OUTSIDE THE BOX
By Alex Otti firstname.lastname@example.org
Credit for the title of today’s column is to no other person than the late King of Afro beat music, the Abami Eda himself, Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, also known as Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Those who are old enough would agree that Fela, who died 20 years ago, was not just a philosopher but a crusader and revolutionist. In this 1980 song, Fela insists that everything one does must have been taught by someone. At birth, the teachers are the parents, and by school age, the teacher is the school teacher while at university level, the teacher becomes the lecturer. When one gets done with school and begins to work, Fela argues that the teacher becomes the government which can also be called the society. What is taught, according to Fela, is a function of Culture and tradition. Virtually all the countries of the world have got its teaching right based on their culture and tradition except African countries.
He believes that is the reason we have problems with governance in Africa because our governments ignore our culture and tradition in administering our countries and instead learn other people’s culture and tradition. This is also the reason, he continued, we adopted the colonial democracy model which he called “dem all crazy” and “demonstration of craze” According to him, demonstration of craze brought about corruption, mismanagement, stealing, inflation, election rigging and the new one called “austerity measure” that made him laugh. He laughed at ‘austerity measure’ because the rich steals from the poor and forces the poor to tighten their belts to pay for the former’s profligacy. He believes the white man taught African leaders the wrong things and actively encouraged them to misgovern their societies. Since Fela is not in the same category with those that have been taught the wrong thing, he warns the teachers not to attempt to teach him nonsense.
Today, we are going to look at teaching or better still, education and how seriously we have addressed that subject in Nigeria. We will also like to situate education within the context of the myriad of problems we are grappling with and how qualitative and ‘quantitative’ education can help liberate our youths from the shackles of poverty and hopelessness.
As a point of departure, I completely agree with Fela that whatever we do, we must have learnt. Think of a new born baby. It starts learning how to eat from liquids through semi solids to solids. The child learns how to crawl and subsequently how to walk and run. The first set of teaching happens in the home. Where the parents devote a lot of time to teaching their children, they turn out to be better children than where the parents had little or no time for them. Of course, this is the rule. Just like it is said, to every rule, there is an exception. The rule, however, is that good parental upbringing is synonymous with good behaviour in children and vice versa. Any situation that does not conform to this principle is an exception. Parents must, therefore, pay attention to the kind of examples and training they give their children particularly at those early formative stages of their lives. It is often said that man is a product of his environment. A tardy environment would naturally produce a tardy human being.
Beyond the family is the early school setting. This would include nursery school which is not available to everyone particularly the majority brought up in the villages. The officially recognised and generally acceptable early level education is the primary school. For most children, the primary school defines their basic encounter with education. Most kids take their bearing from their primary education. Habits get formed from here. Unfortunately, this is the level that has received the greatest neglect from government. Granted, there are private schools available at this level, majority of primary schools in Nigeria are public schools. Statistics has it that there are over 62,000 public primary schools in Nigeria with pupil-teacher ratio of 40 and close to 24,000 private primary schools with pupil-teacher ratio of about 25. The structure is such that public primary schools are supposed to be managed, funded and supervised by the local government system. Public secondary schools are under the supervision of state governments, while public tertiary institutions are under the supervision of the federal government, except if otherwise owned by the states.
This is where the fundamental problem is located. Most people should be aware of how local governments are run in most parts of the country. Some governors have formed the habit of appropriating the funds due the local governments on a monthly basis. To achieve this, they refuse to let local governments hold elections and instead, appoint transition local government Chairmen and Councillors. By the definition of the term transition, the appointments are supposed to be for a short while, usually six months, prior to an election that would produce substantive local government officers. But what do we get? The governors continue to renew the transition officers’ tenures after every 6 months, such that some governors would rule for 8 years without conducting local government elections. And who are the likely people to be appointed to the transition roles? They are cronies and miscreants, most of them without any agenda except to let the governors have access to the till and sign off that the money in the Joint Local Government account has been used for purpose intended.
