As Albert Camus, the French-Turkish writer and journalist, notes: “Perhaps we cannot make this a world in which children do not suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you and I do not do this, who will?”
Taking our point of departure from education, especially as it concerns the training of the younger generation, I will argue upfront that there is no nobler preoccupation so crucial to building a nation. But look around you, gone are the days when education was education. As I write this, I find it difficult to articulate the depth of pain I feel that as glaring as the problem is, official recognition of the crux of this problem appears complicated, leaving one to the worrying displeasure that the prospect of redemption is hardly within sight.
Without over-drumming the relevance of education, whether academic or social, and by extension the importance of imparting knowledge on our vulnerable youth, it is disheartening to note that every single thing that is associated with the deteriorating state of our education is simplified in the code-word the “system”.
Starting from the foundations, Nigeria has struggled with a lot of educational programs which have only served as conduits to transfer money to corrupt political leaders and their allies. For example Universal Primary Education (UPE) born in 1976 met a premature death; Universal Basic Education (UBE) which is on-going might be suffering a terminal disease because it isn’t functioning as effective as it should.
Not very long ago, the government attributed the falling standard of education to shortage of qualified teachers. As Ogbeifum and Olisa opined in the Vanguard online of July 1, 2001, about 23% of over 400,000 teachers employed in the nation’s primary schools do not possess the Teachers’ Grade Two Certificate, even when the National Certificate of Education (NCE) is the minimum educational requirement one should possess to teach in primary schools. Does anyone need a prophet to connect the dots that the result of this directly leads to producing half-baked students that could mean, by extension, a potential danger to our community?
Then there is the question of creating policy mirage. Looking at the federal budget for education from 2010 to 2012 illustrates this problem where we have a curious fluctuation because 2011 which was higher than 2010 and another dip in 2012, much lower than the two previous years, constructed to denote progress in the sector in terms of capital expenditure, but which in real terms translates nothing concretely in the physical development of educational infrastructure on the ground.
A brief tour of some primary schools will reveal the inhumane way children are taught, under trees, collapsing classrooms, or dilapidated school furniture, sometimes with a single complete block which apparently is only standing to bear, of course in a bold inscription, the logo of the donor organisation that funded the project.
A few weeks ago, the Academic Staff of Universities Union (ASUU) called off their indefinite strike action due to poor conditions of service, and students were excited about it, some resuming for the first time to study, others tired of the irritating pauses and in a haste to put the whole process behind them, this is without forgetting how difficult it was to secure the admission in the first place.
Imagine the human capacity loss during this long strike. Who is to be held accountable? It again boils down to class warfare against the poor. The uptown kids either school out of the country or pay heavily for the private schools to avoid strike action. The result then is with the products from our schools. Does the system assess quality well? How does it absolve them into productive sectors for effective management of resources? Do they simply glide into the work force of developed countries?
At the risk of sounding a little bit philosophical, the Brazilian born writer Paulo Coelho in his 2008 book, Brida, captures the essence of what we are missing in our mission to build a new man in this end of the wood. “Knowledge” he said “was always the power that kept the universe in its place…That was the glory of man- to nurture and maintain knowledge; he went on to understand agriculture and movements…”
Reading this, one cannot help but recognize the fault in the value system, as well as the disconnect between what we prioritize as “resource” and how we manage it. Does anyone need to remind us that our human resource is the greatest asset available to us and it is the only resource we can mold to our own advantage even when crude oil, the groundnut pyramids and the cocoa plantations fail? Inescapably, knowledge will provide the ultimate succor to the country’s sustainability.
The title of a recent article I saw on Premiumtimesnng.com reads: “Nigeria spends N4.8 billion on school fees of ambassadors’ children”. Then it adds:“Nigerian lawmakers were shocked that the foreign ministry spends far above amounts approved for fees”.
These are the kinds of stories that normally stir up sentiments of positive resolve to challenge the system towards doing the right thing, or even give one a flicker of hope and you can dare to say “thank God the system is finally coming round” but the damper comes as quickly as well when you recall the credibility of the Nigerian political class.
However we frame it, and some may tag this as naïve, but the crumbling state of education plays well into the polarization of the country into cells of discriminatory cultural units such that admissions into tertiary institutions are characterized by the “who you know” syndrome as well as state of origin.
Talking concretely therefore about building the nation, how committed is the system to restoring the sector? Is it possible to have a sound democratic process without educated, critical, and creative minds? While some might be of the opinion that education is a western thing and that our forefathers lived without a formal version of it, it is also worth the while to remember that in the contemporary world, the challenge isn’t as much as making fat salaries, and getting to mix and mingle with the crème de la crème of society, but a way to find the right strategies to enhance the quality of human life and improve informative decisions capable of generating advancements. Thus, the man in the village will come out knowing that having few children is the best guarantee to offering them a better and quality life; and that populating the homestead is not a strong argument to prove virility or to keep the lineage alive.