All over Nigeria, the Education Sector is like a shattered clay pot of water – no-one seems to be able to get the water back to drink or cook or wash away our shame. The many shards of different sizes and shapes strewn across the floor beg the question: which do you pick first if you want to piece it back together? Bewildered, we have tried (and continue to try) at many levels and using various methods to fix pieces of the broken puzzle together – it should surprise no-one that the puddle of water is still on the floor and spreading.
Thirty years ago , I sat in a staff room of a Secondary School, dazed by the pupils’ scripts that I held in my hands. Earlier on, I had given a final lesson and test in Social Studies to JSS2 class using a lesson plan I had developed from the JSS1 curriculum – the students had passed with an average of 70% in the preceding year but I quickly found out on my first day in class that those results were fraudulent. The results in my first test had averaged less than 30% but after a full term of interactive teaching including nature walks, class debates and localisation, I was hopeful that my class would push back the fog blocking these children’s view of a future empowered by scientific enquiring and a healthy curiosity about a world in which so much seemed to “just happen” mysteriously. The two scripts in my hands stood out because the first was filled to the very end of the folio with totally unintelligible writing – not poor, simply unintelligible scribbles without a single English word. The second was much better but caught my attention because of the diagram the pupil had drawn to answer the question: illustrate with a diagram the 3 levels of the Earth’s atmosphere. As I followed the beautiful arcs that disarmingly created 6 levels from the interstices, my heart lurched and tears welled up immediately. I sat in the staff room staring through the tears at the labels – earth, sky and heaven. Innocence is indeed disarming, but this expression would in itself provide the framework for a mind that would interpret science as witchcraft; and act in the same context throughout his/her adult life. A beautiful mind, capable of producing a cure for cancer, sickle cell disease, or pioneer bio-mass fuelled transportation and hydroponics that could end hunger in a lifetime would now turn its creative energies to incantations and incarnations, invoked over chalk marks, beads, chicken feathers, and ….spattered blood, as smoke curled from the smouldering fires passing from Earth through Sky to Heaven.
As the Staff Room filled up, I wiped my eyes without shame and approached my Subject Head and the finally the Principal both of whom encouraged me to award the entire class extra points to boost the results over 55%, even after an oral examination in English and Igbo showed clearly that the results reflected the truth of the children’s understanding of the fundamentals of Social Studies. I disobeyed the instruction, took my tears home that day and buried my naivety about our people, our country and its dance with Mediocrity that we have nurtured through these past 5 decades. The school would subsequently report me to the NYSC Secretariat for failing pupils who I had failed to teach. I was charged with delinquency, refusal to live in the school premises (I lived in nearby Nsukka and had a personal car) and refusal to teach the JSS2 curriculum (to children who could not pass the JSS 1 tests). Cabals are not new to Nigeria – when it became clear to the cabal that had locked up the future of those children that I would not back down, they chose to listen to the counsel of an NYSC employee who threatened to nominate me for an award and expose the rot if the cabal persisted in persecuting me – they passed me out of NYSC and let the cloak of a choking red dust settle around the perverted system that ensured school teachers, principals and administrators were promoted using deliberately forged results from a system designed to perpetuate the failure and dysfunctional education of the children that have become our Today.
I retain till this today contrite, an abiding guilt around an even greater failure on my part to rescue those children from the future of poverty, dis-empowerment and mediocrity that our system was preparing them for. I still feel the weight of their eyes on me in front of the classroom, openly accepting my leadership with vulnerability with innocence and a desire to become that I would help them fulfil…and they are millions.
I often wonder what has happened to those beautiful kids crippled at such an early age by a country’s abject negligence. 30 years have passed and where are they now? How are they coping with a world for which they are handicapped ab initio in dealing with? I do not mean to offend but merely to speak with truthfulness of the things we would much rather hide away in our national closet. Our task is to salvage our youth and so our future. To do so, we must defuse the idiot bomb by a massive revolution in education. Social forces, though created by Society, have emancipated themselves from Society’s direction and are following their own inherent laws. In its helplessness with respect to its own creation, Society has become like the sorcerer’s apprentice who, looking with horror at the forces he has released but is unable to master, cries despairingly, ‘The spirits that I summoned, I cannot now dismiss!’ And yet there is hope and we must seize it with both hands. What then do we do? How do we begin to realise the outlines of a workable plan? How do we determine the parameters for evaluating the potential outcome of a plan or plans?
We have, like Archimedes, first to make a fundamental change in our perceptual maps to find a place to stand, and then take hold of the modern lever of technology to move our world. A few key considerations stand out clearly (bit by no means the only ones in the forest) and most arguably albeit form the elements of the solution.
- Population and Demographics: at 168m and counting, Nigeria is on course by United Nations estimates to be the 7th most populous nation on earth in 40 years only (250m). The current generation in our schools today will be the inheritors of the “Nigeria Problem” if nothing is done to correct the basis of our being useful citizens of Planet Earth
- Too Big to Fail; with an estimated 23% of Africa’s population of 800m, Nigeria is too big to fail yet by the most important parameter for success in the Information Age/Knowledge Economy of the 21st century, human capital assets, we have apparently failed already. The critical human infrastructure needed for growing an economy does not exist, and each passing day counts
- People are living longer, working longer: with an estimated 60% of our population under the age of 30, the capacity of the national economy to sustain the burden of a mass of unemployed (and unfortunately, largely unemployable youth) is a crisis already come true
- John Dunne’s Theorem is real: there is general agreement that innovation and wealth creation are attitudes as well as activities of which sufficient quantum drives the energies of all economies in a free market system. By extension, the best bet of any nation is to empower the greatest number with access to these life-enhancing activities on the basis of the understanding that no-one really knows whose potential unleashed will lead the transformation of a country.
- Reach and access can be universal: but we must first decide to pursue this goal in alignment with the previous statement, and we have not. By very simplistic reasoning, if we have 50 students per classroom and 40m needing to be in class each day, we need to build 800,000 classrooms, equip them and train an equivalent number of teachers with diverse skills sets appropriate to the needs of the learners. There are hard choices to be made we have been in political denial rather than constructive engagement for the last 30 years (at least until the current administration which has declared a national emergency in the sector).
- Learning has always been a path not a destination: an apparent fixation with what has always been is underpinning the current initiatives and failure beckons across the land if not in the structural soundness of the programmes, than in the most important value, the learning outcomes that we see. Much of existing policy, and in fact policy-makers, have a limited view of what should constitute a 21st century education eco-system. And we are desperately in search of a vision but drowning beneath clichés and sloganeering
- IT is indeed the silver bullet (or at least one in the gun): yet IT has fallen into the abyss of clichés and sloganeering with ill-conceived programmes, initiatives and procurements, parachuting computers into schools and bidding the students to learn, learn, and learn! Yet in almost 6 years of investments estimated at over N70bn across all tiers of government, we have yet to find a single case-study proving best practice.
The potential of IT to balance this lies in four areas:
- Qualitative teaching can be captured in e-learning formats that ensure relatively even service levels across the state irrespective of rural-urban classification
- The physical barriers of availability of classrooms and learning tools/materials is mitigated by the many-to-one models of collaborative learning
- Costs of service delivery are disrupted by IT based on the above factors which leverage common infrastructure to serve a larger number
- Enhanced learning is made possible by the use of IT to monitor, support and track both teachers and learners in near real-time
We must envision a tomorrow for our children and seeing the outlines of an educational system that powers the possibilities in that future, move with the “fierce urgency of now” to bring it to pass.