They only account to their patrons who appointed them. Given that the people did not have a hand in the appointment of the transition officers, those officers owe no explanations to anyone in the local government. In a few cases where the governors feel compelled to conduct elections, they simply compile names of their thugs and touts and conduct a sham election and use the state electoral commissions to return these thugs, forcing them on the people who were not allowed to vote in the first place. This is exactly what happened in one of the states in the South East which claimed to have conducted a local government election in December last year. The state electoral body shamelessly returned the names of the candidates of the ruling party across board and boasted that the election was free and fair. Meanwhile, everyone in the state knows that there was no election. So, the question is, what kind of primary schools do we expect these illiterate charlatans to run?
Sadly, we are talking of the most important and the fundamental stage of learning and teaching. We are talking about the foundational teaching of the child. Where the foundation is faulty, it is very unlikely that any correction can happen along the line of higher education. The other important issue is the quality and quantity of teaching staff. Who are the teachers at this level? Are they such that won’t teach the children nonsense? Did they go to school? If yes, what kind of school did they attend? Were they taught nonsense? How did they perform in their time? Were they amongst the best or worst? In order words, what kind of skills do they have? After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. What kind of motivation is in place for them? Are they paid commensurate wages or starvation wages? Are the wages competitive enough to attract and retain the best talent to teach the ‘future generation’? Do their salaries come regularly or does government wait until they go on strike before paying them?
In terms of numbers, we had demonstrated earlier on that the pupil-teacher ratio in Nigerian public primary schools is 40. That shows that on the average, for every teacher, there are 40 pupils. The case is different for private schools where the ratio is better by close to 50% at 25. According to Wikipedia, the rule is that the smaller the ratio, the better the quality of learning. On the other hand, high student–teacher ratio is often cited for criticizing proportionately underfunded schools or school systems, or as evidence of the need for legislative change or more funding for education. In the same period, primary school enrollment was about 23million while total number of classrooms in the public primary schools stood at 342,303.
The World Bank has come out with data on pupil to student ratio for most countries of the world. In the latest figures which were published in 2015, the world average ratio was 24. The best performers are Cuba, Kuwait and Norway with an average of 9 each. The average figure for the Arab world, Middle East and North Africa was put at 20 each. North America had a pupil-teacher ratio of 15 while Europe stood at 13. Meanwhile, Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) had an average figure of 41. Our own figure of
40 is very similar to those of the HIPC. May be that is where we belong.
Infrastructure is another important factor. In the 21st century, we still have schools that could not survive the test of the medieval ages. A lot of the public schools lack basic learning and living amenities. Some have no libraries, no laboratories, no computers, no books, no desks, no hygienic environment, no modern healthcare facilities and no sporting facilities. With everything lacking, it is doubtful that any serious learning takes place in these schools. However, they must graduate pupils every year to go to secondary schools.
A lot of the schools do not even have relevant and up to date curricula for the modern age. In this kind of setting, teachers will end up teaching the students nonsense. However, like I had pointed out earlier, these schools must churn out pupils to populate the secondary schools on a yearly basis. Talking about secondary schools, this is another area where we have planted disaster. First of all, the way the system is set up requires that a large number of the pupils that finish from primary schools are programmed not to proceed to secondary schools and we seem to be comfortable with that.
Why do I say so? While there were over 60,000 primary schools with over 342,000 classrooms and 23m pupils, the public secondary school capacity was 11,874 schools with about 4.4m enrollment studying in 84,000 classrooms with a better student teacher ratio of 26. So, in the minds of our planners, more than 80% of pupils who would be finishing from primary schools would not proceed to secondary schools. That is very bad news. I agree that it may not be everyone that finished from primary school that would make it to a secondary school, but I think 80% drop out rate is scandalous.
We must begin to pay serious attention to the quality of education we give our children. Education is the most important gift we can bequeath our young ones. It is the instrument they need to navigate the challenges of the future. An educated mind is a liberated mind. It is a mind that can think in an articulate manner with a view to solving the challenges of life. Most of the young people that make themselves available for social vices and criminal activities are uneducated ones. Even if an educated person is jobless, he knows that he has a future that is bright. He knows that there is no glass ceiling to how far he can go. He knows he has solutions to the problems around him.
I know someone out there would like to point my attention to a failed educated person and a successful person with little or no education. My response is, do not rejoice too quickly, because for every one educated person that failed, I will show you nine successful educated people and for every one uneducated successful person you show me, I will show you nine failed uneducated persons. I will also like to say that if the successful school drop-out was able to complete his education, only God knows how successful he would have been.