Making profit while killing our educational system.

(By Owoyemi Olorunfemi)

 A couple of blocks from where I grew up is a private primary school. The school consists of a block of abandoned building. The building had been abandoned since I was a kid, yet some hungry proprietor chose to take over the building and use it to start a school. A question I ask myself is: What caliber of teachers will he employ to teach in this school? He cares less about the quality of education that his pupils get; he cares more about how much he makes. That’s what owning a school has become now: A money making venture and not a value-giving venture. They see that the fad is for parents to prefer private schools to public schools so they establish schools so that they can benefit from the fad. Between value and profit, profit is of the essence. Little wonder therefore, that the Ekiti State government shutdown 131 substandard private schools in the state. If government agencies in every state will do a thorough screening of the schools in their states, it will shock you what staggering figures will emerge.

SOME time back in the news, it was reported that “illiterate corpers were rejected by NYSC”. In that news piece, it was stated that three students who graduated from a higher institute of learning in Nigeria, displayed glaringly “lack of academic ability and intelligence level expected of genuine Nigerian graduates.” These graduate-corps members were found incompetent and of low intelligence level which ranged from inability to complete registration formats correctly to not being able to teach pupils at nursery school level.”

One of them, Okochi, could hardly write the Roman figures from one to ten in words neither could she write three states and their capital. The story gets sadder as I make bold to say that only three out of several hundreds of thousands have been caught.

I was involved in a discussion with an undergraduate in a highly-respected university in the country. I asked her, jokingly, how many continents there were; she was mute and would not answer. I asked her to name the continents she knew and her answer was baffling – America, Canada, London, UK! I asked her what continent she was in and she confessed that she had no idea. For me, that was the height of it! This incident took place two years ago. The bulk of my piece is filled with experiences I have had in the course of my vast interactions with people.

The advent of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, My Space etc. has, over the years shown how deplorable our educational system is. These days, it’s quite easy to find undergraduates and even graduates from several institutions who can barely speak good English. Some don’t even understand it at all when spoken to. Social media is an active platform that thrives on communication and the things that reel across these platforms can be devastating. Consider this: “Hi, all thing life are easy do, e.g. sweet thing, sweet word, praying, salat etc. But why sweet people like you is difficult to find, may your whole life b as sweet as you.” Here is another: “my hobies is to read and study, I spent my time in normal way and I attended my lecturing class of my choice.” Here is yet another: “mass killing in Fataskum resulted 60 innocent lives in cattile market the leader of miyatti Allah organisation call jet to compensated all the victims otherwise to take action about the following action its including ban of any cattle selling in Nageria…..” Let me spare you the headache of trying to figure out what these people have to say. I’m sorry I had to put you through it in the first place. But the hard truth is that this is the reality on ground. Chika Unigwe, winner of the 2012 NLNG Prize for Literature posted this on Facebook: “I have been sent interview questions by a certain Nigerian ‘magazine’. I started responding, then I realised that every single question had a grammatical fault or a spelling mistake (very often, both). Sometimes, the structure is so bad that it renders the question unintelligible…” When a journalist can be so faulted as seen above, and with graduates who can barely speak good English taking over offices, I believe we’re sitting on a keg of gun powder in this country.

I have spent part of my life living with senior citizens who had no higher degrees than Grade II from Teacher Training colleges and yet they speak quite impressive English and very intelligently too. It is devastating that even in their late seventies and 80’s, their command of the English language is more impeccable than what’s spoken by many of young undergraduates and graduates being churned out by our higher institutions today.

Ikhide Ikheloa, a prominent Nigerian literary critic, born before the civil war, talked about his father elegantly thus: “He was an autodidact, he did not advance past the 8th grade but the quality of the education of his time was such that he could today put many PhDs to shame when it comes to reading and writing.” All fingers point to only one thing: A serious decline in our educational system. While it is important to understand the state of our educational standards, it is more important to consider how we came to this pass, and what the way out is. Standards are, no doubt, falling and crashing so hard and no one seems to care enough to take action to arrest and remedy the situation. Teachers in schools today can’t even save the situation; many of them need to be saved first.

