In a lecture, ‘What is the Great Purpose of Education?’ organised as part of activities marking the 60th anniversary of St. Augustine’s College, Kabba, Kogi State, one of the old boys, Francis Onaiyekan stated that for education to be considered effective, it must result in communally beneficial action, just as he highlighted the defects of education in Nigeria. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
The 60th anniversary of St. Augustine’s College, Kabba, Kogi State was no doubt a joyful occasion, as the management, staff, students, old students and other stakeholders gathered to commemorate the day. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the state of education in the country and proffer solutions where necessary- hence the lecture titled ‘What is the Great Purpose of Education?’, delivered by one of the old boys, Francis Onaiyekan.
Onaiyekan, who examined and argued for the great purpose that education ought to serve for the individual and society, said the great purpose of a man’s education would be seen and felt in his action.
He stressed that human resource is the most important asset of a nation and that intellectual capital is the most precious component of that human asset, while education is the means to build intellectual capital.
For instance, he said countries like Israel, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have little natural resources, but possess huge intellectual capital and corresponding productive capabilities. “These countries wield global influence far beyond their physical sizes. Brain power is forever the name of the game.
“If education is so obviously valuable, beneficial and ipso facto, desirable, one should reasonably expect it to be the topmost item on Nigeria’s investment plan as indeed, it is in development-focused countries. After all, you can reap dividends only from what you invest in. Alas, there is enough evidence to show that Nigeria’s political leadership does not desire to invest in public education that will benefit the greatest number of citizens.”
He regretted that in an increasingly knowledge-driven world, the levity in which Nigerian leaders hold education is depressing and shameful “it is simply unbelievable!
“I do not think that Nigeria’s political leaders in the past 50 years (since 1966 to be specific when soldier seized political leadership) have been truly ‘educated’. For, they do not show sufficient appreciation of the value and benefits of an educated citizenry, and the positive difference this can make for the leader in the task of governance.”
According to him, education of the citizen is not a fundamental and justiciable right in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). “Section 18 (3) merely offers that: ‘Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end, Government shall, as and when practicable, provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free university education; and (c) free adult literacy programme’. This certainly goes contrary to the spirit, direction and the pressing requirements of an increasingly knowledge-driven global society.
“If Nigeria’s leaders truly mean well for the electorate that entrust them with political high offices, they must, forthwith, amend the constitution to make education justiciable. Education ought to be classified and treated as a ‘common good’.”
However, Onaiyekan said it is gratifying to note that the National Policy on Education (NPE) has, in Section 2 (12) of the sixth edition (2013), “improved upon the rather lame constitutional provision quoted above to declare that basic education, the first 10 years of education, is free and compulsory.”
On the importance of having educated political leaders, he regretted that the authors of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) do not seem to see a necessary connection between education and leadership, adding, “Nigeria’s supreme manual on governance – in its wisdom or ‘unwisdom’, depending on how one views it – states in Section 13 (d) that a person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if ‘he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level’.
“This is the educational requirement too for election into the National Assembly (Section 65 (2) (a). That anyone would prescribe only twelve years of formal education is required to preside over the affairs of or make laws for a 180 million-strong country in this 21st century digital, knowledge society boggles the mind.”
In terms of funding education, the guest lecturer said the annual budgetary figures reveal disdain (some would add distrust too) for knowledge, the learned and intellectualism generally. “Since 1999 when democratically elected government returned to power in Nigeria, the share of the education in the federal budget has been between four per cent and 10 per cent, says the current Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu as reported in the Premium Times online news medium.
“Yet, Adamu reportedly admitted at a workshop on ‘Sustainable Funding of Education late November 2018, that funding is key to the delivery of qualitative education which is, in turn, the foundation for national growth and sustainable development. He recommended that ‘If conscious attempts must be made to redeem the [education] sector, states and [the] federal government must begin to commit at least 15 per cent of their annual budgetary resources to education’. From all the right noises that government officials make, it is clear that they know what they ought to do; why they lack the will to do the right and proper thing is baffling.”
“If Adamu’s view on the key role of education in national growth and development is granted, then one may assume – tragic and scandalous as it may sound- that governments in Nigeria are thinking of neither growth nor development- at least not by the universally accepted means of educating the people.”
Onaiyekan recalled that the NPE states in Section 1:4 that the “philosophy of Nigerian education is based on the development of the individual into a sound and effective citizen, and the provision of equal opportunities for all citizens of the nation at the basic, secondary, and tertiary levels both inside and outside the formal school system.”
“In Section 6, the document states that ‘the goals of education in Nigeria include development of the individual into a morally sound, patriotic and effective citizen, total integration of the individual into the immediate community, the Nigerian society and the world, development of appropriate skills, mental, physical, and social abilities and competencies to empower the individual to live in, and contribute positively to society’. These are indeed expressions of lofty intentions; hardly does the goal of education come any better. But Nigeria’s political leadership has, with shameless consistency, acted against the letters and spirit of the NPE.”
