There are so many ways to conduct a revolution and change the society. Some of these ways include visionary leadership that understands the needs of the society and leading people in that direction. The examples of Singapore, South Korea and China tell us that when you have visionary leadership there is no success that people cannot achieve. Other revolutions can start from the people as we are witnessing today in the Arab awakening. But not every revolution is successful.
If there is one country that needs a revolution today, I cannot think of one better than Nigeria. Mentioning what is wrong with Nigeria has now become a boring cliché. That is what dominates the pages of our newspapers. And whenever Nigerians meet one another, they cannot be short of a topic of discussion. The state of affairs in our country is normally the first item on the agenda.
In our discussion today, I like to look at one critical area in which we can bring change and provide direction to our country. That area is not far away from you. It is called the classroom. I do not think the might of the United States is in its military weapons, nor is China an economic power because of its political system that recognises capitalism as the bedrock of the economy while communism controls its political affairs. India is not emerging as a world power because of the size of its land or the entertainment of its movie industry. These countries have become successful because of their investment in the classroom. Despite some concerns about quality, China and India are producing more than 1 million graduates every year in the field of engineering alone, compared to 170,000 produced in Europe and the U.S. What this suggests is that irrespective of the way change is brought to the society, for it to make meaningful progress, investment has to be made in the classroom.
So, in the case of Nigeria how does the classroom play a role in addressing our problems? When we find ourselves in problem as a society, attention is normally focused on short-term solutions. In some cases, short-term strategies such as establishing anti-corruption agencies, interim security measures, societal reorientation programmes and many more could work. But for change to last it has to build the values that are necessary for the development of that society in the younger generation, who will grow with those values and then continue to pass them to generations after them. This is not something that can be achieved within two to five years. It is something that takes much longer.
We complain about violating traffic rules, people not following queues in public places, excessive use of favour in official matters, lack of respect for privacy and other public etiquettes such as putting rubbish in the dustbin or washing hands after using toilets. There are other values as well, such as honesty, helping the needy, punctuality and respect for merit. These are not values that can be inculcated overnight. People have to imbibe and grow with them right from childhood. That is where the classroom becomes important. Someone might ask that our schools are not functioning, that the government is not serious about education. This is an area where individuals can make a lot of difference. Private primary and secondary schools have overtaken or are in the process of completely overtaking the ones that are publically funded, and there is no reason why those who manage those schools cannot consider making a difference by inculcating these values in their students.
One attitude that seems to be common among Nigerians is the desire to see results immediately. Perhaps that could explain why our politicians see the construction of roads as the only viable project that can benefit the people. There have been so many laudable programmes in the past, such as Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Back to the Land, War Against Indiscipline, MAMSER, etc. But these were programmes that targeted people whose personality had already been formed. As such without strict law enforcement, the programmes vanished with the regimes that brought them, or waned with time because of the top-bottom approach employed by the government.
Some writers have suggested that for things to be right in Nigeria, you have to completely replace the current inhabitants of the geographical location called Nigeria. Some have spoken about the Rawlings option, in which those leaders suspected to be responsible for the current mess are eliminated. But to be honest, are the followers in Nigeria better than the leaders?
So, how do we go about it? First of all, our colleges of education, and education departments in our universities, should review our teacher training philosophy by looking critically at our primary and secondary school syllabus, particularly social studies and health education. These subjects should be broadened to be value-oriented rather than the current approach which is more theoretical than practical. For instance, from primary 1 to 3, children should learn about the basics of hygiene, speech etiquette, confidence-building, and respect for rules and procedure such as queuing culture, and respecting traffic rules. These are things that are very practical and since the school is a community, using its structure to achieve this will not be an impossible task.
From primary 4 to 6, the focus should be on family and community involvement. Such values in our society like respecting elders, helping the neighbour, engagement in community service, looking after the younger generation, charitable work and voluntary service should be inculcated. At secondary school level, when these kids have grown up, the focus should be on the larger society. The values that should be focused on should include respect for the dignity of labour, self-reliance, recognition of merit over mediocrity, understanding the value of human life, the essence of social justice, honesty and transparency and an absolute abhorrence for corruption.
As you can see, just to achieve these values in our youths, the training process has taken about 12 years. The strategy is by the time they reach university level, they have become fully responsible citizens and will be ready to lead themselves and the country. Those who may not go to the university have also acquired enough skills and discipline to lead a purposeful life. It is this new generation that could produce a new society and a new Nigeria that we should all be proud of.
Dr. Yusha’u (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES