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CONCLUDING PART: RESTRUCTURE EDUCATION TO RESTRUCTURE NIGERIA

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Last week we established the problems strangling the educational sector in the country. So, this week it behoves us to disentangle this sector from the stronghold of it many problems. That takes us to:

WAY FORWARD
In saner climes, the best hands are employed to teach students. In Finland, for instance, currently ranked by World Economic Forum second most educated count nry in the world, teachers are selected from the top ten percent of the country’s graduates, and are required to earn a master’s degree in education. It is, however, a sour sorry story in Nigeria. In a state like Zamfara, 64.05% of teachers are not qualified to teach; and qualified-teacher-to-pupil-ratio is 91:1. What is here is not any different from other parts of the country. And this explains why education in the country is in quagmire, it tells us why 59.6% of the most populous black nation is illiterate.

As the popular saying “like teacher, like students” often goes, students are mirror reflection of who teach them. So competent teachers breed competent learners and vice versa. At primary school level, for instance, the National Policy on Education (2004) mandates the National Certificate Education (NCE) as the minimum teaching qualification. Yet, only a few complies with this directive; that’s why the result has continued to be catastrophic. Judging from this, it tells us one thing: for schools to churn out minds that truly know, checking teachers’ qualification must be a priority.

Having qualified teachers is a means to up the ante of education but not the destination. We also need to meet their demands, cater for their welfare and sustain their interest in working efficiently. A case of the current ASUU strike is one in too many. With past history of long term industrial actions of three to six months one would wonder how long this would be and imagine what have become of the students in Nigerian universities in the two weeks of the strike so far. No serious nation goes to sleep with its future under threat.

In addition, our institutions of learning, particularly the public ones at all level, need to be given financial shots in the arm. Continuous flout of the “26% budgetary allocation to education” recommendation by the UNESCO is a real dent to the system. It is sad to say that this year a terribly meagre 7.4% is all the educational sector has. Yet schools keep proliferating by the day. What we should be after should not be number of schools we have in the country but rather how standard are the ones we have. And this can be done by earmarking sufficient funds to the sector; spending the right amount on the right project; and focusing on infrastructural and human development with the funds.

Rwanda, a tiny east African country, understands this well as government in the country have pulled the bull by the horn by investing ‘hugely in expanding capacity and teaching infrastructure at public schools across the country; introduced the school feeding programme and abolished school fees.’ Currently in Rwanda, government-owned schools have become affordable, preferable and reliable. It took a twelve-year basic education policy in getting this underway. But the poser is: are we ready to make a move?

It has been submitted that six years in primary school is to acquire proficiency in literacy and numeracy; six years in secondary school is meant to impart introductory knowledge in the Sciences, Arts and Technology as well as reduce unemployment by providing sellable and vocational skills; and university is to refine a readymade product for market consumption, a mind that is fully aware of his world and independent of the choice he makes. These are priorities that should be set at every level of education in the country. Rather than aiming at these, schools have different things in mind. The repercussion of neglecting this is manifest in the grievous unrest befuddling the nation. So we need to redirect our direction away from this path of endemic doom to the path of epistemic bloom.

In the students’ circle, it is not hard to hear students announce their hatred for schooling. This explains why many a student wishes for strike. And each time they get it, it is always a feeling of ecstasy. In truth, they may not be totally blamed. Learning in our institutions is less attractive and crude. Learning should not a boring, rigid system. It should give room for innovations and creativity not stagnation in old models. Or would someone explain why lecturers still use their undergraduate notes as lecture notes? Or why did the Kaduna state government decide to build 34 lavatories in a school with only 3 classrooms and about 400 pupils? In most Nigerian universities, Computer Science students still study FORTRAN, a programme last used in the late nineties. Why? If we truly seek a change, we need to update our system and adopt trending innovations in the world of learning.

To add, recently, the highway of social media was filled with dust when the picture of the best graduating student in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who was to receive a sum of ten thousand Naira, crept to the scene. When compared to twenty-five million naira which was Efe’s lot as the winner of Big Brother Naija, the question ‘is education worth it?’ became flyovers with which every commuter on the highway would not stop using. This clearly shows what we cherish as a people. We rank frivolous antics above intellectual exploits; and we bemoan surging of crime in the society? We need not to. We caused it. To salvage our situation from this savage mindset, we must ensure students are entitled to financial motivation. We should let their learning power be their earning power. Periodic stipends would do. Maimonides captured it all well by asserting that when you “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; [when] you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

To end, everything boils down to a simple logic. With education restructured and available to all and sundry comes a better nation whose citizens have the tools to join hands in building restructured a nation. With improved standard of education comes population of people whose minds are free from ignorance of perpetrating evil, who are competent and purposefully driven to bring the economy back on track by creating jobs, who are through bred leaders that would lead their nation away from where it is to where it should be. But this is no wishful thinking; it requires a purposeful rethinking. It is just what Benjamin Disraeli, the first earl of Beaconsfield and one-time British Prime Minister, correctly announced as, “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.”

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