He added that the gap between government’s expressed intention and the implementation is characteristically, more than a gap; “it is a chasm. Consider the 1-6-3 years of early child basic education. According to Section 2(12) of the NPE, it is ‘to be provided by Government, [and] shall be compulsory, free, universal, and qualitative’. 60 years into self-government, UNICEF calculates that Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children and this is the highest for any country in the world. 60 per cent of these are in the northern part of Nigeria.
“Take the tertiary education. The seven-point goal as spelt out in Section (81) of the NPE include to ‘contribute to national development through high level manpower training’ and reduce skill shortages through the production of skilled manpower relevant to the needs of the labour market’. To these ends, Section 5(82) lists 15 goals that tertiary educational institutions shall pursue. These include quality student intakes, quality teaching and learning, research and development, high standards in the quality of facilities, services, and resources, staff welfare and development programmes, provision of a more practical-based curriculum relevant to the needs of the labour market, generation and dissemination of knowledge, skills and competencies that contribute to national and local economic goals which enable students to succeed in a knowledge-based economy’. Has federal and state governments fulfilled these noble ideals? I would say no. This failure explains the incessant strikes by academic and non-academic staff of tertiary institutions.”
On teacher education, he said Section 5 (B) of the NPE policy document aims, ‘in recognition of the pivotal role of quality teachers in the provision of quality education at all levels… [to produce] highly motivated, conscientious and efficient classroom teachers for all levels of the educational system”, “provide teachers with the intellectual and professional background adequate for their assignment… enhance teachers’ commitment to the teaching profession’.
“All that is on paper, but Nigerian teachers are owed many months of salaries while some state governments pay fractions of these just remunerations with a ‘you should be grateful to get something at all’ attitude.”
He regretted that Nigerian leaders do not seem to think that the quality of the teachers is a key determinant of the quality of education.
“Taking a cue from its leaders, the Nigerian society so flagrantly disrespects its teachers to the point that hardly can one find a young man or woman who makes education her first choice to study, or to make a career. Even the higher institutions have, for years, offered Education as only the last option to applicants not admitted for other courses.”
On the preference for sciences over the humanities, he said: “The humanities and science are aspects of the total body of universal knowledge. It is short-sighted- even foolish- to pursue the separation instead of the synthesis and the convergence of the various strands of knowledge.”
The guest lecturer also expressed concern over the poor reading habit of Nigerians and the nonchalant attitude towards continuous education, saying, “to not read- and read incessantly too – is to deny oneself the unquantifiable benefit of continuous education.
“Aspiring leaders, as well as persons in leadership positions cannot educate themselves enough. In order to be ready and able for the multi-dimensional challenges of leading unpredictable men and women in a complex world, leaders must continually educate themselves in diverse fields of knowledge.”
According to him, the great purpose of education includes providing solutions to problems. “If this is granted, we reasonably should expect Nigerian higher institutions to develop and implement solutions to some of the urgent problems in society. We should expect and therefore demand that the polytechnics, the universities generate their own electricity and produce their own clean water first, for the school community, and then for the adjoining community- if only in fulfilment of corporate social responsibility.
“While one must acknowledge that research and development is a costly undertaking, nonetheless, I do not consider it too much to demand that our intellectual elite think hard and, in collaboration with appropriate parties, proffer solutions to pressing challenges in society. The point being made here is that, a community of educated men and women or in a manner of speaking, the ones with sight, must not only see for themselves, but show the way to others in the dark, so to speak.”
He added that a university as a place of knowledge and of light, ought to be demonstrably better governed than the rest of society. “A community of the enlightened should be light to the world and salt to the earth. And, against the backdrop of the link between education and leadership stated above, good governance should be obviously reflected in institutions and organisations headed by intellectuals in the humanities.
“The enlightened- in the sense of one armed with knowledge, understanding, wisdom and discernment – ought to (can it be otherwise?) act as ‘lights’ of integrity, humaneness, and equity and, I should add, courage to stand up for these qualities for, the man dies in him who fails to defend his beliefs. The world will not get better unless its leading lights shine brightly enough to overcome darkness, and to light a path to a purpose higher than self.”
To the old boys of St. Augustine’s College, he said: “We owe so much to this college, but except for a few among us, most have done little for it. We must increase our commitments as well as improve on them.
“Let those with the money put it down; let who have books donate them to the library, let retirees and those on leave from the hurly burly of the city donate time, knowledge and experience to teach subjects in their areas of competence.
“Quality time spent by a new face of an old boy, sharing knowledge and experience with young students can make a difference in their understanding of a topic. Let us hold periodically, career talks, seminars on history, and current affairs; let those among us who have foreign connections arrange to twin our college with similar schools abroad in order to attract assistance and exchange students and programmes.”
He stressed that every time an alumnus fails to meet the great purpose of his education, he fails this college.