The 37th Annual Conference of the Association for Educational Assessment in Africa (AEAA) that held between August 5 and 9, 2019 at Transcorp Hotel, Abuja, might have come and gone, yet memories of the event will continue to linger among the diverse participants. Themed “Innovation in Educational Assessment”, the conference rightly put innovation at the centrestage of discourse since without innovation, there is no education, and without education, there is no development.
What is innovation? One of the simplest and profoundest definitions of innovation is the one offered by a former President of the United States, Barack Obama. According to him, innovation is “the creation of something that improves the way we live our lives.” Essentially, innovation creates what is new; innovation improves on what is on ground.
As a matter of fact, saying that innovation is education is anchored on the fact that education is a process of renewal, the continuous improvement of self and the society. It is equally axiomatic that education is a process of innovation, which is the identification of problems and challenges as opportunities or how to achieve more with less.
In a keynote address well-acclaimed by the participants at the conference, “Innovation in Educational Assessment: A Case Study of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB)”, the Registrar of JAMB, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, noted that innovation is creativity, the generation and application of new ideas in order to generate new processes and new products and new services in any organisation. Thus, innovation generates what is novel; innovation applies the known to address the unknown.
At the conference under reference, Prof. Oloyede strikingly reiterated that birds do not attend flight schools, lions do not organise conferences on how to be lions or hunt, rivers do not attend flowing colleges, fishes do not attend swimming seminars and trees do not attend fruit-bearing workshops. Therefore, the life of animals is not about education or innovation, it is about intuition, eating and being eaten.
In other words, it is human beings who get educated. It is human beings who innovate by converting their education to better and higher value. It is human beings who make improvement and acquire additional skills to alter their environment. Those who do not learn and innovate are not better than those who cannot. In fact, one would agree with the keynote speaker that “life without education is as useless as a cell phone without a SIM card or a computer without an operating system.”
Meanwhile, if innovation is not injected into education, education becomes mere schooling. The bane of much of what goes for education in Nigeria is schooling because the process is largely shorn of innovation. There are teachers and lecturers who still regurgitate the stale facts and expired ideas they were taught several decades ago on their hapless victims. Some of these characters are anti-innovation to the extent that they want the same ideas poured down to them in a back-to-the-sender fashion. Many students also fail to appreciate that the goal of education is innovation or conversion of what is learnt to solutions.
Three years ago, Nigerians were stunned by the innovation of a young man from Enugu State, Emeka Nelson, who invented a generator that runs on water. The idea was compelled by the experience he had as a primary school pupil when he lost a friend of his to generator fumes. He sought to find a solution to the recurrent deaths of Nigerians due to generator fumes and the answer came in the fabrication of his portable hydroelectric generating set. This is an educated person and it is immaterial that he did not have university education at the time of his life-changing invention. Yet, there are millions of graduates whose ideas about education are limited to a process of getting certificates or what qualifies a person for a job.
Essentially, it goes without saying that education is not just the mere accumulation of degrees and certificates, speaking foreign languages or dressing like foreigners. Education is translating what is learnt into action. It is the conversion or combination of bits of knowledge to novel products and services. Innovation lies in connecting the dots of knowledge and education is the gathering of dots. But dots are altogether useless until they are connected to create useful patterns, a point stressed by Richard Branson who insisted that his employees must ABCD: always be connecting dots.
The implication of the foregoing is that innovation, or creation of texts, products and services to benefit or improve the society, is true education. When that component of creation, creativity and application is missing, what remains is mere schooling. Without doubt, thus, innovation is education.