By Menkiti Onyebuchi Bernie
For many years now, it has been my view that conventional education particularly at the university level is highly over rated as it would neither solely help the growth of a nation nor aid in churning out a generation of independent thinkers, crazy and daring graduates. Sterling performance in academics is good and coming tops in your class isn’t a mean feat; both do not in any way guarantee one the good things of life let alone a greater future among his peers. In as many examples abound of people who through their academic brilliance set up stories of “I want to be like him, he read his books and got it big on graduation”, so do instances abound of top of the class graduates who still roam without meaningful disposition to either getting a good job or generating ideas needed to make money and get ahead. Stories like, “na by going to school” follows.
However, its no joke that very many brilliant students still cannot get job. It is that not many good jobs are available. The very few ones in government meet politicians’ greed and are swallowed by “who know who” or by the highest bidder. In the corporate world, merit and competence still have some space but not much to take up the large number of graduates that the system throws up each session. But the truth remains that the odd jobs are available for insignificant pay. Generally, the demands of the employees do not match the salary. Yet, John Mason as one of his important nuggets said that “when one pay peanuts he should expect monkeys.” I doubt if any one would wish his enemy with a diploma or degree, such odd jobs. Sadly, low paying jobs account for over 70% of jobs graduates do take up week in week out in places like Lagos where the cost of living is beyond the reach of many. And so they live a good part of their life in a rat race. Now the inquest; I have realized that the system is the enemy.
Perhaps the stool upon which Nigerian education rests is one that de-emphasizes deductive process of learning, in that a student does not possess the right to ask questions deducted in the process of research, learning or reason. An open discourse in class is an affront to most lecturers including the professors in that the process of learning in Africa nay Nigeria is enshrined in a final document with no room for students to freely make independent input, observe and criticize long laid principles and concepts. This type of approach simply does not sooth learning but training.
Teaching or lecturing in Nigeria is founded on master-apprentice relationship rather than father-son relationship. This is one of the major challenges, and I must be quick to add that being male in Nigerian higher schools is sometimes a taboo. A female colleague is more fancied because of her soft padded nature in the front bumper and on the back aisle. Under this condition, students particularly the male hardly have a lecturer to refer to in his Department as his friends after graduation. Through these forms of doctrine, lecturers loose grip when by para-venture the student turns out good. It is only in this clime that lecturers or broadly speaking teachers, wish their students/pupil failure and committed to see it happen.
However, I remain one of the very few, including my partners from the Smallworld/MyFootprint Project Switzerland who have from time on advocated for an open end approach to learning in Nigeria, an idea which they have since began to pioneer. The advocacy encourages a discourse and interactive approach to learning as well as the utilization of group engagement, the presentation and defense of given tasks in class. The purpose is anchored on the need to spurn a generation of thinkers who can initiate novel ideas, invent new social or technology headway, innovate and possibly evolve into independent or group business initiators. With the alarming increase in unemployment ratio the best approach to mitigate future social ills and beat down unemployment is to open up a floodgate through which ideas, abilities and talents are maximized.
Many a student has no business in an academic class because they are basically cut out for other kind of education. Everyone must not be a lawyer, doctor, accountant or engineer. A look around will convince you of some type of guys or girls who from their person have passion and talent for music or acting. Some are sports persons too but lack the will to take a plunge. One, because parents may frown or the other because those areas are by far neglected. The sudden turn around in the music and movie industry was wholly the effort of some individuals who pioneered it and some others who redefined it. Today it is a major GDP pointer for Nigeria, second behind oil. Nigeria being the most populous black nation should learn how to use its robust manpower to dominate its economic ties with her African neighbors and beyond. Or Africa being the centrepiece of our foreign policy restricted to mere philanthropy of give and give without return. By now a University of Demonstrative and Creative Arts should be in the offing and so should the University of Agriculture and Polytechnics be given prompt attention.
It is pertinent to ask about now the relevance of Zoology, Philosophy, History, English, Linguistics, Sociology, Anthropology, and many more to Nigeria’s socio-economic growth. As these courses and many others not mentioned looks irrelevant to Nigeria’s need, it is Nigeria that has failed to maximize the potency of these courses. In some institutions these courses have perpetually changed names to attract quite a number of students yet it has failed to give graduates the much needed platform to unleash the benefits of knowledge acquired. What then is wrong in a course like History taught in a more professional way so that historians can become authors, journalists, etc. For instance, the introduction of History and Journalism or History and Creative writing. This will add valve and value to history and equip its graduates with necessary tools to face global and trending challenges. Nigeria in all frankness treads on dangerous grounds.
More so, the future of teachers whom are pivotal to a nations human wealth growth is bleak. It is said that a country cannot rise above the knowledge of its teachers. Truth it is that the country’s College of Education are nothing but a dumping ground for the never do wells. Among this bunch are those who found themselves in the college because they have no further options before them. Not one of my brilliant friends all through my years in school had love for teaching; none. As it stands today, the best brains deserts the university to seek for more greener careers in the corporate arena, where effort is rewarded, salary good and paid timely, air conditions grace every offices, incentives given on outside tasks and room for improvement guaranteed. This is worrisome to say the least. Not God but us would fix the rot because we are not cursed nor gored
When All Progressive Congress (APC) spoke about tackling unemployment and fixing education, I had expected a holistic approach to the problem. Though not satisfied nor convinced with the depth of its manifesto ante as it regards to its proposed approach towards tackling unemployment and re-inventing the already comatose education sector long out of touch with the realities of 21st century. I wait to see how that part of its manifesto would be best served. Perhaps, without doubt its manifesto outlook dwarfs that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 16 years. It is hope anyway and hope starts modest.
About Menkiti Onyebuchi Bernie:
He is a PR expert, social commentator and the Nigeria coordinator of My Footprint (Small World) Project operating in Nigeria and Switzerland. He wrote in from Lagos.
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