During his last visit to Nigeria, Bill Clinton, former American president, reaffirmed the constancy of education as the bedrock of the economic, political, sociological and human resources development of any nation. What Clinton took for granted in his admonition, was that an educational system, once established runs as prescribed by the article that establishes it.
The 6-3-3-4 system of education in gives every Nigerian a chance to contribute his worth to the nation’s development at the level commensurable to his mental ability. The seeming unanimous acceptance of the introduction by the highly critical Nigerian public, I think, resulted from the potentiality of the system to ensure a streamlined admission process while ensuring that every Nigerian is educated according to the dictates of his cognitive, psychomotor, and affective ability.
In practice, the system means that the child aged three to five is educated prior to his entering primary school. Primary education is a 6 year affair .Secondary education is also of 6 year period divided into two parts: junior secondary and senior secondary. The Junior Secondary is made up of JSS 1, JSS 2, and JSS 3 while the Senior Secondary consists of SS 1, SS 2, and SS 3.The third tier of the system is the tertiary level which is 4 years. At the end of the first six years of elementary school, the candidate is expected to enroll in a secondary school of his choice after he must have written and passed the National Common Entrance Examination. The Junior Secondary Certificate Examination is taken at the end of three years of junior secondary. It is prescribed that those who passed the examination should proceed to senior secondary at the same institution or an institution of their choice. And those who failed should enroll in a technical school to learn a trade of their choice. The Senior Secondary School Examination is written at the end of SS 3.The General Certificate of Education (GCE) is conducted as a supplement for that student who did not have the required credit from their SSCE. Candidates who are able to have the required credits can proceed to the tertiary school of their choice.
The question this piece attempts to answer is why is it that in spite of the well articulated and laid system of education, Nigerian students in the tertiary school according to Professor Soji Amire, “find it difficult to understand what they are taught and so become aggressive, ready to intimidate lecturers to extract pass marks from them.” Is the fault inherent in the system of education or its implementation? Why is the Nigerian trained professional treated as an outcast internationally while his counterpart from the Asian continent is seen as pure? Indeed why is it that, as Adewale Dada put it in his article: Reinventing Education In Nigeria, “With all the pictures of poverty from India and many of our uninformed perceptions of Asians as lacking the intellectual capacity to compete in the global marketplace, it would do us reasonable justice to know that many Americans are considering the option of studying (particularly technical courses) in India, because of the reputation their universities have garnered over the years…” When will a Japanese, an American or a British citizen want to come to Nigeria to study a course because of the impression and expertise the course has imbued in the world as a result of how seriously and thoroughly it has been handled in Nigeria by Nigerians?
It is an understatement that the system of education being implemented in Nigeria today has lost the quality of 6-3-3-4. If not for a handful of Nigerians who, through dint of handwork, still reflect the indices of being educated, we should be talking of a total collapse of the sector. A discourse that aims to unravel the root-cause of the decay that has laid a destructive siege on the system of education in the most populous black nation on earth should visit each stage of the process, examine it in order to see where the decline began to set in and solutions must be proffered in view of the gist of the discussion.
The starting point is the pre-primary education which is to be given to the child between ages three and five. These schools, otherwise called nursery schools, are run like private businesses which should yield bountiful profits. As a result, the founders ensure that they do everything in and out of the books to maximize profit at the expense of rendering service to the Nigerian nation by employing qualified teachers. Emphasis is laid on rote learning, the hapless youngsters are made to recite stereotype lines day in day out without any regard for correct pronunciation, grammaticality, etc.
The most unfortunate thing is that these highly impressionable kids believe and trust what their dullard teachers tell them than the correction the discerning observer wants to make. The ubiquitous refrain is “thez what Aunty said” .I have had the unfortunate experience of accosting some of these products on two levels-as nursery pupils and as students—what they display in regard with expressive ability at the kindergarten class is enough to make the Queen recoil with disgust. In the secondary or tertiary level, they are unmitigated disasters when given pen and asked to write what they have eloquently recited. Emboldened by their ‘successes with nursery schools, these education merchants have ventured into adding elementary school to their list of destructions. It is therefore common to see – Nursery and Primary School (government approved) scattered all over the place.
What happens in these primary schools in the area of curriculum implementation and interpretation is not far removed from the situation in the nursery schools. The miss- educated and miss trained products will definitely proceed to the secondary schools where a replica of the treatment they had at the mushrooming nursery and primary school with a difference, awaits them. The difference is that unlike, the suspicious quality of teaching staff, the teachers at the secondary school level can be presumed qualified (some may debunk this opinion as argument is wont to show later) but their enthusiasm for the job as a result of an amalgam of reasons is waning.