We have a plethora of schools without any standards whatsoever. This is not a problem to be tackled at the tertiary level. It has everything to do with the foundation of the students. A couple of blocks from where I grew up is a private primary school. The school consists of a block of abandoned building. The building had been abandoned since I was a kid, yet some hungry proprietor chose to take over the building and use it to start a school. A question I ask myself is: What caliber of teachers will he employ to teach in this school? He cares less about the quality of education that his pupils get; he cares more about how much he makes. That’s what owning a school has become now: A money making venture and not a value-giving venture. They see that the fad is for parents to prefer private schools to public schools so they establish schools so that they can benefit from the fad. Between value and profit, profit is of the essence. Little wonder therefore, that the Ekiti State government shutdown 131 substandard private schools in the state. If government agencies in every state will do a thorough screening of the schools in their states, it will shock you what staggering figures will emerge.

Sadly, the government is just as much guilty of negligence as the get-rich-quick proprietors are. Between the private schools and the public schools, the public schools are, in fact, worse! There are public schools in several parts of the country where subjects are taught using local languages. This may not be bad in itself if it is a national policy and there are already mechanisms to back the policy such as availability of textbooks are in local languages. If the government is quick to pick on private schools, it should also look into its own house. Hardly ever does the government run any system that functions as it ought to. Many governments focus on free or subsidised education but I ask: “Of what good is free education when the quality of education is crap?”

What quality of teachers do we have teaching in our schools at all levels? Back in the colonial times and even into the first decade of independence era, our teachers were top-notch. Being a teacher, back then, was prestigious and very few ever became teachers. Somewhere along the line, however, something went wrong. More people pressed to join the profession and quality was compromised. Being thorough became not so important. A little compromise for one or two candidates and, just like that, a chink was created in the armor. Colleges of Education were created and government funding for them in several cases was cut so that they had to be self-sustaining. The drive for self-sustenance plus the increase in the number of people who tried to join the prestigious teaching line gave rise to compromises and alas, quality gave way for profiteering. The chain has gone on like that ever since. I make bold to say that today, many graduates of the Colleges of Education can barely converse in English language and not commit grave grammatical blunders. A recent graduate of one of the best colleges of education while speaking to me said: “the man have get me accommodation….” Another wrote to a friend the following: “I am washing film on my phone when you call me”. How will these new generation of teachers ever be able to teach their pupils the right usages of the language?

Back in the nineties, the best teachers public schools were where were found. Some of us attended public schools and we had a crop of sound, intelligent and committed teachers to lead us on our paths to our destinies. Whatever happened to the best teachers, it’s high time we fetched them back and replicated many more best teachers for our schools. The warped spoken English of a child can be traced to his foundations – the elementary school years.

If we are really determined to fix this quagmire that we are in, we have to start from the basics. We need primary schools that are built to standard and filled with teachers who are sound in what they teach and are dedicated to their jobs. We need teachers who are committed to the true and total development of the pupils. We need a government that is willing to formulate and implement educational policies that will set optimum standards of education and also be diligent enough to ensure that there’s absolute compliance with the policies both by private and public schools. With corruption within the bureaucracy, compromises will be made for a few thousand naira notes and we’ll head back to where we began. A form of continuing education programme and retreats, workshops and conferences should be organised for teachers. It will also be helpful if proprietors and proprietresses focus more on the kind of education their schools impart rather than thinking about just the profit they can rake in. If truly, our educational system means anything to us and we so desire to save it, it is all in our hands to do. If we are waiting for the best time to initiate the change, no time is better than now. Let’s save our country the embarrassment of showcasing graduates that are defective on every side. We should always remember that education will only be the best legacy when it is the right one.

Owoyemi Olorunfemi.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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