“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”—Malcolm X
When issues concerning the miseries afflicting the country’s education sector are tabled for discussion and analysis, one is oftentimes confronted with the argument that our predicaments stem from a lack of sound policies upon which it is built. While this column believes there are no absolute truths as there are no absolute untruths, thus agreeing that those predicating our educational woes on policy deficiencies may perhaps have some veracities in their claims, this column, arguing from a background in education is of the firm belief that the failings of our education has nothing to do with a lack of policy frameworks.
From history, we recall with nostalgia the healthy, albeit fierce competition between the defunct regions—the western and eastern especially—that made up Nigeria. Having made education the kernel of his manifesto, the inimitable sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo defied the very many naysayers within and outside of his party to launch a free and universal primary education in the western region. Not wanting to play second, his eastern counterpart, Nnamdi Azikiwe followed suit, setting the stage for a massive, comprehensive and audacious campaign against ignorance that unarguably was unprecedented not only in Nigeria but the entire continent of Africa.
We cannot forget in a hurry the Dike and Banjo commissions. While the former was set up to look into the curriculum, organization and management of schools in the eastern region, the latter came into effect in the western region in 1960 to embark on a review of primary, secondary and teacher training programmes. Fifty eight years after, one observes that should both reports be collapsed into one and projected as a national document, their findings would be mistaken for an enquiry into the present. Professor Dike in 1959 found that the quality of teachers was abysmally poor, with schools lacking in basic equipment and resources. Archdeacon Banjo on his part wrote that classes were not only overcrowded but untrained and unqualified teachers litter the schools. I urge my audience to visit a publicly-owned primary or secondary school in any state of the federation to see for themselves how serious we took the findings of those men (including Lagos State where overrated, mediocre governors lord over).
Perhaps the vivid overcrowding in schools and its attendant implications for teaching and learning prodded the government to adopt among others, a teacher-student ratio in its National Policy on Education (NPE). To those who are not conversant with the NPE, it is “a statement of intentions, expectations, goals, prescriptions, standards and requirements for quality education delivery in Nigeria.”
A cursory look at the document from its very first edition in 1977 shows not only a clear and concise work but an ambitious and laudable one. If what obtains on paper guarantees success, the Nigerian education policy document would have taken us beyond the seven heavens. The document is so comprehensive that it caters for the needs of every citizen that could guarantee him/her a life of fruitfulness, advancing a set of philosophies aimed at conducing the goals of education to those set out for the nation: (a) a free and democratic society; (b) a just and egalitarian society; (c) a united, strong and self-reliant nation; (d) a great and dynamic economy; (e) a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens.
To underscore the importance of relatively small class sizes as a sure way of ensuring qualitative education, the NPE proposed that teachers in crèche and nursery classes should not handle more than ten and twenty five children respectively. The document continued, noting that “for effective teaching and learning at the pre-primary level, the teacher-pupil ratio shall be 1:25”. A similar pattern is observed for other levels of schooling. 1:35 for primary and the junior secondary schools, 1:40 at the senior secondary, 1:20 in technical colleges in other to ensure “effective participation of students in practical works.”
The tragedy in having untrained, unqualified and other impostors who have absolutely no business with a chalk lies at the foundation of the very many problems our education grapples with; it stands as the most visible nemesis to the deliberate and sustained efforts by all and sundry to elevate every course of study above teacher education. The 2018 UTME Statistics by Faculty paints a gory picture of the mess we are in, for we appear to have relegated teaching to the background, treating it as a plague amidst counterpart courses. Of the 1,558,686 candidates who opted for degree programmes, only 84,081 chose to become teachers—a mere 5.4%. The import of this is that only 1 in 20 high school leavers hopes to teach. While this may not be altogether depressing considering the number of options to choose from, we must not forget that the chunk amongst them are direct entry applicants (mostly NCE graduates) who in the first place found themselves in Colleges of Education against their wishes (in 2018, only 24,524 out of 1,653,127 UTME candidates chose to study in a college of education—1.48%).