The salary structure in the public service does not favor teachers. In year 2004 in Ogun State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the state that produced giants like Obafemi Awolowo, Wole Soyinka, Tai Solarin, Professor Sodipo Olubi and the likes) the salary of a graduate teacher is less than 10,000 naira per month, about 66 dollars. If you consider the running inflation on food, accommodation, education, transportation, books, electricity, water consumption, and what have you, one will not wonder too far while teachers spend most of their contact hours searching for petty contracts, hawking underwears, all in the name of making ends meet.
In the tertiary schools, the case is that a typical pupil that went through the experience I have discussed in the nursery school will find his way to the primary school, from there he will go to the secondary school, and depending on the greed of his parents, he will be admitted into the university where he is wont to exhibit the tendency Professor Soji Amire described earlier. With the highly mouthed and flaunted no nonsense academic climate in our tertiary schools, it has been conclusively recorded that our teachers in these schools are not insulated from the rot that has taken over the system of education in Nigeria. So it is not uncommon to see lecturers double as booksellers: it is always a case of “have you bought my book? Then make sure you register your matriculation number with me.”
Those executive students who can afford to replace the tires of their supervisor’s car have already graduated! Any individual who understands the workings of social and political networking in Nigeria understands that these teachers are indications of what happens in the other sectors of the economy. The argument is teachers do not have contracts to inflate, they are not privileged to appropriate fat salaries and allowances for themselves, they do not run impress accounts, and they do not have access to government cheques. So, because the teachers know that those who run government in Nigeria are worse than armed robbers and they are not likely to be apprehended, and where they are caught and convicted, the President of Nigeria is wont to grant them pardon, they also replicate these anti progressive tendencies of the elected rulership, using the instruments available to them. It is as simple as that.
It’s time people who are making noise about reforms understand that, right from the kindergarten class to the tertiary school, the situation is not cheering. An average Nigerian student of today can not perform like his counterpart of the sixties and early seventies, and this is in spite of the availability of sound resources which the proprietors of schools in Nigeria have graciously refused to provide. What sort of future leadership trait and disposition can one expect form a student who through the active collaboration of his parents, bribe his way through school?
The flow of discussion that the system of education should be changed, seem a little bit awkward. The problem is not in the system but in the operators-the teachers, the parents, the students, the school founders, the government, the society. It sounds interesting that, a practical exercise reveals that, teachers can be parents; a teacher can be a student as well as a school founder while that faceless man we all call government can be a parent, a student, a school founder, and a teacher; all the operators qualify as members of society. If we can be sincere in the discharge of our responsibilities at the different levels, I think we should get somewhere.
There is nothing in the implementation of 6-3-3-4 that says the output of the secondary school should proceed to the tertiary school. What the system says is that “the junior secondary school is both pre-vocational and academic.” It states further that, “student who leave school at the junior high school may then go on to an apprenticeship system or some other scheme for out-of-school vocational training.” What this injunction implies is that at both levels (junior and senior) of the secondary education, those students who may not be endowed with the academic ability to move on to the next level on the ladder should be made to learn a trade; this is what is meant by “apprenticeship system or some other scheme for out-of-school vocational training.”
However, what happens is that, as a result of the absence of functional technical, trade or other forms of training schemes for these deficient students, they take it as an opportunity to waltz their ways to the tertiary schools, employing all sorts of crooked means. Another reason is the lack of sound guidance and counseling program capable of identifying and classifying the students at an early stage so that they know where they belong on the ladder: academic or vocational. It is a sad fact that many Nigerians who should have been world-beaters in sports have had their talents buried because late discovery or poor management.
The third reason is an amalgam of influencing factors: the psyche of the society has been conditioned to attune to the belief that, it is only university education that can guarantee a worthwhile survival, coupled with a thoroughly impoverished academic and administrative workforce in the sector who are ready to bend, break and compromise the system, the stage is favorably set to have all sorts of academic and intellectual misfits in the of the educational system of the federal republic.
What must have been gleaned from this discourse is a lopsidedly, disjointedly arranged system of education from which a symmetrical, apt and nationally beneficial results are expected. This is an illusion because, the prime factor in the process of achieving the gains of education in Nigeria, has had its lot plundered. This important factor is the teacher and other individuals in the educational sector. It is not enough to increase salaries and allowances, as this will only have marginal effects on their output; contemporaneous teaching materials should be put in place. A well paid university teacher without adequate research facilities and grants is as deprived as a secondary school teacher who receives a good salary without a well equipped laboratory to teach pronunciation or teach how to perform experiments.
It must be borne in mind that education is just an integral part of a people’s life. Making teachers comfortable and alive to their responsibilities is tantamount to satisfying an aspect of the polity. And since the polity is a system made up of different interrelated and interdependent parts, it incumbent on those whose responsibility is it to dispense national resources and wealth to carry out that onerous task without rendering a part inconsequential.
About Segun Akinyode
Segun, a three-pronged oscillator, moves from his bedsitter to the office, then a cool spot. He lives near Mr Obasanjo's Abeokuta home. He is currently a teacher in the General Studies Department, Moshood Abiola Polytechnic.