The West African Examination Council (WAEC) has just released the results of the 2013 November/December West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and the results as expected, “experiencing a free fall under gravity”, pointed in the “right” direction – Downward! Why? Quality Education has become history in Nigeria, especially in the Public Institutions of Learning.
Yeye, my great Grand-mother, always said to me while growing up as a boy in Ikogosi-Ekiti, “Ti Iwaju O ba se lo, eyin a se pada si”, meaning, if it becomes impracticable for you to move in the forward direction, it must be possible to take a reverse”. I think this is dependent on the route. There is clearly no alternative route to getting a sum right than doing it right; starting from, and according to, basic principles. Therefore, a mirror reflection on how the system of education was before our “uncommon” era is in order.
Teaching was, and still is, a profession for the erudite in any given society. As such, Teachers must be respected, well remunerated and encouraged. That was the case in the golden era of The Nigerian Educational System. Teachers were paid comparatively higher than most workers and were among the few individuals who had bicycles or cars. To qualify to teach, you must know your subject well enough and must pass requisite examinations unaided by examination mal-practices. Yes, Teachers were the “Alphas” and the” Omegas”. They were feared and respected because they represented the needed back-up for Parents when their children proved stubborn at home. Teaching was a profession of well-disciplined individuals. Undertaking Teacher training made you aware of this. Teacher Training was an on-going exercise. From graduation to becoming a Teacher, throughout the School Term, and some good part of the School Holiday, a Teacher was required to undertake a form of training or the other. Every weekend within a School term, a Teacher had to prepare notes of planned lessons for the week ahead. This afforded the opportunity to prepare for the needs of each member of a sizeable class. The notes of lessons would be critically assessed by the Head Teacher or anyone designated. Useful comments were made by the reviewing Teacher and where appropriate, re-submission of planned work may be demanded if there was evidence of gross unpreparedness for the Lessons of the Week. This way, it would be easy to spot, not for victimisation, the training needs of individual Teachers to be saddled with the responsibility of shaping the future of the lives of the children, the nation! The Head Teacher would often be a Teacher too and certainly not a money collector nor a Finance Director!
A typical note of lesson from Teachers would be synonymous with plenty of worked examples, illustrations, graphs, analyses, proofs, ingenuity, ethics, and a lot more, depending on the subject. It was a must to include “Home-Work” which helped the supervising Teacher to be aware of the depth and thoroughness of the Teachers as key Text Books and other sources of material references were usually quoted. More-Importantly, “Home-Works” were marked on time, corrections made, re-submission by erring students demanded until most students reached the satisfactory level of performance. Thus, students and Teachers had the impetus to become progressive members of the society and were helped to reach their full potential.
A proper register of attendance was kept, not only for Teachers, but also for students. Late-coming was a taboo, or was forcefully made a taboo by the unwelcomed strokes of cane on your buttocks or at your back. Any perpetual late-comer was sent home and reasonable explanation had to be provided by one or both parents who must visit the School to tender explanation before their ward or child was re-admitted to School. Unjustifiable absence from School was unheard of. Record of every activity (including extracurricular activities) which took place in the School Calendar year would be kept for the Inspectors. Oh, the Inspectors!!! When the time arrived for the Inspectors to visit your School, even the leaves and the Blocks of the Walls surrounding the Perimeter of the School Knew of the visit! It was a time for Proper Accounting for the belongings of the master – The children of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Inspectors were thorough and diligent. Lesson notes for Teachers and Notebooks for randomly selected Students from the School being inspected were checked for forensic examination and validation of the status of education the School claims to have among other things. This way, the quality and quantity of work done by the Teachers were verified independent of the School Authority as a form of check and balance. A report was written which would be taken seriously by the Investigated School as well as the Local Education Authority. The Schools’ Management Committee (SMC), working in partnership with the Schools’ Management Board (SMB), collated and evaluated the reports from Inspectors. It ensured necessary actions were taken to put things right in the Schools within its domain and required query and disciplinary actions were also provided.
The master and owner of the belongings (the children), is the government. Government ensured Teachers’ salaries were promptly paid and the School environment was conducive to quality learning. The Libraries were well equipped and exceptionally bright students were given sponsorships. Thus, you could guarantee to a reasonable extent that a student failed largely as a consequence of his own failure.
How did Nigeria get to this point where it is almost certain that the percentage of success in the next rounds of School Certificate Examinations would spiral downward? The value of quality education may not be readily quantified in much the same way as would the proceeds from Oil and Gas, but every income into a given society which depends on Human capital (Labour), results from some form of education and training, home or abroad. To an illiterate, investing in or spending on a sector from which you do not get “any national income” is stupendously stupid as he cannot “see” that every individual working in every other sector is a product of the educational system. What then becomes of a country ruled by Illiterates for over fourty years apart from the very early years, post-independence, when Nigeria had the kind of education described earlier? Anyway, life they say, begins at fourty and a fool at fourty is a fool forever! What an intuitive paradox!
Education is synonymous to development. But destructive factors including but not limited to the myopic , short sightedness and self-serving ideologies of “her heroes past”, absence of infrastructural development and functional industries, have reduced the impetus and desire to research, and the determination to excel in Nigerians. The environment for innovation became absent once the celebration of mediocrity became the norm as Nigeria started the misnomer called “Quota System”. Intellectual property is stolen daily with impunity. Lecturers accept bribes in cash and in kind! Focus is on buying the Teacher’s Text Book rather than the text in the Teacher’s Book. There is obviously the need for a sort of education that is linked to productivity. In the rhetorics of my bosom friend, Olumide Jejelola Emmanuel, when will we see the golden era of public schools in my motherland when the son of a sitting governor and that of a pepper seller queue up to take their Fujirege ( plastic food flask) behind their class and enjoy their lunch-break together, when Teachers collect salaries as at when due, when Teachers would organize extra classes just to make sure students excel, when students walk miles without fear of kidnappers, when Students drink potable water from any corner of the streets after playing good football in one of the football pitches around, when students were taught the ideals and not shaped by realities on ground? Can the coming generations ever witness this era again? Will it be a dream that one day the son of a carpenter and that of a president would sit together in a classroom being taught the virtues of hard work, honesty and humility as well as the sacrifices of Nigeria’s true sons and daughters, her real heroes past?
While it must be admitted that quality education is witnessing a decline in most parts of the world today even in the most technological and advanced economies such as USA and The UK, the astronomical rate of retrogression of The Nigerian Educational System is indeed worrisome. More than that, the developed countries, having realised their folly in lowering educational standards have started to retrace their own steps as far as quality education is concerned.
The whole matter, everything having being said, is captured by the motto of the best School I have ever attended, Ladipo Primary School, Matori, Mushin, Lagos, established in 1980 and built by the then Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. Albeit unknown and unpopular, the motto of my School affected my attitude, and those of my very amiable colleagues, towards education right from primary School – “Knowledge is Power”! Now that Nigeria lacks electric “Power”? Does she need Knowledge? She certainly does!
Idowu Oyebanjo is a Power System Engineer from The United Kingdom.