I know what an amoeba is….I know this because I spent countless hours sketching it and rote memorising it. What I don’t know- a decade and a half removed from secondary education- is why I ever needed to know what an amoeba was. It is perhaps telling that this amorphous thing is one of the things that I easily recall from secondary school, there can be no better metaphor to describe the state of education in Nigeria.
Now, full disclosure, having left Secondary school a while ago, I consider myself somewhat tenured and may not be fully aware of the going-ons in Nigerian education, but if recent conversations with undergraduates and leaving-cert pupils are anything to go by, not much has changed since I left. Here in lies the problem. A problem that isn’t just a preserve of secondary school education, but indicative of the whole education industry.
The world around us is changing everyday, the effects of globalisation are no longer theories and postulations on the pages of text books, they are real and tangible. Sadly, the Nigerian education system, is not even playing catch up, it seems not to have noticed at all, or if it has, doesn’t seem bothered to adapt.
The pedagogical tools and the curricula with which we approach education in the country are perhaps most culprit, what is instructed is drilled in with rote memorisation and not associative, active or meaningful learning. Students and pupils alike are encouraged to regurgitate the copious notes that they are fed by their instructors or teachers, notes I might add that the teacher most likely copied wholesale from a textbook without an attempt to make it locally relevant or applicable, or dare I say, fun.
There are many cases where students have veered off the reservation and actually included further learning in their responses to question; these responses are met with a large red question mark or the instructor simply striking that paragraph through, decidedly discouraging any original thought.
The process of learning should encourage experimentation, should encourage precociousness, active dialogue, it should force us to wonder about the world we inhabit and its many complex system, but in a system where the instructors view is unimpeachable and final, how is that possible? It is also a failing of the larger patriarchal society, where you cannot challenge the views of parents, religious leaders, elders or even senior students in school, it is little wonder we are limp in the face of constant political mismanagement and indiscretion. They all feed into the larger narrative.
It has been a while since I was in secondary school, so perhaps things have changed, certainly with the advent of mobile phones and broadband connectivity, there are new vistas of opportunity, so let us look at the numbers. According to a progress report by the Federal Ministry of Communication, the digital divide stands at 28 percent, if we accept the much touted national census of 150 million citizens, it suggests that a whopping 115 million citizens are without internet connection. In a country with a overwhelming young demographic the maths works itself out.
In another report, by Carnegie Mellon University, The Good Planet Foundation and Esfaj & Partners, it was found that in the rural area of Owode-Owena, pupils who owned mobile phones used it for a range of activities from communication and gaming but never connecting to the internet.
For balance we should also view the supply side, a baseline survey by the USAID finds that 8 percent of primary teachers in Lagos, Bauchi, Kano, FCT and Nasarawa indicate having a university degree in education. If this is reflective of the national average, again the maths works itself out and clearly results in the antipathy in the education system; where we have teachers who never wanted to teach.
In the late 90’s the system tried to auto-correct itself with the establishment of private universities in response to the rapid decline of once prestigious ivory towers, but in the end they are still creations of the system and abide by the same syllabuses of the National University Commission. Having attended one myself I can attest to it being the same mode of education with fancier labs, buildings and monikers.
It is unfair to say that there haven’t been any attempts, in 2010, the National Education Research and Development Council, released a revision of the basic education curricula for Primary and Junior Secondary School, the effects of these changes- which are marginal at best- remain to be seen. As we celebrate our new habit of democracy and canonize certain individuals as Heroes of Democracy perhaps the time has come to shift policy and governance focus from mere construction of roads and delivery of pipe borne water to more serious matters.
Our education policy, the national curricula, should all reflect the national ambition, if we hope to become a knowledge economy or an industrialised economy, then we should emphasise education in the sciences and not just theories but encourage those who might want to weld and fuse metals away from the classroom. The same is true if the government is going to pivot to agriculture as it has often cited.
The emphasis on university education and the stigma that comes with what is deemed a lesser certificate needs to be addressed, as too many parents have found out too late, not every child is meant to be a Doctor or an Engineer, not every child wants too either. Of course education reform doesn’t exist in a vacuum, fixing road networks and transportation will have immediate effects for rural education, increasing the reach and capacity of IT infrastructure will also dramatically affect peadogogy and infomation retrieval. Improving the national grid will also have effects on how well IT is integrated into teaching and instruction. Increasing wages may also impact quality of life for some teachers and improve quality of service delivery.
Having had the good fortune of being educated within and without at all levels of education, I know that there are good teachers and bad teachers everywhere. I also know that teaching like many other professions is a gift and a passion, and like other professions, does allow for wanderers to stray in. The thing is Nigeria makes it too easy for wanderers to stray and stay in.
Outside of the family unit, teachers usually play the largest role in shaping a child, I know I certainly recall with fondness certain able and colourful characters. But largely the things I recall from my time in secondary school are often useless to me now and something must be done about that, and also the uniforms. Someone should save the next generation from that drab symmetrical hell.
As I continue in my chosen profession and the occasional comment on my native Nigeria, for better or worse, I will always know what an amoeba is as I search for that right angle to cosign.