Education in Nigeria, the poverty of pedagogy and its discontent
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BY Prof. Wale OLAJIDE
MY State of origin is Ekiti. Of the thirty-five other states which make up the federation called Nigeria, Ekiti State is known and generally revered by all as the ‘fountain of knowledge’. It is that State where the only industry that thrives is education. The myth, which still thrives to date, is that there is no home in Ekiti State where you will not find a graduate either a polytechnic or a university. However, we need first to excuse the arrogance that informed the appellation, ‘fountain of knowledge’ since no State be it in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world or any institution for that matter can make such a loud monopolistic claim. There is no one choice among the states in Nigeria that owns the right to legitimately call itself the fountain of knowledge if the word ‘fountain’ means source or origin. As for being at the vanguard of education and probably topping the list of literate (not educated) people, the State has perhaps useful statistics to defend itself and parade the information as accurate.
On the latter claim, however, this paper would insist that far from generalizing that the people of Ekiti are educated, what is assumed and paraded as education is neither comprehensive in its processes and instruction nor is it fit to be called education. What exists, on the contrary, is a long-established tradition of a successful literacy programme. It follows, therefore, as this paper seeks to show, that Ekitis are only very literate but not in any conclusive unequivocal sense educated. A large percentage of the population can, in fact, read and write. Records show that the State has an intimidating number of professors compared with numbers of professors from the other States of Nigeria, but this does not translate to asserting that they are all therefore educated or that Ekiti State is the fountain of knowledge. This paper explains the reason.
The observations made concerning Ekiti State and her peoples with regards to education can exactly be made about Nigeria, namely that while it is true that Nigerians are deemed educated using varied of data, it is not the case, especially when we critically appraise what is conceived and paraded as education, that they are in fact educated. The level of literacy is certainly high a fact attested to by the varieties of positions occupied by Nigerians overseas over and above figures from other countries lending credibility to the success of the support instructional structures and systems put in place, and the numbers of persons with stacks of laminated certificates secured in briefcases.
With available statistical data on numbers of learning institutions; nurseries, primary and secondary schools, teachers training, colleges of education, polytechnics and universities be they federal, state, private and faith-based academics and tutorial centres, Nigeria is acclaimed to be up to her eyes in education. This paper claims that passing for education is only a successful literacy programme and not education.
What is: The Status Quo.
Before the colonial masters landed in Africa and spread hinterland, sequel to the scramble for Africa by explorative teams from Britain, Portuguese, Italy, Germany and France, the claim could perhaps be made that native Africans knew nothing of the English alphabet and by extension that if they saw a book written in the English language, they could not read it. Neither could they write a simple statement in the English language and clearly understand its meaning. Same would go for other colonies where the new language was French, German, Italian or Portuguese.
As the West and Europe met Africa, what was a priority for the colonialists was learning the alphabet by the natives, especially if communication must go beyond mere sign language accompanied by guttural sounds. Besides, there existed the urgent need by the new arrivals to train clerks, interpreters as vital go-betweens the imperial powers and the natives, catechists and technicians. The administration was key, so too was communication. Learning was the bridge of interaction, and knowing the alphabet to the point of using it was eureka to culture and agenda of colonization.
Learning the English alphabet, knowing and using it to make statements meant of course adopting the masters’ language, the English language. Prowess in it made the natives think in the English language, adopt English concepts and use English idioms. Very soon, through a gradual process of teaching and learning, a knowledge base was created. This would be the birthplace of the native elite class and the birthplace of what constitutes education, the sine qua non-condition if the natives must dine with their colonial masters and join with some degree of relevance in the administration of their native land. The colonization hypnotic process was thus firmly established. In exchanging the natives’ local language for that of the colonial masters, the latter was granted the fiat and final pronouncements on what is right or wrong, what is good or bad what is courteous what is barbaric and vulgar, what is tenable and acceptable for religion and what in particular would pass for education.
It was not just that Africa was partitioned, a fact demonstrated by the physical distribution of her lands, mountains, rivers and seas, there was also mental colonization through which the natives now saw the white men as the sole bearers and distributors of values enjoying the “unilateral right to define and delimit the meaning of experience, knowledge and truth”. The inference of the whites’ mental superiority would soon serve as justification for slavery, women’s oppression, and proselytisation, among other projects.
