(By Oluwafisayomi Agbolabori)

If the government clings to the excuse of insufficient manpower, what about thousands of graduates who are out of jobs, roaming the streets? They are found arguing unnecessarily at various newsstands instead of contributing their quotas to national development. We have lecturers who take more than 1000 students. How do we expect such a lecturer to assess all of them ‘properly’ in their class participation, tests and examinations? What about many who have M.Sc and PhD degrees who are out of job? 

FROM the ancient Greece to middle age, different societies adopted different means of teaching the younger generation their norms, ethics and tradition and this influences how people associate for the common good of the community. Education means more than getting a college degree. It is a divine and natural path that delivers people from the dungeon of ignorance and its antecedents – poverty, sickness, instability…etc. It teaches people how to make the best choices among various alternatives and goes beyond the walls of any structure called “school”. It has been the only path to social, economic and political development of any community but as important as this is, major stakeholders in Nigeria have neglected their part in ensuring the proper maintenance of this path and thus forgotten that they are part and parcel of the goods or otherwise of this only path to national development.

  Just like Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to blame, much has been said concerning the poor academic performance and examination malpractices in our educational sector and students have been at the receiving end. Who should we really blame for these two menaces in our society and how can we bring about a long-term solution that will refer people back to this noble and rewarding path?

   Many if not all will blame the students and by this erroneously forget the roles of other stakeholders in providing an enabling environment in which students who are the major beneficiaries can study and enjoy studying. These are the government, parents, and teachers, and, last but not the least, the religious leaders.

  These two problems are interwoven. If not carefully analysed, the antidote might be inefficacious in the way solutions provided by past administrations over the years went.

   The government, by entering into social contract with the citizens, has, by law, agreed to provide some social benefits for them and education stands as the most important of these. By doing this, the government is fulfilling its own part of the deal and at the same time immensely benefiting from this singular act. No nation has developed without emancipating its people from the bondage of ignorance. In Nigeria, unfortunately, from the elementary school which serves as the foundation upon which subsequent levels of education are built, to the university which is the citadel of learning, all lie in rubbles. Just like proper incentives encourage workers to do more, children need a conducive learning environment, to not only want to go to school, but also stay there. In advanced nations, the school structures are built like castles to keep students receptive and focused for some hours of rigorous learning. This is ensured because when they are in, their basic needs for those hours are provided by the government – at elementary up to high school levels. These basic needs include water, food, light, books and security. From a personal experience, I did not enjoy this right and many Nigerians share my experience.

  How many states have implemented the school meal programme in the country? The answer is not farfetched – only Osun State. Due to this commendable programme, Osun has the highest in pupil enrolment in Nigeria at 80 per cent and has increased academic performance. This figure represents 24 per cent increase compared to the figure that existed before April 2012 when the programme was launched. Why have the other states failed to start this programme. Not only can it increase pupil enrolment it will also generate employment opportunities in the state. School meal programme is practised across Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East. It is what will make pupils and students not to think about lunch or go out to search for it. Other issues are books and security. From my elementary to secondary school, I did not sit in a library for a minute because we did not have one. The other issue that has gained attention in recent times is security. With the adoption of over 200 girls in Chibok in Borno State, many students especially in the Northern part are apprehensive and naturally cannot concentrate fully for fear of what might happen next.

  At the post secondary level, the government is not playing its part to ensure that students learn. Thank goodness, ASUU has finally ‘suspended’ its six-month old strike, and polytechnics and Colleges of Education their 10-month strike. While these lasted students all over the country wasted away.

   Strike actions by teachers should be treated as a state of emergency because the youth by their nature are restive and when provoked beyond a certain point can turn from being the instruments of nation building to destructive forces – militancy, terrorism and what have you. These are some of the challenges we are facing as a nation today. It should go without saying that strike has a long-term effect on the psyche of the students.

   Apart from these, the remuneration for those in the education sector should be reviewed. In a situation where elementary school teachers are not paid well, the job becomes a nightmare and yet they are the first contact of the pupils. This should indicate to the authorities that teaching ought to be made appealing and pleasing. At the moment it is a horrifying nightmare. The post elementary school, which is a stage of adolescence when close attention should be given to each student so as to identify their skills and talents to be able to determine in which area of the nation’s economy they will fit in, has totally gone into extinction in Nigeria. The corollary of this is that, students do not know their strengths and weaknesses. This is made worse when those that applied for sociology are given physics to read in our universities. The student will accept and do everything to pass which may include cheating.