The seeming ostracizing of teacher education from our national subconscious and the collective delusions of the citizens to adopt same should query our minds on how we hope to give our children the best at the pre-primary and primary levels without having teachers who have been specially trained in Early Child Care Education (ECCE), a powerful program in colleges and faculties of education that introduces would-be teachers to the world of children: who they are, how they learn and what strategies to use to stimulate and enhance their creative abilities. How do we as a nation hope to have our children acquire qualitative secondary education when majority of those charged with its impartation have content knowledge but lack pedagogical skills—a reality that qualifies them as cheaters, not teachers? Young Nigerians loathe teaching because each time they see teachers in the mirror, all the see in return are reflections that portray too much work, too little pay.
But who amongst us would believe that the current reality of teachers’ existence runs in direct contrast with what obtains on paper? Let’s take a few lines from the 2014 National Teacher Education Policy. The policy objective is “to produce highly knowledgeable, skilled and creative teachers who are capable of producing learners who can compete globally, while its goal is to ensure that teachers are adequately catered for and made adaptable to our changing world.” Principle Four states that “for teachers to be able to teach well, at their level, they must have sufficient mastery of content and subject-specific methods of teaching.” The extent to which we’ve remained true to what we have on paper is seen in Edo State where a teacher found it difficult to read the contents of the certificates she claimed to have acquired; in Kaduna where teachers failed a test primary school students ordinarily take for granted; and in at least 26 states of the federation where learning have been put on hold because teachers are being owed backlogs of salaries.
How about the sudden craze to acquire university education? While this ordinarily ought to elicit joy, for an enlightened citizenry is supposed to be a prosperous one, the fixation of Nigerians on the acquisition of a degree at the detriment of vocational skills has become counterproductive, for the nation has suddenly found itself enmeshed in a catch-22 situation wherein basic psychomotor skills that nations like China takes for granted is lacking within the youth demography so much so that Nigeria has become a country that not imports basic goods, but services as menial as plumbing, carpentry and sculpturing. As though we were racing against time, we weaponized education, deploring it to educate our children out of creativity, marginalizing future success to a mere acquisition of certificates without the requisite responsibilities attached to them.
The implications are many, with the most pinching being the joblessness and lack of imagination of most Nigerian graduates, a tragedy so grave as to make it near impossible for them to feed, clothe and make a decent living for themselves—largely for no fault of theirs. We read about the existence of men in the dark ages and thank God we came centuries after them, but has the reality of our lives as reflected in our youths not a testament that the traditional education that existed in those days had more quality than the sham we gloat about today, or have we forgotten so soon that the most alluring feature of traditional education was functionality, with no one having to grapple with unemployment?
Would we be agonizing over all of these had successive administrations at all levels of government been faithful with the Post-Basic Education and Career Development (PBECD) section of the NPE? This section whose objectives among others were to “provide entrepreneurial, technical and vocational job-specific skills for self-reliance, and for agricultural, industrial, commercial and economic development” offers trade/entrepreneurship as a compulsory cross-cutting subject at the senior secondary school as a means of preparing those of them who would not proceed beyond that level “for the world of work, wealth creation and entrepreneurship.” Having established this, it enlisted 34 trade/
entrepreneurship subjects like radio, TV and electronic servicing, cosmetology, tourism, GSM maintenance and repair, animal husbandry, spray painting, salesmanship, block laying, brick laying and concrete work, etc.
The few quotations above show that Nigeria knows the path to quality, functional education but intentionally chose to ignore it. This writer is of the opinion that the underfunding of education is a deliberate act by Nigerian leaders to keep the masses in perpetual ignorance. They have succeeded. Perhaps in the near future, I will advance my position beyond this stage. Until then, I ask my readers: IS THE SHAMBOLIC STATE OF NIGERIA’S EDUCATION A CONSEQUENCE OF A DEARTH OF POLICIES?