As laid down by the colonizers, education was book education, and its method of execution was by teaching; the giving of instruction. The goal was to provide a set body or units of knowledge, not a little more not a little less. These are facts hitherto not known or assumed not to be present to the receivers, ab initio. This was and still is the pedagogy, the science and method of teaching through which the ignorant pupil is provided with supposedly useful or relevant knowledge and skill. Not insight is not wisdom and certainly not that which best interest and releases the receiver of instructions’ potential. Both he and the knowledge released are secondary. They are strictly specific knowledge about specific issues. This was and still is what constitutes education. The legacy that the third world colonized nations received hook, line and sinker from their colonizers, and it is what is practised even as we speak. A little more still on the choice of pedagogy and why it was considered pragmatically most appropriate by the colonizers.
To facilitate colonization, there was the urgent need not only to change the language of the people as earlier noted but also to re-orientate the people and make communication and one understanding possible. The strain of particularity may not have been broadcast and force-fed by a catechism; nevertheless, the underpinning philosophy behind the adopted pedagogy is that Whiteman’s language is better and superior quality. By extension, it follows that the Whiteman’s way of thinking and doing things are equally the best when compared to that of the primitive, barbaric savage natives.
With an appreciative dosage of rude awakening and conviction very notable African scholars have since vehemently argued to the contrary, even crowning their revulsionary revolt with a philosophy, an African Philosophy which both in content, ethos and rigour compare favourably with Western philosophy which was inherited from the colonizers.
While not willing to appraise the African scholars’ nationalistic uprising with this paper, since it never was its intention, the posture, however, remains unconditionally justified albeit rated a little late. But then again, the Yoruba adage says you do not ask how your father met his death until you have the full weapons to fight a retaliatory battle. In the Nigeria case, however, there is neither the will nor the weapon. Neither would I spend time in this paper identifying the half-truth that the Whiteman’s position contains because indeed when the natives are closely appraised, as the history of nations growth and development vividly attests, there is very little to show for critical logical and purposeful thinking, goodwill, egalitarian service, justice, fairness, probity and accountability which, despite the Whiteman’s ill will towards Africa and its peoples they still have and parade in enviable quantity. Suffice to say using Nigeria as a case study that very little is indeed praiseworthy in good governance, purposeful leadership and impartial critical thinking. Her 58 years of independence has so little to show for administrative maturity, purposeful growth, and people’s well-being. Some have for these reasons and more have called Nigeria a failed state.
There is more to this choice of pedagogy by the Whiteman and the adoption of the same by the colonized nations. For the pressing administrative concern and in clear pursuit of the colonization agenda, there was the urgent need to train clerks, interpreters who will serve as go-betweens on policy and day-to-day information, catechists to translate homilies to the faithful, and technicians to handle specific chores. Domestically, there was the need to train the cooks and stewards, gatemen and drivers.
If there existed sufficient justifying arguments for the reasons raised above, very little of pleasant ones could, however, be found for the need to give the natives the little and narrow restricted ‘education’ that they were given. Regardless of the pragmatic need that drove the instructional system, there was too much imperative to keep the natives dependent on the whitemans’ ways and means, thus underscoring still the feelings of superiority – inferiority and that of the insufficiency of the natives mentally and physically. The natives will continue therefore to serve the imperial power. To provide their efforts with some colour as administrative service providers, they were styled civil servants, a nomenclature that they bore with understandable pride and is still very much in use today.
Again, the dependency agenda allowed exploitation, oppression and subjugation to thrive; particularly exploiting the natives’ mineral resources. Short on actual knowledge and the technical information on how things were done, the natives stood at the Whiteman’s mercy for national growth and development. Whatever the acquired independence provided was not entirely what was promised. As pointed out by Jane Kelsey, what we have is rather defective and limping sovereignty, that is to say, political sovereignty benefit of economic sovereignty. In this way, the structural and systemic impoverishment of Africa (counting Nigeria) is sustained.
Put if there was any independence, it was merely honorific flag independence. The dependency programme and agenda would further find sure footing in global funding institutions that insist on structural adjustment programmes such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the globalization initiative. No doubt some African states benefited and have continued to benefit from the exploitative agenda in some degree. However, those that were very intoxicated and fixated on nationalization and indigenization policies have very little to show for efficient fiscal management and constructive national growth. South Africa will qualify as a good example for the first category while Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe fit the second category where nationalism went berserk.