   If the government clings to the excuse of insufficient manpower, what about thousands of graduates who are out of jobs, roaming the streets? They are found arguing unnecessarily at various newsstands instead of contributing their quotas to national development. We have lecturers who take more than 1000 students. How do we expect such a lecturer to assess all of them ‘properly’ in their class participation, tests and examinations? What about many who have M.Sc and PhD degrees who are out of job? Are there incentives that reward lecturer’s productivity, students’ academic performance? Only few states offer scholarships to their students and every student needs to be commended for questions well answered.

   Another stakeholder is the parents. Most parents neither assist their children in home work nor check their score cards. This may have been caused by poverty for after working from dawn to dusk with low wages the parents have interest in nothing but sleep so as to be refreshed for the next day tedious work. This is traced back to the government. The issue of minimum wage to me as a student of Economics is not the real issue; the focal point should be the purchasing power of the naira. Come to think of it, if all states implement it, what can N18, 500 buy in today’s market where a loaf of bread is N300? What is the essence of a single digit inflation rate when the price of garri has not come down? Another issue is illiteracy. No one can assist anyone in what she or he does not know. Again, what is the government doing about the issue of adult education? Also, family size plays an important role. It is high time we began to control our birth rate. Unlike in the advanced countries that have population growth rate of less than 1 per cent, developing countries have 2.5-3.5 per cent. From the earliest times, advanced countries had realised the implications of uncontrolled population growth and had provided long-term solutions to this natural phenomenon. How can the parents whose incomes are low raise four to six children? Many would want a smaller family size but are either not informed or properly educated on the implications of a large family size.

  The role the ‘teacher’ plays in educating a child is enormous. Teaching is, to me, a noble profession. But if the main functions of the teacher are missed, the outcome will be bad; students are misinformed, corrupt and ignorant. The ‘teacher’ is a role model, motivator, companion, pathfinder, seer and most of all, teacher. In our public elementary to university, these roles are hardly played. Figures being bandied show that less than 1 per cent of our teachers play their role well. This differentiates the ‘teacher’ who wants to teach from the one who is teaching because of unemployment in its area of study. In our higher institutions, there are issues of voluntary missing of lectures by lecturers, deliberate failing of unwanted and enemy-students, sexual harassment, missing scripts, corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, superiority complex, egocentrism and many more. Learning institutions should serve as standards because whatever is learnt is practised and this becomes norms. Learning institution is one of the most corrupt organs of our society. The ills range from financial, electoral to academic manipulations. When the teacher who ought to serve as the role model demands bribe then the student believes that it is the norm of the society. What is the authority doing about these troubling issues?

   On the part of the religious leaders: Many of them benefited from free education given by the earlier missionaries but it is unfortunate that none of their institutions has a free-fee elementary school. Instead, they have cashed in on the poor education system and are making fortune for themselves. They tax the ‘wretched parishes’ for God’s work but build unaffordable and inaccessible schools for the bulk of the congregation. Also, they have failed to speak out against the negligence of this sector because it is lucrative, profitable and sustainable for them. There are many ways of showing ‘the way’. One of such is free education. The older missionaries used this and it worked. Why private jets when we could use the resources that go into their purchase to fund foundations that will reward academic excellence in our schools and support researches in our higher institutions for the overall national development. This will show ‘the way’ better.

   The point being made therefore is that poor academic performance and examination malpractices are two sides of the same coin. Little has been done on the part of the stakeholders in correcting these ills that pose serious danger to the tomorrow of our country. They are the issues that will take years to correct because they needed to have been nibbed in the bud. There should be proper restructuring of the education sector and this can be achieved when we realise its importance of bringing about self-realisation and self-reliance. The issue of school meal has been mentioned as a tool, teachers’ remuneration, security and economic well being of the entire citizenry are other adoptable solutions. Setting up committees to investigate why there was mass failure in mathematics and English language will not get the nation far. The solution lies deeper than that. They are issues that must be approached by every stakeholder for the future of this country. The laws regulating the establishment of schools should be reviewed with a view to maintaining standards in all our schools.

   If students have a good and formidable foundation, passing SSCE and JAMB would not be a problem. This is a clarion call to all stakeholders to resuscitate this most important aspect of human life. It is time we stopped providing short-term solutions to long-term problems.  Students are not to be blamed, blame the system.

• Agbolabori is a 400 level student of Economics at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi.

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