn how to think, learn and act. We must adopt new competitive thought processes unlike the consumptive thinking we have developed. Our educational and vocational systems must change, adapt and evolve in line with global prevailing forces. In this age, only the fittest will survive. Competition for all resources including indigenous ones will be allocated to the fittest in the face of ever changing conditions. If we are not smart enough to recognize the value of our resources, someone else will appropriate them and we will be subjugated again in and on our own land.

Our continued underdevelopment stems from our refusal to institute a culture of learning as our compass for competitiveness. In this century, every aspect of life will be defined by information and technology much like what happened in the industrial age. We cannot continue to think we can evolve by consuming other peoples output. Singapore and Japan are excellent examples of societies that has adopted, implemented and imbibed a culture of learning and has become what is called a “learning society” in literature. These two countries have almost nothing in terms of natural resources. Japan achieved 99% while Singapore has 92.5% literacy rate. They are success stories today. The combined powers of the allied forces nearly removed Japan from the map in World War II. Today the “Japanese miracle” is a product of unalloyed dedication to building a solid human resource base, relevant integration of skills and training and a unique management system based on quality and continuos improvement.

In the 1960’s Singapore was just an “irrelevant” Island in the pacific populated by an overly impoverished people. Now, Singapore has been transformed to a computerized industrial giant, many thanks to the exceptional brilliance, dedication and vision of Lee Kuan Yew. He jump started his country from the scratch and educated his people. Singapore invested heavily in computer related learning and focused on making Shipping an export. The drive sounds wacky at the onset but today the success story is enviable.

In the last four decades, we have witnessed the gradual decimation of our values and learning. Our administrators must ask themselves; what we can do to improve Nigeria’s ability to learn? How can Nigeria excel at getting better? Urgent steps needs to be taken to reverse the anti-intellectualism that crystallized during the Babangida era and created the brain drain phenomenon that eventually shaped Nigerian higher education tragically, forcing Nigerian intelligentsia to seek conducive environments abroad. Nigeria’s power elite must resist the temptation of politicization of our Universities, effectively reducing our ivory towers to citadels of ignorance. Leaders must read, learn and teach by example. Students must be shown to embrace optimistic meritocracy and abandon the current stew of exam malpractices, cultism, and bribery to pass through the system. In Japan even the bureaucracy is a study in meritocracy, intellectualism and hard work. Their technocrats are not rejects or half baked idiots, very unlike our own technocrats who have become vulgar sycophants of political hegemony.

A nation’s set of leaders are a reflection of who they are. We are a miseducated lot and we got miseducated leaders deservedly. Since you can not give what you have not, it is hard to imagine how we can get out of this knowledge deficit. Everyone want to “make it” doing nothing. A “learning society” is one that can produce purposeful leadership, a nation adaptive to change and focused on competitiveness; the very factors that dictated success in the globally. A society in learning fosters political stability and discipline. A society where the government and the governed discharges their duties as appropriate, dedicated to the preservation of the rule of law, respect for human rights, responsibility and accountability.

This is the ideas century, it is not a make-a-wish century. Education, literacy, technological knowhow and skills are mobile, ubiquitous and fluid. These have become critical factors influencing the dictates of political and economic success. We need a learning formula that will help us understand and navigate the intersection of knowledge, responsibility and accountability. Nigerians need a fresh start, a redirection, a brand new focus to help conjugate our bifurcated destiny. We need a chance to move on. We need a citizenry imbued with ethics, ideals, ideologies, morals, norms, morality and values. When we are learned, we will understand the dynamics of life and living. Learning will liberate our minds, so we can stop clinging to religion for nothing and stand for something to further our collective destiny.

Kindly follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo


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