The claims and observations that are made regarding international global funding initiatives can rightly be made about globalization or the borderless region initiative. A careful analysis would reveal and underscore the charge of exploitation and marginalization of the African nations the colonized people. In reality, the nations are still firmly tied to the apron string of the West never negotiating from the position of knowledge and political power. Education, that is, authentic education that guarantees true freedom and provides generous bandwidth for creative purposeful thinking would have constituted the gateway for proper enlightenment and development. However, in its narrow book-driven compartment, there is a heavy lid on progress. What is worse, as it is being suggested, the posture is deliberate and alive and well even as we speak.
What ought to be
The book-driven education that is served through colonization would seem to be fully entrenched with the frequent summersault of policy initiatives and budget allocations, the number of an existing educational institution, their interesting varieties and the energy and thirst of the people who by all means possible and available wanted so badly this impoverished and undignifying limiting instructional process.
That education is the key is the mantra that is forced to imbibe and recite for human capital upliftment, national growth and global civilization. As the title to one of my papers queries “What education”? This education?” what presently passes for education is veritably stunting mental growth and less supportive of national development.
It is narrow partly because its curricula concerns are book based backed with the gratuitous assumption that knowledge so provided by the books on specific subjects are useful and therefore relevant for personal growth and national development. This is not of itself an absolute truth. The claims are not founded on reality checks. To put it bluntly, it is bogus. From early year education programming to the University level, the entire curricular is book-based, and as the programme develops, the curricular gets more narrow, restrictive, irrelevant and redundant. Being subject-based, students must read, force-fed instructions, and gain specific knowledge and get an education and be educated through the exercise. To demonstrate that the subject has in fact successfully received education and is thus affirmed educated, he is provided with a certificate with a little remark on it stating his grade and class. To arrive at this glorious point which some celebrate with masquerade dances, you must sit for regular examinations where you are expected to repeat to the examiner things that he/she has instructed you upon and what you have read.
The exercise at all levels of education produces at once two classes of human beings, namely those that responded as appropriate and as expected to the questions asked and those that responded poorly and very badly. The former is said to have ‘passed’, and the latter is said to have ‘failed’. These classifications remain permanent. They are indelible scars which in the positive, do in fact open opportunity doors within existing socio-existential structures to better survival options and in the negative, aid low self-esteem or low self-worth. Society endorses both responses. It must be emphasized with celebrations and shameful disgust, respectively.
Perceived serious institutions are set up to regulate proceedings concerning curricular relevance, adequacy of the teaching and instructional personnel, availability of enabling facilities, ratio distribution of staff and students. Such include the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC), West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and Joint African Matriculation Board (JAMB). There are accreditation and deaccreditation rituals to underscore both the seriousness these bodies and institutions attach to themselves and the participants of the book-driven education and how it is important to validate the quality of products churned out every year.
As we speak, the book-driven-certificate-issuing-education industry is booming. Private individuals who have the means now have schools from the early years to the University level. Licenses are given when the set conditions are purported to have been met. The upsurge of private universities that are in part faith-based attests to the seriousness attached to providing and making available the book driven education available to those that can afford the exorbitant fees.
The book driven education, within the subject area taught and examined, provides knowledge only in the specific area covered by the instructor. It guarantees, therefore, only specialized knowledge hence it is correctly and appropriately described as a literacy programme. By serious measurement and candid understanding, literacy is not synonymous with comprehensive education, if it is education at all. Disinterestedness is explained by the preferences of candidates in carrier pursuits just as it is evident when questions of relevance and meaning are raised about the lives of the candidates themselves and the impact on their environment.
In graphic terms, a first-class scholar in statistics is literate, and as the certificate in his hands will validate quite knowledgeable in statistics. Still, seriously that does not mean by any measure that he is therefore educated. He has been taught, he has read, he has been examined in statistics and has been found worthy of being awarded a degree in statistics. Going through these motions is not an indication of having received an education. He is only literate. As a human being, his knowledge is still seriously limited, and some times, in some different situations, where another range of knowledge is required, he could, in fact, pass for a fool.
