Poor education and Nigeria’s continuous grope in the dark

That the nation’s education system has hit an intolerable low was accentuated last Thursday by the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim, who shocked the nation with the statement that some of the graduates participating in the scheme can neither recite the English alphabet nor identify bank statement.

The DG, who threatened to blacklist the institutions producing such illiterate graduates, also vowed that the Corps would arrest and prosecute those who presented fake certificates to get mobilised for the scheme.

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But how did we get here? How did it happen that those who are patently illiterate snake through our education system and are awarded certificates that qualify them for participation in the NYSC scheme? How did they write entrance examination to secondary school? How did they write and ‘pass’ the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination? How did they write and ‘pass’ the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination? How? Very soon, these ones, who are unable to string together words of English correctly, will be applying for jobs. How did we arrive at this sorry pass?

The fact is that for long, the nation’s education system has been on a freefall. Primary education has nearly collapsed; secondary education is in coma while tertiary education is epileptic. In Nigeria, education has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Nigerian education system which produced world-acclaimed scholars and professionals like Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate; Professor Chinua Achebe, one of the most celebrated literary icons of his generation; Professor Ayodele Awojobi, a world class engineer; Professor Chike Obi, an outstanding Mathematician, and a host of others in that class has been reduced to one whose products are barely literate and celebrated minions. Unlike what obtains in other countries where achievements of the founding fathers in sciences, arts and other endeavours are surpassed by the succeeding generations, in Nigeria, references are always made to the feats of the past without any attempt to repeat or re-enact same. The glory of our education sector seems to be in the past.

Over a period of 30 years, the education sector in Nigeria experienced a lot of turbulence. There are some Nigerians in their 20s, 30s and 40s who, though went to school, never had education despite their possession of certificates. When they were in primary school, teachers were always on strike. The same thing happened during their secondary school and university days. For almost 30 years, we had a very unstable school system. There are people, who, unfortunately, went through the system and they are the ones now teaching in schools and working in various sectors of the economy. They had no education, they just have certificates. This tells on their ability to proffer solutions to issues and create opportunities for others. Hence, unemployment is on the rise in the country because of the glaring knowledge gap.

I think we are in this morass because we have yet to answer the question; what is the purpose of education in Nigeria? While we are groping in the dark concerning what we want to achieve with our education system, our forbears had no such problem; they were clear headed on the purpose they wanted education to serve at the time. In the 1960s, education was seen not just as the key to economic, technological and intellectual development of the young country, but also as an avenue to secure employment with government or industry thereby improving the life of the individual. Hence, the mantra was, “Show the light, and the people will find the way.” Those who embraced education at that time were not disappointed because their aspirations were fully met.

So, in the 21st century, are we educating to make the beneficiaries job seekers or job creators? If we want products of our education system to be job creators, do the curricula we employ support such? If the curricula currently in use in our schools will not make entrepreneurs of the recipients how are we addressing that?

Are we educating our young people to instill in them the spirit of nationalism or tribal loyalty? Do we inculcate in them love for their fatherland or love for those with whom they share the same language and dialect? What exactly do we want to achieve with our education? We shall continue to wander in the wilderness and run an education system that is not only counter-productive but alarmingly frustrating until we answer these questions,

Education holds the key to the problems plaguing this country be it unemployment, poverty or tribalism. But those in charge need to know that since every society is dynamic, its need per time will be different. Therefore to ensure that education continues to be of relevance to a people, it has to rise to the level of the society’s dynamism. If that is not done, education will fail the people and subsequently lose its relevance in that society.

If we had acted in time and made our education such that graduates can start off their own businesses, the unfortunate incident of 2014 where about 520,000 applicants vied for 4,000 vacancies at the Nigerian Immigration Service, which resulted in a stampede that left about 21 applicants dead and many others injured, would not have happened. Neither would over 700,000 have applied for 10,000 vacancies in the police.

If we had been proactive and included issues of nationalism in our school curriculum we probably would not be in a situation where some people would gladly destroy the nation’s means of livelihood or others wanting to opt out of the union.

Now is the time to take another look at our education system with a view to making it satisfy the aspirations of today and tomorrow, not those of yesterday.

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