Nigeria at 58: Education at a crossroads
When Nigeria attained political independence in October 1960, there were high hopes and great expectations that, shorn of the yoke of colonial domination, the infant country would soon achieve its full potential and shoot into global reckoning. The whole world looked up to Nigeria, the most populous black country on earth, while Africans especially expected the giant of Africa to lead the way in projecting Africa as the authentic cradle of civilisation.
It was presumed by many that with education, which is the cornerstone of development and backbone of civilisation, Nigeria would galvanise and mobilise her vast human and material resources to compete favourably with the rest of the world in the march to progress. As education is life and life is education, many Nigerians expected life would be abundant with good education, which Plato contended is all about giving the body and soul all the beauty and perfection they are capable of.
The essence of education, according the Greeks, is to make an individual an arête, meaning a “complete man,” that the English and the Yoruba respectively call a “perfect gentleman” and “omoluabi.” This essence is to be achieved in Nigeria through various forms of education, consisting of Early Childhood and Pre-primary Education (the creche, nursery and kindergarten), Basic Education, with 6 years of Primary Education and 3 years of Junior Secondary Education, Senior Secondary Education, Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education; Science, Technical and Vocational Education (STVE) and Tertiary Education (universities, Colleges of Education, polytechnics, mono-technics) as well as institutions offering Open and Distance Education and Special Education.
However, 58 years down the line, Nigeria continues to lag behind other countries chiefly in education and other areas because when education fails, other things automatically fail. For all our education forms and reforms, the reality of today is that apart from the mere fact that more people speak English than before and many more have undergone or still undergo schooling, the gains of education elude much of the society as corruption, kidnapping, armed robbery, theft, prostitution, cultism, drug abuse and greed, among other vices, ensnare the country.
The system of education bequeathed to us by the colonial masters was poorly implemented that a change to the 6-3-3-4 model was desirable. The 6-3-3-4 system, modified subsequently as 9-3-4, has also been poorly implemented such that Nigeria is assailed with the menace of unemployed and unemployable graduates. Education in Nigeria is encumbered by several challenges which President Muhammadu Buhari himself, while speaking at the Education Retreat of the Federal Executive Council on November 13, 2017, acknowledged to include “high illiteracy level, infrastructural deficit and decay, unqualified teachers and inadequate infrastructural materials, to mention some…”
Funding is especially a major challenge and the Government has a lot more to do in investing in education in order to propel Nigeria to higher heights. A comparison of education investment as a percentage of GDP among 16 countries in 2016 revealed that Nigeria invests the least among them. The countries studied and their percentile investments in education include Togo (5.0%), South Sudan (1.80%), South Africa (5.90%), Sierra Leone (2.90%), Rwanda (3.50%), Pakistan (2.50%), Mauritius (5.0%), Mauritania (2.60%), Malaysia (4.80%), Malawi (4.70%), Jordan (3.90%), Jamaica (5.30%), Iran (3.40%), Costa Rica (7.10%), Bangladesh (2.50%) and Nigeria (0.47%). We cannot just continue this way.
Good enough, Nigeria boasts of a fantastic and all-encompassing National Policy on Education and the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, also developed a commendable Ministerial Strategic Plan to revamp education on assumption of office. Yet, good policies and documents themselves do not bring about change if they are not purposefully and vigorously implemented in a climate of favourable political will.
At 58, education in Nigeria is at a crossroads. Before us, there is the business-as-usual road and there is a road of redemption dotted with extraordinary challenges requiring extraordinary solutions. Just as a state of emergency was declared to focus attention on the existential security challenge of Boko Haram insurgency, the problems affecting the education sector are equally existential and a declaration of a state of emergency in the sector, being mooted by the Government, is actually the right way to go.
All hands should be on deck to achieve good and functional education in Nigeria now as a way reinventing the country.