Several specialized scholars in education have made arguments about the obvious inherent inadequacies of this kind of education. In fact, research studies continue to show the disturbing mismatch of degrees awarded and the importance of knowledge produced with needs for the 21st-century world. The endless long lines of graduates queuing up for employment pointers to an abnormality and the irrelevance of the education system as it is being practised. What this author finds abysmally self destruct is the fact that with every seriousness we are in fact carrying on as if we are unto something good a nation; as if all is well and that the inherited system of education that we are running with is the best that we can have. The frenzy of the desire for this restrictive maiming form of education is mind-boggling. If it is a case of outright ignorance, that in fact, we have not thought about the poverty and narrowness of it all and therefore that we do not know, then perhaps the criminal charge is minimal. But if it is not a case of ignorance, then the charge of bad faith is fostered by lazy, uncritical thinking sticks.
The book-driven education is run by rote learning or the banking, savings and loan pedagogy. Students who wish to succeed and earn a pass to obtain a degree with a certificate must keep track of the teachers’ ideas, absorb and maintain them for later regurgitation. Facts about specific subjects (history, biology, electrical engineering, biochemistry, medicine, mathematics etc.) are poured into empty heads to be poured out when required to do so at the examination. If the colonizers, particularly the British have adopted this system, it is robust thanks to the British philosopher John Locke who taught that the human being is born with a blank slate to be written on by whoever with whatever. Some of our teachers of philosophy still strangely pass this bogus claim to fresh students. The world now knows better that John Locke was not only generically mistaken; he was ignorant of the elements at play. Far from being a blank slate, each human being carries within through conception gestation and births a coded autobiography that sums up holistically who and what he or she is, the impact of nurture and the environment only adding varieties and heightening some details. This holistic attention and enabling interrogation that the book-driven education being practised today totally misses and have remained impotent and nearly redundant.
The word “education” is derived from the Latin word “Educare” which is “to deliver of”, to birth, to draw or brought out”, “to call forth”. Authentic comprehensive education, therefore, should deliver the individual what was coded within. To do this requires careful planning, knowledge and experience as would be found with a midwife at the hospital. Only trained personnel with genuine interest and love for the trade can succeed at it. Understanding aptitudes and precisely sourcing and mapping out their developmental graphs would be key to the curriculum handed to teachers. Technical instructions would be used to gain hands-on knowledge. It would not be for regurgitation at examinations rather for the singular purpose of cultivating the art of creative, critical thinking and the development of the capacity to solve practical problems. The target is to develop the whole person for growth by tapping into those things or chores through which imbued with self-confidence he better expresses himself and flourishes. There are no failures here because no person is born useless. Each has something unique within that he/she would gladly and readily deploy in service to humanity. Of course, there is also the added advantage of channelling discovered and development resources to meeting the challenges and needs of the time. There is simply no room for redundancy or obsoleteness.
Just as there is no room for failures, there is no space either for the feeling of low self-worth or low self-esteem. True and holistic education will cultivate and develop the best in everyone according to their gifting, talents and interests. This still does not in any way make specific knowledge packages unrequired. On the contrary, such would only receive a greater boost since ideas and creative thinking only the best would emerge from the multiple sources. This is what education in Europe and the United States of America advocates and encourages. It is all about capacity building wooing everyone’s best from the early years and encouraging creative and innovative thinking.
In 58 years of Nigeria’s existence as an independent nation, ask how far education has taken her in human capacity development, corporate growth and prosperity. The answer is minimal. What is disturbing is the dull realization that the seeming sanity that prevailed while the colonizers were still around, perhaps and a few years of the first republic, vanished. What is left is decay, fiscal indiscipline, political banditry, chaos and endemic corruption. Yet we are deemed educated. We are considered to have received some education, and there are certificates to validate the claim. However, if what is presently paraded as education is what it is claimed to be, no one should subscribe. In fact, it is a disservice to Nigerians as a people and a dent on their dignity as human beings. If this same book driven education that the college of philosophers wish to pursue regardless of the cultural nuances given to it, since, I am a member, we might as well debate other serious and meaningful concerns.
Prof. Wale Olajide write from the Department of Philosophy at the Ekiti State University