Schooling without learning

In a World Bank report of 2018, a “learning crisis” in global education was reported when it was found that 60 per cent of primary school children in developing countries were failing to achieve basic proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. This implies that in many countries, the years spent in school are not commensurate with the educational achievement of the learners in the three domains of learning: the head, the heart and the hands.

Today, there is a pandemic of schooling without learning among many young people in Africa. Though schools are proliferating, learning is diminishing as distractions are multiplying. The heads are empty of positive and progressive ideas; the hearts are full of hatred and intolerance to the extent that sentiments and ignorance often becloud sense of judgement and the hands are idle, being incapable of doing anything of value. This situation poses a serious challenge to development in all its ramifications.

While schooling is the simple act of enrolling in a designated place or space and attending classes, learning is the process of encountering signals from our senses, attending to them, looking for connections and meanings and framing them so that we may act. In other words, learning is a process of gaining knowledge and experience. It is is all about having a change in behaviour as a result of a new experience. In Nigeria, what have we learnt as a country since we attained Independence in 1960 or returned to democratic rule in 1999?

Learning is a life-long activity and it should be taken seriously by students and the society at large so that schooling will not be an exercise in futility. Schooling is to facilitate education, training and learning. “Learning”, Mark Twain once said, “softeneth the heart and breedeth gentleness and charity”. It is so important that it is not constrained by the school walls as it happens everywhere and all the time for the discerning.

Just as a body decays when it is deprived of nutrients, a person declines without learning. As I once noted, it is through learning that we raise our development curve, upscale our social mobility, adapt to new environments, create possibilities for ourselves and others, become more efficient at what we do, gain deeper understanding of subjects, respond to dangers and difficulties more creatively, not impulsively, nourish our souls and keep our brain cells alive and active.

However, it is unfortunate that these days, many people attend schools without learning much.  This situation is impelled by insufficient budgetary allocation to education, lack of adequate infrastructure that supports functional learning, shortage of competent and qualified teachers, poor motivation and remuneration, negative societal attitude to teaching and corruption across board, which undermines quality assurance.

As a development economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Felipe Barrera-Osorio, once noted, “The important objective of education is not the accumulation of years of education, but the generation of skills, knowledge and abilities.” This situates the ability to acquire skills at the core of training students of educational institutions.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of graduands are produced by our tertiary institutions with each person having his hopes and aspirations in the labour market. However, many of these graduates are found to be unemployable because they don’t even know what they can offer. It is not unusual to hear job seekers say “anything” when asked what they can do because they are not skilled. A person should be able to mention one or two things he or she can do to contribute to the growth of an organisation.

Unfortunately, the only qualification that most job seekers think would make them ready for work is the certificate they have, not their ability to do specific things or skills they have in specific areas. This is one area that is being fixed through the entrepreneurship programmes that have been introduced in many tertiary institutions especially universities. The world is moving beyond paper qualifications to the demonstration of actual capacity or skills.

Therefore, everyone schooling today must acquire skills so that at any point in time, they will be able to identify what they can do. It may be to write, to sing, to design, to row, to build, to paint, to create, to farm, to build, to cook, to do anything that will add value to the society. In fact, education is not complete without the ability to do things, make products and render services.

It is high time we returned learning to our schools and institutions through keeping the goals of education in focus. Not only is our education concerned with the training of the mind in the understanding of the world around us, it is also about the acquisition of appropriate skills and competencies as equipment for the individual to live in and contribute to the development of the society.